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Posts from the ‘boston’ Category

Il Casale: Boston Brings Italian Out of the North End

Il Casale knows its clientele well. This Italian newcomer to the suburban Boston dining scene perfectly marries regional home-style cooking that pleases and satisfies all palates with a finesse seen in the most high-brow establishments in Boston. Already showered with praise, Il Casale has garnered the appreciation of the James Beard Foundation, the Boston Globe, Boston Magazine, and Zagat – however, Chef Dante de Magistris has admirably avoided letting all of this hot air go to his head.

The restaurant is best described as vivacious. On a Saturday night, the front bar area was packed with local singles and the back dining room operated at a loud buzz. The exposed brick walls, smooth stone floor, industrial metal piping, large floor-to-ceiling windows, and open kitchen did nothing of course to muffle the noise, but each element added to the intended rustic-chic decor and boistrous vibe. The dining room is remarkably small with a few large wooden dining tables (each sparsely decorated with neatly folded dishcloth napkins); just off the open kitchen is a large chef’s table for 10, propped up with a beautiful view into the hustle and bustle.

The food is traditional authentic Italian cuisine focused on regional family-cooking. It’s refined but, at its core, very hearty and flavor-focused. The menu offers various antipasti to start, a range of pastas for either an appetizer or entree course, as well as main ‘secondi’ dishes and dessert. My family and I sampled four antipasti (the ‘greatest hits’ approach): pesciolini, burrata, maiale, and Romeo e Giulietta. The pesciolini, essentially fancy fried baby shrimp with crispy smelts and a fried lemon wheel, was made most interesting by the substitution of calamari for shrimp and the mellow fried lemon. Seeking seafood to start? This basic and zingy option will satisfy all. The burrata offered two dollops of wet and buttery mozzarella that just melts in your mouth. Of the utmost highest quality, this mild cheese bite shows how special cheese can be. The maiale, or pork meatballs, were ridiculously delicious for such mini-bites – watch out Andrew Carmellini, these moist and savory meatballs give yours a major run for your money. At just $5 each, I could eat these little antipasti all night long…

The main courses tried were the cinque formaggi ravioli in sweet pea cream, the gnocchi primavera, the tagliatelle bolognese, and the Sicilian roast chicken. The ravioli was done right – the dough was thin and slightly slippery, no extra heft to distract from the velvety cheese interior and delicate sweet pea sauce. The gnocchi was similarly well-executed in a light pink sauce with a remarkably tasty spring vegetable ragout. The third pasta, the tagliatelle bolognese, received high marks from my father, who compared it to his favorite tagliatelle at the now defunct Armani Cafe (a compliment worth taking seriously). Lastly, the Sicilian roast chicken was a study in restaurant chicken prepared perfectly – juicy, succulent, flavorful; there wasn’t a bland wimpy wing or drumstick in sight.

Il Casale satiated without stuffing uncomfortably, pleased, even wowed with its high notes. The meal showed finesse and restraint and highlighted the notable skill of the kitchen. My entire family left excited by the notion of living just 20 minutes away from this popular new spot (complete with an expansive outdoor patio in clement weather). With something for everyone (accessible pasta dishes, small plates, bar bites, hefty entrees, silky sides, luscious desserts), Il Casale proved that it does in fact deserve the glowing praise showered upon it recently!

Il Casale on Urbanspoon


Mistral: A Refreshing Gust of Southern France

Once again, while home in Boston for the holidays, I had an exceptional meal, this time at local favorite Mistral. Considering my recent string of remarkable meals in Beantown, I should probably just accept that Boston has moved from hokey steakhouse dining to hot new hub of the culinary arts.

A few short steps from the Mass Pike, Mistral is not-so-ideally situated in the outskirts of the South End. If it weren’t for its great reputation, this top-notch dining hub would most certainly fade away into the neighboring dingy brick buildings hugging the turnpike. However, despite the unfortunate location, the space itself is airy and refreshing with soaring ceilings, floor to ceiling windows, luminescent lighting, and Provencal touches such as authentic French pottery items. It is almost atrium-like with well-spaced tables and floral flourishes.

The food is as elegant as the restrained and sophisticated atmosphere. Thoroughly Provencal-influenced, expect funky and fun flatbread pizzas, twists on classic French dishes like foie gras, escargots, dover sole meuniere, and a steak au poivre, and Italian-flecked sirloin and mushroom carpaccios, linguine, and black truffle macaroni. The menu clearly looks to blend various Mediterranean flavors together while emphasizing local proteins and ingredients, where possible.

My family, inspired and excited by the menu, tucked into the foie gras, sirloin carpaccio, and butternut squash bisque in a pastry bowl for starters. The sirloin carpaccio was heaven-sent – thinly sliced, so soft that it tasted like butter, and topped with sharp Parmesan cheese; the foie gras was rich, accompanied by cherry gastrique and duck confit in a brioche; and the squash soup was delightfully interactive with a classic pastry ‘bread bowl.’ With the entree courses, I assuaged my own personal love for pizza by ordering the beef tenderloin and mashed potato flatbread (how could you go wrong?). It was revelatory – seriously. Fresh and tender cuts of meat with heaps of chive-spiced mashed potatoes, all of which was slathered in White Truffle oil (!!), teased and tantalized me through 4 whole pieces. My mother went for the eternally classic whole Dover Sole ‘meuniere’ which she loved, despite the massive portion. My brother, even with his voracious teenage boy appetite, left some of his decadent beef short ribs stranded in the pot. Full-flavored and piping hot, the short ribs just melted off the bone in their braised glory. My father stepped out of his ‘comfort zone’ with the pan-roasted cod “aux crevettes” with shrimp & artichoke risotto. An unusual yet marvelous dish, it too came large enough to feed a small army.

Mistral charms and seduces with its mellow elegance and haute cuisine. It blends successfully the feel of an expensive restaurant with that of a comfortable and welcoming bistro to create a place fit for everything from celebratory special occasions to business dining to a fun night out (if not pricey night out) with friends. After such a marvelous meal with my family, I can understand why Mistral is a hometown favorite.

Mistral on Urbanspoon

No.9 Park is a No. 1 Stunner

Barbara Lynch’s No. 9 Park is a gastronomic masterpiece. A favorite among Bostonians, Lynch’s crown jewel is refined, subtle, and very adult. There are no cutesy decorations here – it’s all elegance, pure and simple.

Located just off the Common in historic Beacon Hill, the 3 room restaurant includes a bustling bar and 2 dining rooms, one facing the park. By pure chance, my family and I got the best table in the house, a square 4 with corner windows gazing over the twinkling street lights and lazy traffic around the Boston Common. The dining rooms feature a subdued beige palette with luxurious dark wood touches and antique chandeliers, crisp white tablecloths and formal table settings. Definitely try to snag a window seat to add a little extra charm to the already refreshingly sophisticated space.

Barbara Lynch knows how to cook with the best of them, churning out remarkable cuisine that gives top New York restaurants a serious run for their money. There is no backwoods home-cookin’ here; Lynch appeals to her classic Boston clientele with clean seasonal creations without a lot of fuss or muss. The house special is the divine prune gnocchi – soft bits of gnocchi stuffed with tart bites of prune. While one thinks of prune as either a digestive aid or the way your fingers look after soaking in the bath too long, it is surprisingly complex – adding an unexpectedly delicious dimension to already great gnocchi. The foie gras is an equally tasty appetizer – served in two large slabs bursting with rich nutty flavors. The crispy toast and side dollop of cranberry complete the luscious dish.

The entrees are traditional, expect roast chicken, venison loin, Scottish salmon, porcelet, and a veal variation. Perfect execution and preparation and unique flavor pairings that complement the quality of the protein turn the traditional into exciting and revelatory. The roast chicken is no ordinary roast chicken, sweet and succulent, wrapped in bacon and served with fat brussel sprouts. The venison loin was a gorgeous medium-rare temperature and complemented with a part-sweet part-savory sweet potato puree (that I’m pretty sure I could eat in heaps).

One of the most unique attractions of No. 9 Park is the extraordinary roaming cheese cart. A self-professed cheese-head, I seek interesting cheeses everywhere I go, and No.9 Park’s selection and presentation has left lasting memories. The cart is accompanied by what I call a fromagier, which is most certainly incorrect but meant to mimic the role of a sommelier (but for cheeses). This male or female (my first visit: a male, my second visit: a female) can talk volumes about the varied and various options, describing in colorful language the texture, scent, and taste of each round. The cheeses are mostly from Europe, with a few American varieties, and represent diverse flavors (and odors) – they have hard, soft, semi-hard, semi-soft, sheep’s milk, cow’s milk, goat’s milk, stinky, funky, mellow, triple creme, gooey, nutty, and moldy cheeses. Take your pick – and ask a lot of questions.

No. 9 Park is a foodie’s heaven. The focus is on the food. Lynch doesn’t distract from the cuisine with fancy garnishes or an over-the-top atmosphere. Everything is sophisticated and under-stated. This is the perfect spot to keep in your back pocket for special occasions. The hefty price tag and hard-to-nab reservations prevent it from entering your regular restaurant rotation; however, looking for a place to celebrate graduation? a parent’s birthday? an anniversary? No. 9 Park offers a beautiful backdrop for forging lasting memories. Yes it sounds cheesy, but true? Absolutely.

No. 9 Park on Urbanspoon

Boston Brings It, Unexpectedly.

This past weekend, while enjoying a spectacular weekend in my hometown, I believe I witnessed the unexpected: a Boston restaurant that easily rivaled and in fact surpassed the vast majority of French restaurants in New York.

Everyone knows that the restaurant scene in New York is known its quality, consistency, and diversity. French restaurants in particular proliferate from uptown to downtown to the outer boroughs, ranging from cheap neighborhood bistros to pinnacles of french gastronomy. Boston doesn’t normally carry the same reputation, known for good if not a bit hokey restaurants.

La Voile, a charming transplant straight from Cannes on Newbury Street, trumps every French restaurant I’ve been to in New York, food-wise, other than Jean-George’s JoJo. The owners of La Voile uprooted their Cannes restaurant and moved it to, surprisingly, the Back Bay in Boston. They have brought in French waiters, moved their French cooks, and brought along all the trappings of an authentically French restaurant (including the slow service…). I couldn’t stop raving about how they should have chosen New York.

The food was truly extraordinary; it tasted as though it had been magically whisked over from France in the blink of an eye. Lots of butter, rich flavors, impeccable execution, and classic preparation sum it up pretty well. I had the kobe beef cheeks prepared in a beef bourguignon stew fashion – they were hearty, succulent and buttery, absolutely melting in my mouth. My brother, arguably the most adventurous diner in the group, ordered the whole dover sole, prepared expertly table-side in butter, oil, and lemon – clean, fresh and classic. My mother opted for the steak frites, which showed up on a plate the size of a small child. Enough to feed a small army, the hearty steak and salty crunchy frites were immensely satisfying. My father, known for his love of chicken, went straight for the chicken l’ami Louis, a free-range roasted chicken that was juicy and plump.

The service was very french, slow, leisurely, moving to the beat of its own drum. The dinner service was ill-timed with the appetizers coming out immediately and the entrees coming out almost 40min later. I can’t imagine what could have been taking so long. Maybe they went to go chase around the chickens in suburban Boston for the roast. However, the staff was very charming and accommodating, mostly making up for the kitchen’s incompetencies.

The scene was sophisticated yet comfortable with nautical accents and images, a tongue-in-cheek cast iron frog statue, and current French music twittering in the background. It was loud, but in a congenial large French family all gathered together sort of way.

La Voile is unlike anything I’ve experienced in New York – actually transporting me to the South of France with its lilting music, boistrous atmosphere, and absolutely delightful cuisine. So many restaurants in the Big Apple play faux French, grabbing aspects of the culture and food. However, until now, I didn’t realize how silly these attempts were in the context of true French cuisine.

I implore you, La Voile, consider a relocation to New York!

La Voile on Urbanspoon