Cafe Mami

>>  Monday, August 20, 2007

Porter Square is the closest thing that Boston has to a Japantown. A single building on Mass Ave houses a Japanese grocery store (Kotobukiya), a Japanese gift shop, a Japanese costume shop, a Japanese bakery, a boba tea shop, a sit-down sushi restaurant (Bluefin), and several casual food stalls specializing in various sorts of Japanese food (curry, ramen, and sushi, just to name a few).

We tried Cafe Mami on Friday night. Cafe Mami is tiny - it has a bar area that seats about 4 people and then two larger tables that fit 4-6 people each. That's it. Oftentimes, they will seat two parties at each of the tables.

The food at Cafe Mami was cheap and good. For a mere $8, you get a salad, miso soup, and an entree. Cafe Mami specializes in rice dishes, and sells familiar dishes such as katsudon, yakidon, and curry.

Bryan ordered the curry with beef and a fried egg on top (sunny side up) and I ordered the yakidon. Yakidon is a soy-based marinated beef that slightly reminds me of Korean BBQ. I thought the flavor of my yakidon was perfect - both sweet and salty in a perfect way that makes the dish horribly addictive. In fact, the flavor of my dish was so addictive that I ended up eating more than I had planned (in other words, I finished the entire dish).

Bryan's curry was also yummy. Accordingly to our friends, who go there often, the hamburger curry with the special tomato sauce is really good. The deep fried chicken tenders are also supposed to be amazing. The place really feels authentic, like you're sitting in a little Japanese food stall in Tokyo.

Apparently the place is very popular and it's often difficult to score seating. I guess we were lucky - we arrived early on a Friday night (around 6:15 PM) and didn't have to wait for a seat.

Over all, I thought this place was great. If you're in Porter Square, check this place out for yummy, satisfying, home-cooked and cheap Japanese food. YUM.
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Cold Asian Cucumber Salad

>>  Sunday, August 19, 2007

We have gotten a lot of cucumbers from our farm share lately. Here is a nice cool summer salad that you can make with the cucumbers.

Step 1: Cut cucumbers into ~ 3 inch pieces.

Step 2: Smash the cucumber with the side of a heavy cleaver. It may be easier to smash if you cut the cucumbers halfway down the center first.

Step 3: Add salt (about 1 teaspoon) and let the cucumbers sit for at least 20 minutes to let the water out (osmosis).
Step 4: Pour out the cucumber juices that have collected at the bottom of the bowl. Squeeze the cucumbers with your hands, add more salt, and let it sit for another 10 minutes or so.

Step 5: Squeeze the cucumbers again and remove as much water as possible.

Step 6: Add sesame oil, soy sauce, finely chopped or pressed garlic, sugar, and dried red pepper flakes to taste. I usually use about 1 garlic clove, a teaspoon of sesame oil, a teaspoon of soy sauce, and 1/2 teaspoon of sugar. This is quite subjective, and feel free to play around with the amounts to taste.


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Jose's Mexican Restaurant

Jose's is a tiny, quaint little Mexican restaurant in North Cambridge on Sherman Street, right in the middle of a residential neighborhood. We were intrigued with the place, partially because it won Best of Boston for "affordable Mexican food" in 2004, and partially because it was down the street from our friends' house.

The menu definitely has some authentic Mexican fare that you woudn't find at your typical burrito place. For example, Bryan ordered the Dona Reyna's Chile Rellenos ($10.95), which are poblano peppers stuffed with cheese and beef. I ordered pozole del dia ($5.95 small, $8.95 large), a chicken and white corn stew with cilantro, onion, oregano, and lime. The menu also has Mexican dishes with which you may be more familiar, such as enchiladas, tacos, quesadillas, burritos, and chimichangas.

Over all, the food was pretty good, though not the best Mexican we've had in Boston (that might go to Tu y Yo, which I'll discuss at a later date in another blog entry).

The free homemade salsa was very good, and you get a choice of heat level (mild, medium, hot). The homemade chips were a bit on the stale side, but the salsa was so tasty we kept eating the chips regardless.

Bryan liked his chile rellenos dish. The poblano pepper together with the beef and cheese was tasty without being overpowering. Flavors were balanced, and the dish was satisfying.

My soup was too salty for my taste, and even too salty for Bryan (who has a much higher tolerance for salt!). I did think the puffy white corn pieces were unique and interesting. The blend of lime, cilantro, oregano, and onion gave the soup a fragrant and unique flavor, which would have tasted really good had the soup been less salty.

Supposedly, the restaurant is great for margaritas (they have 32 tequilas and 10 Mexican beers!) although we did not really try any drinks (except for the Corona) this time around. If you're in the area, it's worth visiting this place. The food is authentic, tasty, and reasonably priced.

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Wagamama is a ramen bar inspired chain that originates from the UK. It is wildly popular in Great Britain, and has now made its way across the "pond" to the US. Currently, the only two locations in the US are at Faneuil Hall and in Harvard Square.

Wagamama's philosophy is encapsulated in its logo, "positive eating, positive living," a phrase for which it actually holds a registered trademark. On top of various Japanese entrees, such as ramen, udon, chili noodles, curry rice dishes, and salads, Wagamama also has other "positive eating" options, such as fresh vegetable and fruit juices, salads, and appetizers, such as edamame and gyoza.

Bryan and I decided to check out the Wagamama in Harvard Square tonight. The seating arrangement in the restaurant is unique and similar across all Wagamamas. Long rows of tables and benches line the restaurant - you may very well be seated next to someone you don't know. If you've been to High Rise Bakery Cafe on Concord Ave in Cambridge, you know what I'm talking about. Anyway, we were seated immediately and a waitress came within a short time to take our order. They take all of their orders on electronic devices that send the order directly to the kitchen. They say that the food may come out at random times and not necessarily together, since everything is made to order and they serve it fresh to you the moment it's ready. (Bryan thinks that's a lame excuse since food is cooked to order at most restaurants)

Bryan ordered the chili beef ramen ($14.95) which was a big bowl of a fragrant soup (not really that spicy) with sirloin steak, lime, cilantro, fresh chilies, scallions, red onions, and bean sprouts. I ordered the ata-taka chicken salad ($9.95), which, despite its name, is actually chicken strips marinated with cumin, chili, cilantro, soy sauce, garlic, and lime juice sauteed with bean sprouts, red onion, and a sweet ginger sauce. The stir-fry was placed over a bed of baby spinach lightly dressed with Wagamama's house dressing.

Over all, we thought food was pretty good, but pricey for what you get. Bryan thought his noodle soup was OK, but said he would not come back. Le's (formerly known as Pho Pasteur) is just down the street and serves up hot piping bowls of Vietnamese pho and other noodles soups. Not only does Bryan like the noodle soup at Le's better, it only costs $5.95 for an equally large bowl. I personally liked how his noodle soup was very fragrant (many herbs or spices or something) yet not very salty at all. It reminded me of spa food.

I enjoyed my dish quite a lot. I liked how it was not very greasy at all and also not too salty. It was a small enough portion that I was able to finish the entire dish without feeling grossly full afterwards. The flavors were nice, and I felt satisfied in a healthy way after I had finished my meal. Over all, the food at Wagamama definitely seems healthy, very much in line with their motto. I was quite impressed with how they managed to make my chicken strips tasty yet very low salt at the same time.

The ambiance is trendy and chic, which may explain why they are able to charge higher prices for something as simple as ramen (which really does not cost a lot to make!). Over all, I think I liked the place more than Bryan did. For me, it fit a set of strict criteria that is hard for any restaurant to meet: close to home, not too expensive (on a absolute scale), healthy (the hardest criteria to meet), and yummy.

If you're in the area and are in the mood for some interesting healthy Asian (mostly Japanese) inspired spa-like food, check out Wagamama's and be prepared to spend around $10-$15 for your dish. Enjoy!

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Mu Que Ca

>>  Monday, August 13, 2007

When I say Brazilian food, what does the average American think of? Most likely, the answer is Brazilian BBQ, which involves all-you-can-eat quantities of endless meats on skewers passed around. The mere thought of that makes me not want to eat anymore.

This is what makes the Brazilian restaurant Muqueca so special. Muqueca is not a grilled meat place at all. In fact, almost all of the food is seafood. This is because Muqueca serves traditional authentic food from a region in Brazil called Espirito Santo. Espirito Santo is a small state in the Southeastern coast of Brazil.

Muqueca is a tiny Brazilian restaurant on Cambridge street in Inman Square. It is owned byFatima (Fafa) and Antonio Gomes, a Brazilian couple who moved to Boston with the dream of showing America "Brazilian food at its finest . . . most principally delicacies from their state Espirito Santo."

They have definitely succeeded. Muqueca is a wildly popular restaurant.

One of our favorite dishes is the moqueca ($11.95 to $14.95), a seafood stew made with tomatoes, lots of cilantro, onions, garlic, and annatto seeds. Our favorite moqueca is probably the mussels moqueca ($12.95), although they are all very tasty.

The house salad ($5.95) is also very good. It contains interesting vegetables such as palm hearts, apples, olives, and corn. Bryan and I usually like to order one as a starter.

The seafood pie ($15.95) is also interesting and quite tasty. It has a conglomerate of seafood, (salt cod, crab, shrimp, mussels, and fish), all ground up and mixed with olives and eggs to create a pie that is baked in the oven. The blend of flavors is nice, not too overpowering yet quite flavorful.

The last time we went we got the deep fried red snapper ($18.95). Essentially, they take the entire fish, season it, and deep fry it whole. Although it takes a little work to pry the fish off the bone, the flavor of the dish was quite tasty.

We also like the interesting variety of authentic Brazilian appetizers and fruit drinks. They eat a lot of yucca, and thus have some yucca based appetizers. They also make interesting shakes, the most interesting one being the blueberry cashew shakes.

Both of the desserts they offer, the passion fruit pudding and the flan, are excellent and quite a bargain at only $3.

Essentially, almost everything we've ever ordered has been very good. You really can't go wrong with this place.

Well, there is one bad thing. The worse thing about this restaurant is the wait. It is a tiny restaurant (probably only about 7 tables) and super popular. Furthermore, they cook each moqueca to order (takes about 20 minutes) so the service is not what you'd call super fast. If you want to go, try to go at a non-peak time (week nights before 7 PM). Otherwise, you could easily wait an hour for a table.

I highly recommend this restaurant. The food is very authentic and very well made. Moreover, the prices are very reasonable and the people are very friendly.

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