Rafiki Bistro - update NOW CLOSED

>>  Saturday, March 31, 2012

This is the first restaurant post in the new series, Welcome to My New Hood


How do you respond to heartbroken customers when you take over a space that had been occupied since the 1930's by the same restaurant?

Many people mourned the closing of the Forest Cafe (in all its gritty and inexpensive glory) when it finally shuttered its doors in 2009. The question remained for quite some time, "who would take over the space"?

Last year, the same folks who run Clear Conscious Cafe in Central Square (that coffee shop at the entrance of Harvest Coop), decided to open up a restaurant that focused on fresh, local ingredients with an aim to offer really good, vegetarian friendly dishes.

It's been over a year now since Rafiki Bistro first opened. The menu has changed a few times. The brunch is no longer available.  It's moved a bit more towards French bistro and a little less vegetarian-focused.

After we moved to this stretch between Harvard and Porter, we resolved to try every single restaurant "in the hood." Here are our thoughts after our first visit.

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Welcome to My New Hood

>>  Thursday, March 29, 2012

It's been a little over half a year since we moved from our tiny urban condo to our slightly bigger medium-sized urban house in Cambridge.

I am amazed at how time has flown. It seems like just yesterday we were packing endless boxes, throwing out all sorts of junk, and dealing with the move.

Though we aren't completely settled yet, we've made significant progress. About 95% of the boxes are unpacked, 85% of necessary furniture purchased, and 0% of the home decorating has been done (OK, I guess I did hang up one print . . .)

In honor of the half-year anniversary of our new house, I've decided to dedicate this next series to highlighting some of the new restaurants we've discovered in our "hood."

We essentially ate our way up Mass Ave from Harvard to Porter, and then visited several other nearby places, all within walking distance.

Here's a sneak preview of the places we visited!

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Baraka Cafe

I love hidden gems.

I love small, family-owned, little finds that serve fantastic, authentic food in a warm and cozy environment.

I discovered Baraka Cafe, an Algerian-Tunisian and North African restaurant, years ago when I started my current job in Central Square. Just a little off the beaten path (you have to walk down Pearl Street a bit), this family-owned restaurant churns out flavorful, unusual dishes at prices that look like they haven't changed in decades.

Chef-owners Alia Radjeb Meddeb and Krimo Dahim, who grew up in Tunisia and Algeria, run this small, cozy restaurant. The kitchen is crazy small (I'm amazed at what they can churn out there), and seating is limited.

The moment you walk in, you feel like you are visiting someone's home.

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>>  Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Edamame potstickers
Edamame potstickers

It's been hyped. And continually delayed. For months.

I walk down Mass Ave in Central Square every day on my way to work. Ever since early summer last year, I've passed by a sign in front of Moksa that says, "opening late, late, late summer."

People have wondered for awhile now what Chef Patricia's Yeo's new project would look like.  After Ginger Park (her first Boston venture) closed, she joined Om as their executive chef. Meanwhile, in the background, she's been planning an Asian fusion izakaya which features small plates inspired by street foods from China, Japan, and Southeast Asia.
Edamame potstickers
Edamame potstickers

In Japan, an izakaya is a drinking establishment that serves casual, small plates meant to go really well with the drinks.  Here, Chef Yeo has taken that concept and melded it with the street food idea. Moksa serves appetizer sized portions of a variety of dishes, many of which are inspired by street dishes from Asia.

It's only been a few weeks since the restaurant has opened, so I'm sure the kitchen is still trying to figure things out. Nevertheless, here's a recap of my first visit there. We got the unusual opportunity of sitting outside on their patio (in the middle of March!!) due to unseasonably warm weather.

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Sharpening Your Knives in New York

>>  Monday, March 26, 2012

It may look like a real sword, but no, I have not taken up swordfighting.

What you're seeing is a very special tuna knife! This specialized knife is used to cut up an entire tuna fish, which can grow up to six feet long!

This past weekend I took a wonderful (but short) trip to New York City. Bryan and I enjoyed a lot of Japanese culture this time, everything from visiting a Japanese knife shop to eating our favorite sushi and trying handmade soba noodles.

One of the highlights of our trip was a special visit to the Korin Japanese Trading Company (a place that sells to the likes of Eric Ripert, Daniel Boulud, Nobuyuki "Nobu" Matsuhisa, and Masaharu Morimoto) in downtown where I got my special Japanese knives sharpened by the greatest knife sharpening master in the US.

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Max Brenner (Caesars Palace)

>>  Thursday, March 22, 2012

This is part 5 of the Winter in Vegas Series. Other posts in this series include The Wicked SpoonIl Mulino, and Table 10.

"Chocolate by the Bald Man" is the peculiar logo for Max Brenner, an Israeli chocolate shop that has now spread to many parts of the world (including Boston just this past year!).

The focus of this chocolatier is not so much on the quality of the chocolate itself as it is on CHOCOLATE as an overall theme. The menu at the shop is filled with a dizzying array of chocolate treats - everything from breakfast (chocolate waffles and crepes) to desserts (chocolate fondue, chocolate shakes, ice cream). and even stranger concoctions (chocolate martinis or chocolate pizza anyone?).

It's a bit gimmicky, but overall fun, casual, and pretty relaxed.

One fun thing to do is to make s'mores, table side! Even though Bryan usually hates getting his hands dirty, he's willing to do it once in a blue moon for something worthy.

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Table 10 (Emeril LaGasse)

>>  Wednesday, March 21, 2012

This is part 4 of the Winter in Vegas Series. Other posts in this series include The Wicked Spoon and Il Mulino.

Table 10 is named after a very significant table.

"Table 10" was the table at Emeril LaGasse's original flagship restaurant in New Orleans where staff meetings were held, menus were created, and new ideas were born.

Table 10 opened in Las Vegas in 2008 and focuses on French/Creole cooking with an emphasis on market-fresh produce.

Out of all of the famous chefs represented in Las Vegas, this was one of the last ones we had yet to try. We had already hit many of the famous "household name" TV chefs (Mario Batali, Bobby Flay, Rick Moonen) as well as other famous Michelin-award winning chefs (Thomas Keller, Joel Robuchon, Jose Andres, Charlie Palmer, and Wolfgang Puck).

We were at CES (Consumer Electronics Show). It was lunchtime. We were already viewing exhibits at the Venetian. We were hungry.

Since we'd already tried several other restaurants in the vicinity (Mario Batali's Enoteca de San MarcoSushi Samba, and Bouchon Bistro), we decided try something new.

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Il Mulino (Las Vegas)

>>  Tuesday, March 20, 2012

This is part 3 of the Winter in Vegas Series. Other posts in this series include The Wicked Spoon.

Crowded tables, unpredictable service, difficult-to-score reservations, crazy high prices, huge portions, and fantastic food.

These are words commonly used to describe the original Il Mulino in New York - a tiny, Italian restaurant in Greenwich Village that's been open since 1981. Founded by brothers Fernando and Gino Masci (who grew up in the Abruzzi region of Italy), Il Mulino aims to reflect the true Abruzzi experience: fresh, rustic vegetables and meats cooked in simple ways to allow the ingredients to shine.

The food, no doubt, has been bringing diners back over and over throughout the years. Heck, it's even the place where Bill Clinton and President Barack Obama chose to meet for dinner.

Reservations are notoriously hard to obtain. Even if you get one, you may not necessarily be seated at the allotted time. Space is at a premium, and diners are packed closely together.

Thankfully, Il Mulino has been opening new restaurants around the country, and now there are outposts in many cities, including Chicago, Miami, Atlantic City, Las Vegas, and even Tokyo!

Because Bryan absolutely loves Italian food, and because we didn't know whether we'd ever be able to visit the New York location, we made a reservation at the Las Vegas Il Mulino to see what all this hype was about.

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10th Annual Almost Famous Chef Competition: Signature Dish

>>  Monday, March 19, 2012

This post is part 2 of a larger series about the 10th Annual S. Pellegrino Almost Famous Chef Competition 

Welcome to Day 2 of the Almost Famous Chef Competition!

If you missed Day 1 of the competition, the Mystery Basket, definitely go check out that post here to learn about the background of this competition.

This was it - the final culmination of months of intense preparation. These contestants had poured hours and hours into practicing their signature dishes over and over again.

The Signature Dish Competition features the same exact winning dishes that these students created during Regionals.

The twist?

Instead of serving it to just eight judges at Regionals, they would be preparing it for 200 guests! Yes! All of the guests would get to taste these creations!

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10th Annual S. Pellegrino Almost Famous Chef Competition: Mystery Basket

>>  Friday, March 16, 2012

We take a brief break from Las Vegas to head over to Napa Valley . . .

It's that time of year again!

Welcome to Day 1 of the finals for the S. Pellegrino Aqua Panna Almost Famous Chef competition.

Last month I had the privilege of being one of the media judges at the New England Regionals Competition. There, we crowned Geoffrey Lanez from Johnson & Wales University in Providence as the champion with his delicious pistachio encrusted pan fried halibut dish.

This past weekend, I traveled to Napa Valley again to witness the winners of each Regionals Competition compete for the coveted National prize of Almost Famous Chef. What's at stake? $10,000 and an internship with one of the chef judges.

Trust me, this year's chef judges are an impressive bunch, and I think it would be a privilege to train under any of them.

Additional prizes, each worth $3000, are also given out to the "Fan Favorite" (based on voting from around the world), "People's Choice" (based on voting of the Signature Dish prepared in Round 2 of the competition), winner of Day 1 "Mystery Basket", and winner of Day 2 "Signature Dish Competition".

This post will focus on Day 1: the Mystery Basket Competition

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Wicked Spoon (Cosmopolitan)

>>  Thursday, March 15, 2012

This post is a part of a larger series titled Winter in Las Vegas.

The landscape in Vegas has changed dramatically in the five years that I have been visting. Between my first time in Vegas and this last trip, Palazzo has been built, Encore (Wynn's sister) opened, and the entire City Center complex has been completed.

One of the newest casino/hotels that has come up recently is the Cosmopolitan, a hip, trendy building conveniently located right between the Bellagio (still my all time favorite - love those fountains) and the new City Center.

Inside this hotel is a buffet that's really different from all the others.

The concept is - small portions, higher quality.

It's all-you-can-eat, tapas style. Almost all of the dishes come in mini-portions, plated much more elegantly than food at a typical buffet.

Bryan and I met some friends there for a very reasonable $22 brunch. After paying the crazy, exorbitant Strip prices for several meals in a row in Vegas, this was a welcome relief.

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Winter in Vegas

>>  Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Bellagio Fountains night
For the past five years, I have had the opportunity to visit warm Las Vegas in the middle of January, one of the coldest and (usually) snowiest months in Boston. I fight with the crowds that swarm upon this city every winter to witness the release of fancy new electronic gadgets, bigger-than-life TVs, and eye-popping 3D displays.

That’s right.

Bryan and I go to the Consumer Electronics Show each year for fun. (Yes, we actually take vacation days from our day jobs to attend this conference).

Of course, witnessing the latest and greatest new technology is only part of why we like coming to Vegas.

We come because my mom's at the conference every year, so it' fun to visit her in Las Vegas. Additionally, Bryan and I love watching the various shows in Vegas.  I think we've seen every single Cirque du Soleil as well as a couple magic shows.
L'Atalier de Joel Robuchon
Oh yes, how could I forget?  The food!

Admittedly, the restaurant prices on the Strip seem unreasonably expensive, marked up partly because Las Vegas is in the middle of desert (export costs); but also because the Strip is filled with deep expense account pockets, tourists, and those that hit the jackpot playing slots or some other casino games the night before.

Nevertheless, you can’t deny that the Strip has one of the most concentrated collections of really, really good restaurants in the nation. Many of the top chefs in the world have come here to make their mark. You can easily stay in Vegas for two weeks and not run out of good places to try.

Alas, that is why, even in 5 years, we have barely made a dent in our belt of “Vegas Restaurants.”

This Vegas series will focus on the new restaurants we visited this past January.  If you’re interested in seeing all of our past Vegas write-ups, click here.

Here's a sneak preview of some of the posts to come!

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SAMM (Chef's Tasting Room at Bazaar byJosé Andrés)

>>  Thursday, March 08, 2012

This is part 5 (final post) of the Los Angeles Eating Adventures Series. The other posts in this series include Peking RestaurantScoops WestsideSushi Zo, and Bouchon Bakery Beverly Hills

Who or what is Samm?

Samm is a dining room inside José Andrés’ main restaurant in Los Angeles, Bazaar. Samm only offers a tasting menu which highlights Jose Andres’ best or favorite dishes from his various different restaurants. Think of it as a "greatest hits" plus some hidden favorites only available at Samm.

José Andrés is best known for introducing the tapas concept to America through his many Spanish-influenced restaurants in the US. He trained under the molecular gastronomy king Ferran Adria at El Bulli, whose influence you can definitely see in his dishes today.

After a chilly walk around Beverly Hills (where I visited the only Bouchon in Los Angeles), we headed to Samm, anxious to see what surprises José Andrés had in store for us.

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Bouchon Beverly Hills

This is part 4 of the Los Angeles Eating Adventures Series. The other posts in this series include Peking RestaurantScoops Westside, and Sushi Zo

It seems fitting that on Oreo's 100th birthday (OK, I'm technically late by a day or two), I have a post that prominently displays Thomas Keller's version of this delicious cookie, the TKO ("Thomas Keller Oreo).

I really love the concept of the chocolate sandwich cookie. Cookies & cream has always been one of my all time favorite ice cream flavors. In fact, there was a time when I used to carry around crushed Oreo cookies with me just in case I happened to need it.

Not surprisingly, the first time I tried Thomas Keller's version, I completely fell in love. So enamored, I began to hunt locally for a similar cookie. I tried making my own. Though the homemade cookie is a valiant substitute, it still wasn't quite the same.

It still looked like I could only enjoy this cookie sporadically, whenever I visited New York.

Then, this past Christmas while in LA with Bryan's parents, I unexpectedly stumbled upon a snowman shaped TKO.

My jaw dropped. There's a Bouchon in LA?

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Cooking for a Cause + Giveaway!

>>  Wednesday, March 07, 2012

We take this short break from the Los Angeles Eating Adventures Series to tell you about a great food and charity event happening in Boston in a couple weeks!

I am so excited to tell you about a really exciting food charity event that's coming up in a few weeks here in Boston.

On Friday, March 30, 2012 at the Seaport Hotel in Boston, the East End House will be holding its annual Cooking for a Cause. It'll be an incredible evening where some of the area's best chefs and mixologists, along with wine, beer, spirits, and coffee vendors, will come together to create a fantastic evening of food, cocktails, wine, and entertainment.

The event benefits the East End House a community center in Cambridge that reaches out to under-resourced families in Cambridge. The East End House offers all sorts of services to the community, including an emergency food program, child care program, after school programs, and training workshops for adults.

The line up of local chefs is pretty impressive. There are many excellent chefs from Cambridge, such as Tony Maws from Craigie on Main, Jody Adams from Rialto, Peter McCarthy from EVOO, and Mary Dumont from Harvest.'

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Sushi Zo

This is part 3 of the Los Angeles Eating Adventures Series. The other posts in this series include Peking Restaurant and Scoops Westside.

Could it be?

A sushi experience in the US that actually mirrors the experience I had in Japan?

From my many experiences eating sushi in Japan, I've come to the conclusion that sushi in Japan is nothing like sushi in the US. Although the sheer availability of fish in Japan has something to do with it, I've always noticed that the dining experience is different.

You can read my detailed thoughts about it here, but certain things are different in Japan. The sushi chefs don't let you put wasabi in your soy sauce; they instruct you whether to use soy sauce at all; and they hand you the pieces, one morsel at a time.

Imagine my curiosity when a good friend of mine told me, "we found a place in L.A. that serves sushi just like in Japan! Piece by piece, and they are really strict about wasabi!"

After finding out that this restaurant also had one of the highest Zagat ratings possible (29), along with one coveted Michelin star, I was more than just curious.

I really, really wanted to check this place out.

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Scoops Westside

>>  Friday, March 02, 2012

This is part 2 of the Los Angeles Eating Adventures Series. The other posts in this series include Peking Restaurant and Sushi Zo

On the west side of Los Angeles, not too far from the glitzy restaurants that Hollywood stars frequent, sits a tiny little ice cream shop that serves up some really unique flavors.

You know me and ice cream. It's something my body has been accustomed to having ever since I was about two years old. I'm a sucker for creative ice cream flavors, and I seek out cool places that aren't afraid to be creative.

What's even cooler about this place? It's run by a fellow food blogger - a person who decided to give up his day job as a commercial bank analyst to pursue his passion for all things food.

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Peking Restaurant

This is part 1 of the Los Angeles Eating Adventures Series. The other posts in this series include Peking Restaurant, Scoops Westside, and Sushi Zo

I am absolutely stunned that it has taken me this long to tell you about this place.

Year after year, trip after trip, we always come here whenever we are back in LA. Whether it be with his parents or his high school friends, we never tire of visting this place for a tasty, satisfying lunch.

Simply called "Peking Restaurant" (Bryan and his friends all call it "Beijing"), this unassuming dive in a strip mall in Westminster has been the spot Bryan and his friends visit for authentic, cheap, and fantastic Northern Chinese food.. Bryan grew up eating here (it was really close to his church) and never fails to return every time he is in Los Angeles.

So what makes this place so special?

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Los Angeles Eating Adventures

>>  Thursday, March 01, 2012

Ever since I've been married, without fail, we head out to sunny Southern California for the holidays. Most winters, it's been a great reprieve from the harsh winters that we experience in Boston.

Boston gets dark so early (think pitch black by 4:30PM in the dead of winter),  there's a part of me that's secretly glad that I'm always in a region where the sun doesn't set until around 6PM during the shortest days of the year.

I digress.

This past holiday we again went to Southern California. This time around, we visited Disneyland (riding the new Star Tours ride FOUR TIMES), ate at our favorite Chinese haunts, and checked out a few new exciting places. This next series will highlight some of these fantastic restaurants.

Can you guess where we went?

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you can contact me at: jen[at]tinyurbankitchen[dot]com
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