Friday, July 22, 2011

Eatable Madison

I grew up in Wisconsin, the land of closed vowels and stretched words (as in, ooooh, suuuure, which you hear frequently there, as everyone is naturally accomodating). It's curious to turn a stranger's eye upon the place where I grew up; I find myself asking silent questions like was that always there? And I'm starting to see other sides of Madison, like the meant-for-tourists side, and the legal-drinking-age side, and the this-town-is-actually-pretty-cool side, all of which were hidden to me during my earlier years.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Village Fare Pizza: One-Stop Picnic Shop in Brookline

This review originally published July 21, 2011 at The Brookline Patch

Margherita Pizza

It’s summer, which means I’m constantly on the lookout for picnic-ready bites nearby. Depending on my mood, that might mean pizza, subs, salads, wings, or wraps. (And ice cream—that’s the one non-negotiable item.)

It’s convenient, then, that Village Fare Pizza in Brookline has all of that, and more. The food is mostly your standard diner-style grub, but it’s certainly picnic-worthy, and the price is right.

Village Fare isn’t really the kind of place you want to spend much time in—the hard plastic booths and TV blasting "Days of Our Lives" on near-full volume make for a less-than-welcoming setting—but the takeout options are endless. The pizza is noteworthy: not too greasy, with choice toppings piled high onto a crust that’s crispy but rather floury and tasteless. Our Chicken Pesto Supreme ($9.99 for small) was satisfying; though we couldn't taste the pesto at all, the pizza was loaded with chicken, roasted sweet red pepper, and onion.  The Margherita ($9.99 for small) isn't the traditional combo of tomato, mozzarella, and basil, but instead spinach, tomato, ham, and mozzarella over a base of garlic and olive oil. Unexpected, yes, but certainly delicious.

Chicken Pesto Supreme
Sub sandwiches range from the straightforward to the more intriguing: ham and egg, chicken teriyaki, and BBQ bacon burger. Our Italian sub ($5.25 for small) was stuffed with good-quality meats and cheese, and dressed with a pleasantly spicy vinaigrette. A meatball sub ($5.25 for small) was a standard affair, tasty and with just the right amount of sauce.
Gyro Plate
Other choices for your picnic are wraps like the grilled chicken Caesar ($6.15) and the steak and cheese ($6.35), or salads like the Greek salad ($6.25).  Chicken wings ($5.99 for 8) are easily packed in a picnic basket, and here they're nicely crisped and spicy.
Dinner plates arrive with oversalted fries and a fairly fresh green salad crowned with a few vegetables and feta cheese. The Gyro Plate ($8.25), featuring previously-frozen gyro meat is slathered with a mild Tzatziki yogurt sauce and wrapped into a soft pita, along with anemic tomatoes and shredded lettuce, is not the Village Fare’s best work. Dinners are mostly safe and kid-friendly options, like chicken fingers ($8.95), lasagna ($7.75), and a cheeseburger ($6.95).

What’s a picnic without dessert? There’s a standing freezer full of my requisite ice cream treats ($1.75), as well as packaged cookies, brownies, whoopee pies, and squares of baklava ($1.75 each).  Sneak a few into your basket, and don’t forget the Frisbee.
Village Fare Pizza is open Monday through Thursday 10am-10pm, Friday and Saturday 10am-11pm, and Sunday noon-10pm.  387 Washington Street, Brookline. MBTA: Green Line (D) to Brookline Village.
Village Fare Pizza on Urbanspoon

Friday, July 15, 2011

grilled Caesar salad

Have you ever tried grilling lettuce? A few months ago, I might have compared it to grilling a tulip― firstly, look away for two seconds and it might wilt, and, secondly, why bother?

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Daily Catch: Sicilian Seafood Minimalism at its Finest

This review originally published on July 7, 2011 at The Brookline Patch

Black Pasta Aglio Oglio
With my first bite of Black Pasta Aglio Oglio— fresh pasta blackened with the addition of squid ink to the dough, allowing it to absorb the flavors of garlic, olive oil, and salty Italian cheese—chef Kevin Addis advised me that this dish artfully sums up the mantra at The Daily Catch. “It's so unique and genuine,” he said. “That's what we try to do here.”

Indeed. The dishes feature impossibly fresh shrimp, fish, and scallops, prepared in true Sicilian fashion—minimal fuss, light-handed preparation, and ingredients so good on their own that they barely need the sauce. An order of Linguini with Shrimp, Scallops, and Broccoli ($24.50) brought me al dente pasta, barely coated with white wine, garlic, and olive oil, and studded with flawless shrimp and scallops: Sicilian minimalism at its finest.

If you're one of the marinara faithful, you're in for a tomato-ey forkful of joy. The housemade marinara is made by tossing tomatoes with a mess of shellfish, adding a saline depth to the sauce that can turn even a simple side dish of penne into an event.

The menu's declaration of "recipe unchanged since 1973!" goaded us into an order of calamari ($11.75 for small): chewy rings with a thin brown breading, just enough to lend flavor, but not so much to detract from the squid.  This is a far cry from the soggy, more-breading-than-chew variety that we see on most menus these days.

Caprese Salad

Caprese salad ($9.50), one of my favorite summer dishes, showcases the immortal trio of tomato, basil, and airy buffalo mozzarella over a bed of fresh mesclun greens, with a drizzle of olive oil and mild balsamic on top.  It's hard to go wrong here, but I can only imagine how this salad will taste when the kitchen has fresh summer tomatoes to play with.

A filet of Broiled Haddock ($23.50) shone in a simple breadcrumb crust, which added flavor and a bit of crunch, but never weighed down the mild fish.  It's good with a glass of crisp, citrusy Vermentino 'Aragosta.'

But it's the daily fish specials, designed with an eye towards the fisherman's daily catch (pun intended), that really impress.  A pistachio-encrusted filet of wild salmon was prepared with a nice sear and a light touch, producing a crispy crackly outside and a succulent interior.  Alongside was a roasted portobello mushroom stuffed with baby spinach and a sweet-smoky Sicilian-style caponata, featuring sun-kissed cherries— Chef Addis' take on “traditional Sicilian with New England ingredients and flavors.”  Pair this with a goblet of MacRostie Pinot Noir, with cherries bursting from every sip.

A gentle, amazingly complex tiramisu ($7) is handmade by server and apparent pastry devotee Maria.  The tiramisu rolls on your tongue, light as air, until disappearing with the last bite, leaving you with only a vague sense of contentment.

The Daily Catch is open for dinner Monday through Saturday 4pm to 10pm, and Sunday 2pm to 10pm.  No reservations are accepted at the Brookline location.  441 Harvard Street, Brookline.  MBTA: Green line (B) to Harvard Street.
Daily Catch - Brookline on Urbanspoon