Sunday, June 26, 2011

Eatable Provincetown

To Provincetown, to Provincetown, at the very tip of Cape Cod. We were spoiled—or, perhaps pampered is a better word—and any hope I had of fitting into a bridesmaid's dress next weekend disappeared along with the baked stuffed lobster that I ate, and the enormous sushi boat, and the eggs benedict, and all the planter's punches.

For breakfast, a chocolate croissant (that rivals the very best I've had) alongside a bittersweet cup of cafe au lait.

A short walk to Perry's (everything is only a short walk away in Provincetown) revealed to us a feast of cheeses and bread and prociutto, and a sample of creamy Spanish Garrotxa from the proprietor. But we were in a spirit au francais, and opted for a barnyard-y Brebicet with its velvety rind.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Khayyam Persian Restaurant: Belly Dancing and Kebobs Compete for your Attention

This review originally published June 23, 2011 at The Brookline Patch

I can’t remember the last time I’ve been so entertained during dinner. In a synthesis of the physical and the transcendental, dinner theater―or, as is the case at Khayyam Restaurant, belly dancing―competes constantly with culinary artistry in an unspoken battle for our attention.

In this case, the competition pitted a twirling, graceful dancer wielding a sword against uninspired food and overall poor service. You can bet the food lost.

That’s not to say it was a bad meal, per se. The highlights, like Mahicheh Baghali ($16.99), incredibly tender braised lamb shank, and Fasenjan ($14.99) a rich, mellifluous pomegranate and ground walnut sauce served over supple chunks of chicken, were outstanding.

I had heard praise for Khayyam’s kebobs, and they lived up to reputation―chicken kebobs, known as Morgh Barg ($12.99), were grilled to juicy perfection.  Beef Kubideh ($11.99), another type of Persian kebob in which a mixture of ground meat, onion, egg, and spices, and is pressed around a skewer and grilled—a kind of meatloaf on a stick―is savory and well-seasoned, if a bit eggy.  Mahi Azad ($15.99), skewers of salmon marinated in lemon juice, olive oil, and spice and then grilled, was cooked perfectly.
Mahicheh Baghali
The rest of the meal, an adequate but unimpressive collection of muted flavor, lost our attention in competition with the talented belly dancer.  She shook!  She shimmied!  She balanced a sword on her head!  Khayyam boasts “family friendly” belly dancing several nights a week, smiling dancers who glamorize the aisle between the '60s-style maroon leather booths, amid whistling and applause.
The dancer’s charm and athleticism won our applause and appreciation―unlike the appetizers we ate during her performance.  Khayyam’s version of hummus ($4.99) is incredibly smooth and velvety, but, perhaps in a minimalist interpretation, tasted devoid of any tahini, garlic or lemon.  It arrived with a basket of cold storebought pita wedges.  The falafel ($4.99) was dry, despite an accompanying sour yogurt sauce.
Taddig ($4.99), a layer of crispy rice that cooks up at the bottom of a pot, is a crunchy Persian favorite.  Here it was served as an appetizer under a ladleful of stew, which on that day was the tangy Khoresht Ghormeh Sabzy, stewed green vegetables with kidney beans and the tartness of dried lemon.

A cucumber-tomato salad sprinkled with lemon would have been refreshing, if we hadn’t detected the bitter ammonia of bottled lemon juice.
Rice pilaf is often the center of a Persian meal, and it is solid here―never overly starchy, and al dente to the tooth.  But the flavorings in our Shirin Polo, ranging from orange peels to little sour barberries to pistachio nuts, lounged on top of the dish like garnishes, rather than mixing throughout the pilaf.  It was fine, but nothing to write home to Persia about.
The service ranged from the decent to the bad to the very bad―rather than informing us that the kitchen was out of saffron ice cream, someone along the chain of command served us pistachio nuts atop a scoop of plain vanilla; it appeared on our bill as “pistachio ice cream,” and, oh yes, cost the same amount as the saffron.
My recommendation?  If you go, go for the belly dancing.  The performance is a novelty that enhances the mostly un-novel food―though there are some gems hidden in the garish, bright blue menu that might make your trip worthwhile.
Khayyam Restaurant is open for lunch 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Sunday, and for dinner 5 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. Monday through Sunday.  BYOB.  404 Harvard Street, Brookline.  Webpage:  MBTA: Green Line (B) to Harvard Street.
Khayyam on Urbanspoon

Monday, June 13, 2011

elote from {On a Stick!}

If it's true that we are what we eat, then Matt Armendariz seems like someone I want to be friends with. His new cookbook {On a Stick!} seems like the kind of summertime fun rivaled only by a slip 'n slide (remember those?). Corn dogs! Fudge pops! Caramel popcorn balls! Mojito Melon fruit skewers! It makes me want to throw an apron on over my swimsuit, host a party, and take all the credit for the ensuing goodies-on-sticks.

Just kidding, Matt.

{Sort of.}

Friday, June 10, 2011

Cutty's: Laid-back Local Sandwich Shop

This review originally published on June 9, 2011 at The Brookline Patch

I’m standing in line at Cutty’s, the sharp new sandwich shop in Brookline Village. In line with me are a couple of college kids, an elderly man on crutches, a glamorous woman toting a Floris-London bag, and a young couple with a stroller. Ah, sandwiches—the great equalizer.

Inside the door is a large sign, handwritten on butcher paper, advertising Cutty’s own pork fat for sale, with suggested uses ranging from the serious (sautéing, roasting) to the tongue-in-cheek (bronzer, eyebrow sculptor). That’s the kind of place this is: a gourmet sandwich shop for those serious about taste and locally sourced ingredients. But even if you don’t care about all that—even if you just want a really good sandwich—then this is your kind of place, too.

Cutty’s serves breakfast beginning at 8am, offering dishes like their own crumb cake ($1.70) and housemade granola with honey and yogurt ($3.65).  I’m still hoping for a morning when I can head over to Cutty’s to make a breakfast out of their roasted seasonal fruit with yogurt ($2.95).

The "Spuckie"

But for my lunch visit, I was eager to order the “Spuckie” ($7.75), a sandwich hailed as an inspired creation on far-reaching foodie websites, and it lived up to its reputation: supple handmade mozzarella, mortadella, capicola with a hint of heat, fennel salami, and an olive-carrot salad that simultaneously added sweetness, brine, and a bit of crunch.  Vegetarians can choose the Eggplant Spuckie ($7.25), with savory planks of marinated eggplant replacing the meat. Ciabatta bread, with a crust crispy enough to produce an audible crackle when you bite in, plays as equal partner to the fillings here.  Other places might get a draw through portion size, but the Spuckie―and indeed all of Cutty’s sandwiches―illustrate a “less is more” mantra, with the final product being a balanced gourmet sandwich.
Alongside my Spuckie, I had a cup of tomato soup, smooth and intensely tomato-y but too sweet for my taste, and a bag of crispy, golden, and perfectly addictive homemade potato chips ($2), sprinkled with large-grain salt.  A number of salads, like carrot and chickpea salad ($3.75) and mixed greens with shaved fennel, crispy shallots, peanuts, and aged gouda ($6.95) beckoned temptingly from the menu.
The Niman Ranch ham in the Ham Dijon sandwich ($6.45) is so good―soft, smooth, and smoky―that I could eat it plain by the forkful.  It arrives on a chewy baguette with a veneer of Dijon mustard and another of butter, giving a subtle richness to the bread.  Sliced cornichons add a gentle pucker.
Sautéed chard lends a deep earthiness to the Greens Bacon sandwich ($6.95), which suffered overall from intensely salty bacon; be sure to order a drink, like the not-too-sweet hand squeezed limeade ($1.85), alongside.  
The Roast Beef 1000 ($7.95) is one of the simplest sandwiches on the menu, yet one of the most satisfying―the beef itself is sublimely tender and savory, showcased with cheddar cheese, 1000 island dressing, and a layer of crispy shallots on top of a brioche bun.
Greens Bacon sandwich

On Saturdays, Cutty’s offers two additional specialty sandwiches, both featuring slow-roasted pork: the Pork Fennel ($8.75) with pickled fennel and roasted garlic, and the Pork Rabe ($8.95) with provolone and sautéed broccoli rabe.  We didn’t care for the unpleasantly gamey taste of the pork, and set our Pork Rabe aside after only a few bites.
Round out your lunch with a chocolate chip cookie ($.95) so buttery it could pass for chocolate-studded shortbread, or a truly amazing brown sugar cookie ($.95) with a depth of flavor revolutionary to sugar cookies in general.  This is perfect picnic food―and with nothing but warm, sunny days ahead, a picnic seems like the perfect reason to grab a Spuckie.

Cutty’s is open for breakfast and lunch Monday through Saturday 8am-3pm, with lunch beginning at 11am.  248 Washington Street, Brookline.  MBTA: Green line (D) to Brookline Village.
Cutty's on Urbanspoon

Sunday, June 5, 2011

cherry clafoutis

Sweet red cherries are one of my favorite things about this time of year. I eat them by the handful—they're perfectly bite-sized! When I was smaller, my mom would give me a colander full of freshly washed cherries, droplets of water still clinging to their bright skins, and I'd pop them in my mouth one by one, tossing the pits back into the colander (or, if I was outside, seeing how far I could spit them). I'd eat them for breakfast, or if I got lucky, as a snack. For me, that's still the best way to eat cherries, so it took all my willpower to save them for baking.