FuLoon Restaurant

>>  Tuesday, May 22, 2007

On Friday night, based on my sister's recommendation, my parents, my sister and her husband, Bryan and I trekked out to Malden to check out this restaurant.

Our conclusion? The chefs at FuLoon know what they are doing. The food is authentic and expertly prepared. The local Chinese population attests to this - over three quarters of the diners were Asian. The restaurant specializes in a type of Chinese cuisine with which I am not as familiar - it's not your typical Cantonese fare.

We ordered a Jingdu pork pancake, a twist on the normal scallion pancake. Instead of scallions, the pancake is filled with little bits of ground pork. Most people thought this was very good.

FuLoon also makes an excellent Madarin style whole fish. The entire fish is lightly dusted with cornstarch, deep-fried, and covered with a flavorful sauce. The dish was well executed - the fish stayed crunchy while the sauce coated and flavored the individual fish pieces. This dish was several people's favorite dish out of all the ones that we ordered.

We enjoyed the stir-fried congxin tsai (hollow heart vegetable) with garlic, which was expertly executed.

Bryan suggested ordering the tea-smoke duck, which is one of his favorite dishes. The "smoke" flavor in this duck was particularly strong. My brother in law remarked that it smells like someone started smoking and blew the cigarette fumes onto the duck. I'm not sure if it was THAT strong, but the smoke flavor was definitely VERY intense. Bryan thought it was tasty. My mother (who eats pretty light in general) thought the dish was too salty.

The waitress had recommended the homestyle steamed pork shoulder, saying that it was one of their specialties. I actually did not try this dish, but several people thought the flavor was a bit bland and that they had tasted better versions of this dish in other restaurants.

Over all, the food at this restaurant was good. If you're in the area and you're craving some good Chinese food, it's definitely worth the visit. The food is authentic, refreshingly different, and well prepared. I've been told to order off the Chinese menu (the one with all the pictures). Apparently they also serve a lunch buffet, which is more Americanized and not as good.


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Stone Hearth Pizza

Stone Hearth Pizza was started by two MBA students last year. With an aim to reach the "underserved suburban markets," Stone Hearth Pizza has opened up in Sudbury, Needham, and Belmont. They buy fresh, local ingredients from nearby farms.

We went there recently with Bryan's parents to visit his aunt, who lives in Needham. We shared 5 pizzas were all very pleased with the food. The thin-crust pies are individual sized (they fit on a plate) and are quickly fired in the brick oven. What emerges is a delightfully crispy pizza topped with farm fresh ingredients. Many people picked as their favorite pizza the asparagus, arugula, and mushroom pizza (a special of the day). Another favorite was the "farm fresh" pizza, which contains fresh, local vegetables from the farm. Our farm fresh pizza had artichokes, roasted red peppers, arugula, tomatoes, and fresh mozarella cheese.

The restaurant has a decent choice of wine, beer, and even sparking wine as well (which is what I ordered). They also sell pizano (similar to a calzone) and gelato.

We enjoyed all the pizzas that we ordered at Stone Hearth. Although Bryan said he still liked Upper Crust better (and I agree), we still agreed that the pizza was very good and that if we were in the area, we would definitely return.

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New Ginza

We went to New Ginza this weekend with the extended family, who were here for my graduation this past weekend. It was a great dining experience, and I will definitely return.

Many members of my family ordered the Bento box, which was a steal at $16.95. Included in the Bento box are a bowl of miso soup, two skewers with grilled meat (beef and chicken), a salad, 5 pieces of sashimi (tuna and salmon), a few pieces of shrimp tempura, a California roll, pickled vegetables, and ice cream. I tried the salmon sashimi from the bento box (hee hee, neither my sister nor mom eat sashimi, so I helped them out ;) and it was very fresh and tasty.

Bryan and I also ordered several different maki rolls. Ginza has several unusual and inventive rolls that you won't see anywhere else. For example, we ordered the Super Crazy Maki Roll, which had raw fish, cilantro, jalapeno, avocado, and several other ingredients (which I can't remember) all wrapped in a thin daikon sheet. All the maki rolls were expertly made and all were delicious.

The green tea ice cream that came with the bento box was good. We tried to order the fried ice cream, but unfortunately, they had run out.

Over all, I would highly recommend this restaurant. The prices were reasonable - typical for a nicer sushi restaurant.

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The Garden at the Cellar

>>  Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Braised Lamb Shank from Garden at the Cellar
update: click here for an updated post on this restaurant from 2009

Tonight Bryan and I tried out a new local restaurant and we both absolutely LOVED it. This falls into the category of a Basta Pasta type discovery. It's THAT good, and truly still one of the best kept secrets of Cambridge, I think. Best thing is, the prices are very reasonable for the quality of food, and the restaurant is about a 3 minute walk from our house.

The chef, Will Gilson, previously worked at Oleana (one of Zagat's 10 best restaurants in Boston for food) before coming to cook for The Garden at the Cellar. If you've been to Oleana, you may notice haunting similarities in the way the menu is set up. For example, there are small plates (like the pret a manger at Oleana), normal appetizers, salads, pizzas, and main entrees. The Garden is different in that the focus seems to be less Mediteranean and more of an eclectic mix with an American comfort food focus. For example, you can add a grilled cheddar sandwich to any of the soups for an additional $2.
Pistachio Beet Salad  from Garden at the Cellar
Beet Salad

The food is excellent. As a start, Bryan ordered the pureed carrot soup with the grilled cheddar sandwich. The soup was very good, and portion size was enormous - probably about double a typical bowl size. We easily shared the soup and the grilled cheese sandwich, which was perfectly grilled and oozing with flavorful cheese.

Bryan ordered the grilled hangar steak (which comes over a bed of pureed parsnips and sauteed spinach). He said that the steak was expertly cooked (medium rare) and had good flavor. The portion size for that too, was very generous, and Bryan was only able to eat about half.
Garden At the Cellar Rosemary Truffle Fries
Oh, but I left out the best part! The rosemary truffle fries that came with the steak. Both Bryan and I agreed that these were the best French fries either of us had ever eaten in our lives! Not only was the texture perfect, the flavors were incredible. Truffle oil and rosemary is an absolutely delectable combination. Each fry, infused with this fragrant blend of flavors, provided a near-euphoric experience with each bite. We could not stop eating the fries. Bryan even decided to stop eating his steak to finish off the fries.
Tater Tots from Garden at the Cellar
I decided to get the sample platter of the appetizers. Out of the four I ordered, the home-made tater tots were by far the most interesting. Unlike a typical tater tot, Gilson's tater tots are crunchy golf balls with creamy and fluffy insides. Imagine bighting into a lightly golden fried pillow of mashed potatoes.

I also ordered the parsnip puree, which was very flavorful and intense. Parsnips are naturally quite fragrant and sweet. When pureed with butter, the combination tastes almost as rich as caramel buttered popcorn. I thought it was delicious, although a bit heavy. I also ordered the roasted beats, which were fresh, flavorful, and good. Finally, I ordered the sauteed Swiss chard. I was not especially impressed with this dish. It reminded me of the collard greens that I've ordered at places like Cracker Barrel - overcooked leafy greens that resembled boiled vegetables sitting in a film of oil. It was OK, but not something I'd order again.
Spaghetti Carbonara  from Garden at the Cellar
Spaghetti Carbonara

Over all, we thought the food here was absolutely amazing. Most of the appetizers range from $3-$10, the pizzas (flatbreads) are $10-$12, and the entrees are $18-$20. All in all, very reasonable prices for truly exquisite cuisine. If nothing else, go sit at the bar, order beer on tap, and get the French fries, which cost less than $5.

Boston Globe Review
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Sandrine's Bistro

Sandrine's Bistro is a French restaurant tucked away on one of the side streets in Harvard Square. We decided to go there because Bryan felt like having a nice, relaxing meal after our four hour walk from Lexington, MA.

It was Mother's Day, and thus the menu was Prix fixe only. I finally decided to order the lobster risotto with truffles as my entree and scallops ceviche (raw but "cooked" in vinegar or citrus juice). Bryan ordered the truffle foie gras appetizer and the grilled rack of lamb.

The food was very good. The warm French bread was crusty on the outside but soft on the inside. I couldn't stop eating it, even though I knew I was ruining my appetite. For a French restaurant, the serving sizes were very generous. I probably had about 25 baby scallops in my scallops ceviche. The scallops tasted fresh and had good texture. Bryan's foie gras was also the biggest foie gras I had ever seen at a restaurant. It was about 3/4 inch thick and the size of a piece of toast. It came with a couple slices of toasted bread. I don't like foie gras, and personally, I couldn't taste the truffles. However, Bryan thought it was pretty good.

Main Entree
My lobster risotto was also very well made. Again, the portion sizes were very generous. My risotto was filled with fresh lobster meat and covered with slices of truffles. Although I was hoping for a stronger truffle flavor, the flavors in this dish were actually well balanced and blended together nicely. Bryan's lamb was also tasty, grilled to perfection.

Dessert was heavenly. Bryan ordered the lemon tarte. Visually, it looked like the lemon tarts that I often see at company events catered by a hotel. However, this lemon tart was surprisingly different, and much better. The lemon portion of the tart was light and fluffy, not dense and custard-like. It was almost like eating clouds of cream bursting with lemon-y citrus bliss coupled with pieces of buttery cookie-crust. I liked it so much, I kept stealing some from Bryan. I ordered the flourless chocolate cake, which is similar to the molten chocolate cake offered at many fancy restaurants. The cake here was excellent. The center was warm and slightly gooey, and the cake itself had a dark rich flavor that wasn't too sweet. It was perfect. I couldn't stop eating my own dessert either! Again, back to what I said about generous portions, this was probably the largest molten chocolate cake I had ever seen in a fancy restaurant. Nevertheless, we polished off both desserts without a problem. We also both had coffee, which was good. It matched the desserts perfectly.

I guess it was a good thing we walked 10 miles that day. Otherwise, we'd be feeling pretty guilty about this excellent meal that we had.

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>>  Saturday, May 12, 2007

We went to Oleana semi-spontaneously last Wednesday night after I received the letter saying that I had passed the Bar exam. Zagat's Survey recently rated Oleana as one of the top ten restaurants in Boston for food.

As there were no reservations available until after 9 PM, we decided to go sit at the bar. Unlike at Chez Henri (to be reviewed later), the "bar" at Oleana consists only of the stools surrounding the bar. (At Chez Henri the "bar" is a separate adjoining room that has a bar, but also includes several tables at which one can sit). Not knowing this, I sat down at a table in the room with the bar for several minutes before a waiter, upon finding out that I had no reservation, politely showed me the bar stools.

The food was, as always, absolutely excellent. Oleana's dinner menu is divided into several categories: Pret a Manger (small, snack-like appetizers, $4-$5), Appetizers ($10-$12), Grains or Greens ($8/$15), and Main Entrees ($23-$26). Additionally, they have a Vegetarian Tasting Menu, which consists of 5 mini-dishes and a dessert. They are famous for their Baked Alaska dessert.

Being one who loves variety, I decided to ordered the vegetarian tasting platter. The chef chooses the five vegetarian plates at her whim. These five items from the menu, and could be chosen from the pret a mangers, appetizers, or side dishes on the menu. Bryan ordered the special of the day, which was a parmesan encrusted pork loin with a fava and beet salad on the side. He also ordered an appetizer, the Walnut & Sesame Fatayer (a flat bread) with Homemade Mozzarella & Rhubarb Jam.

My 5 "mezzes" were absolutely excellent. I had two favorites. The first was the Asparagus, Green Almond Pesto, and Fava Puree appetizer. The asparagus was lightly grilled, and together with the pesto and the fava puree, created a perfect blend of flavors with each bite.

We also really liked my first course, which I think was the Whipped Feta with Sweet & Hot Peppers. This spread was creamy and spicy and utterly addictive. It came with crackers, and we could not stop eating it. Very tasty albeit a bit salty. I would definitely eat it with bread.

I also got the Warm Organic Kalamata Olives with Rigani & Sesame Seeds, which was good.

My other two courses, Spinach Falafel, Tahini, Yogurt with Beets & M√Ęche and a rice noodle dish were my least favorite. The falafel was fine, although I did not think it tasted any better than a falafel from a food truck. In fact, it was a bit mushy and cold, so arguably not as good.

The rice noodle dish was weird. It was a fusion of normal rice noodles, but with an interesting flavor that I actually can't remember. All I could remember thinking was - I miss the fried rice noodles from the Taiwanese restaurants.

Bryan's pork was very well made - the inside was juicy and tender and the parmesan crust was delicious. The fava and beet salad also tasted fresh, healthy, and flavorful.

Over all, this is an excellent restaurant and a good place to try some innovative Mediterranean food. This is probably my third time at the restaurant, but I would gladly go back again and I definitely recommend going.

Note - the Deviled Eggs with Tuna & Black Olives is one of their most famous "Prets" (Pret a Manger) and is surprisingly really good. If it's your first time, you should order that. Oh, and if you like spicy, you should get the Whipped Feta with Sweet & Hot Peppers! Make sure to finish with the baked Alaska!

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Il Panino Express

>>  Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Il Panino Express is a casual, Italian restaurant right across the street from our condo. The food is fast, consistently good, and cheap. If we're short on time, it's definitely our favorite place to eat. You order food at the counter and then they call your name when it's ready - which is usually within 5 minutes. There's usually plenty of seating available.

Their sandwiches are very good only cost $5.95. Their namesake sandwich, the Il Panino, contains proscuitto (imported from Italy), tomatoes, basil, and fresh homemade mozarella. It is probably the sandwich I order the most often. If you're vegetarian, you can opt for the Il Panino Lady, which omits the proscuitto. Their chicken parmesan sub is awesome - probably my favorite chicken parm sandwich in the city. The tomato sauce that accompanies the breaded chicken is fresh and not too acidic, adding balanced moisture to the sandwich. The chicken is piping hot and also tender and juicy. It's truly an amazing sandwich.

We always get the same salad when we go - the tomato basil and mozarella salad (Insalata Caprese at other restaurants). It's a simple salad - sliced tomatoes, fresh basil leaves, their own fresh homemade mozarella slices, and olive oil. I absolutely love their mozarella. Sometimes I wish the tomatoes were a bit more ripe - it feels like they use hard, refrigerated tomatoes. Besides that, however, the salad is quite enjoyable.

They also have excellent pizzas. We actually slightly prefer their pizzas to those at Basta Pasta, another restaurant that we love. Our favorite pizza is the artichoke, proscuitto, and mushroom pizza.

Pastas and Main Dishes
Of course, the hot dishes are excellent. Our favorite meat dish is the veal calabresello, which is breaded veal, spinach, and fontina cheese cooked with a fragrant marsala sauce over pasta. It's very flavorful. We also like the pesto gnocchi a lot. The texture of the gnocchi is nice and chewy and the pesto sauce has good flavor. They also offer a variety of seafood, such as clams, mussels, and shrimp. We've had the mussels with liguini, which was good.

Their lunch specials are usually a good value at $6.25. Bryan will often get those when he is working from home.

Over all, Il Panino is a great place to get good food at a great value. Although they don't have fresh pasta nor waitstaff, we still enjoy going there because the dishes are tasty, the food comes quickly, and the prices are very reasonable . . . oh, and it's a 3 minute walk from our house. :P

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