Restaurant Week Boston – Dinner #2 – Meritage

So we started off our Restaurant Week dining with Marco last week which was fantastic, but we have been there before and knew that going in, so no surprises there. Perhaps more highly anticipated by both myself and my husband was the dinner we had set up for Meritage (http://www.meritagetherestaurant.com/) at the Boston Harbor Hotel. Meritage has been on our “must try” list for ages, and every time the restaurant weeks roll around we can never seem to get a reservation (unless we’re willing to eat at 9:30pm on a Tuesday). This time, I pounced, and was able to get a very reasonable 7pm reservation on Sunday night.

We’ve been to the Boston Harbor Hotel for their annual wine dinner series and have had amazing meals prepared by the Meritage staff, so I am expecting to have a helluva meal at Meritage (even if scaled back for restaurant week prices).  So needless to say, when I bit into my pork appetizer (“crispy pork with goat cheese and roasted tomato stuffing”) I was caught off guard by the fact that it tasted like something fried in over-used fry-o-lator oil. I exclaimed to my husband that it tasted like McDonalds’ fries. This is not a good start. My husband had the cod loin, which was better in that it did taste like fresh fish but it was still underwhelming.

The kitchen staff did redeem itself the entrees. I had the scallops which were delicious in their butter sauce, and my husband had the duck with leek ravioli, which was also very tasty.

Dessert was a flight of berry concoctions for me, which was OK, but tasted and looked as though it had been made days ago. Same for my husband’s flight of citrus concoctions. It was nice to have 3 mini desserts instead of 1 but still, definitely not the freshest flavor.

The wine pairing, offered for an extra $17, was worthwhile and the first wine served was a delicious German white. We loved it… and had a huge chuckle when  we realized we had bought a bottle of it at Trader Joe’s earlier that day for $10.99….

So, will we go back to Meritage for a full priced dinner? no. Definitely not. And it joins a list of places who have stellar reputations but seem to cop out on restaurant week dinners (Pigalle, Harvest (sometimes), Sandrines). Just because you’re cutting the price doesn’t mean that the quality of the food should suffer. You’re supposed to be star chefs, so I imagine you could work with cheaper ingredients and still elevate them to a level that makes me want to come back for more on a regular night.

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It’s Restaurant Week in Boston!

Usually for restaurant week (which is technically 2 weeks) we try to sign up for our favorite pricey restaurants as well as trying new ones. Showing some restraint this year, we are only hitting 3 places. The first of which was Marco (http://marcorestaurantboston.com/about/). This is probably our most favorite restaurant in the North End neighborhood of Boston. It’s a tiny little spot, as many of the North End places are, tucked into the second floor of a building just 2 doors down from the iconic Modern Pastry.

The restaurant week menu had many of the more popular dishes on it, with at least 5 or six choices for both appetizer and entree. I always appreciate when there is more than 2 choices, especially if you are trying to coordinate dinner with friends who may or may not be picky/allergic/vegetarian, etc.

Dinner for me started out with a delicious clams casino, with the breadcrumb topping perfectly crisp and the clams delicious and delicate. The only downside – the portion was 3 clams. If you have a bigger appetite, the friend calamari with hot peppers and crispy prosciutto is to die for. The cheese fritters, which my hubby had as an appetizer, were much lighter than we all expected, and they were huge (fist-sized) but since they weren’t heavy balls of fried cheese, it wasn’t overwhelming.

All of us went for the pasta entrees. I think one of the things that Marco does beautifully is simple pasta dishes with fresh and delicious ingredients and pastas. Nothing too fancy or complicated but utterly satisfying and delicious every time. (they do many other things well too, but I appreciate the pasta dishes).

I chose the tagliatelle with bolognese, which was a bowl full of airy light tagliatelle doused with a tasty bolognese. It was the perfect portion, meaty without being heavy. My hub had the orecchiette with broccoli rabe and sausage, a garlicky spicy plate of pasta goodness.

Marco is almost always a stop on our restaurant week list. The place is very tiny, so reservations are always needed.

Eating out in the ‘hood

It occurs to me as I stare out the window at the craptastic-ness that is New England winter, that I have been reasonably negligent in my “Dining Out” postings, of which there is only one at the moment… *sigh*… so I thought I would list out a few of the places we’ve been over the last few weeks and offer my 2 cents on why we go to these joints fairly frequently:

1. Gargoyles On The Square (Davis Dquare) –  www.gargoylesonthesquare.com – This place is the shizzle. It is one of my favorite places in Boston because the chef is so damn creative. Two words: Nitro Popcorn. That’s right. That would be flash frozen popcorn, frozen at your table, and served with dessert. Second reason: on the menu right now is a tomato soup served with a FLIGHT OF GRILLED CHEESE. Hells yeah !  Atmostphere in the back is good for date night, but the front bar is way more lively.

2. Blue Fin (Porter Square) – http://www.yelp.com/biz/blue-fin-cambridge – Yummy, inexpensive sushi joint in the Porter Exchange which makes excellent agedashi tofu (which I *love*) and has really fresh tasty fish. It’s big with the college kids so sometimes there’s a bit fo a wait but otherwise it’s good.

3. Yoshi’s (Powderhouse Square) – http://www.yelp.com/biz/yoshis-restaurant-somerville – sushi joint close to home. Not as good as Blue Fin on the agedashi tofu but the fish tends to be nice and fresh.

4. The Abbey (Federal Hill) – Baltimore, MD – I was back in the old ‘hood over the weekend and checked out this newish joint for a burger. It’s got great build-your-own options – I opted for a burger with bacon, fried egg and cheese (mmm healthy!) and the burger was taayyyss-tee.

Here’s to supporting the restaurant owners while the economy is less than optimal !

Mama’s Fish House, oh how we miss thee…

We are under about 10 inches of snow, which is now being sleeted on and will freeze into a miserable block of grayish brown ice. It is now, and almost every day since we left, that we remember how glorious our Hawaiian honeymoon was this summer. We spent 10 days on Maui, which was amazing, and probably one of the best parts was the abundance of fresh fish on the menus. One place you MUST go (and probably more than once) is Mama’s Fish House (www.mamasfishhouse.com) near the main airport. You should get off the plane and go directly there. Seriously. Gorgeous beachfront locale, open air dining, and a phenomenal menu of food and tasty tropical drinks.

While everything we had there was fantastic, the one dish that had us both licking the plate and coming back for more was the Hawaiian version of ceviche which they served in a coconut. We have tried our best to recreate the dish at home, and here is what we can figure out for ingredients:
1. Fresh fish (we used 1/2 pound cooked but cold shrimp)
2. Lime – At least 1 whole lime, with more set aside for later
3. Onion – Maui onion if you can find it, but any white one willl do, chopped
4. Cucumber diced
5. Tomato diced
6. A bunch of cilantro
7. And the best part – 1/2 can of coconut milk
8. Pinch of salt to taste
9. Optional – chopped fresh chile pepper (HOTTT!)

Combine the fish in a bowl with the above ingredients, set aside some lime and chopped cilantro for serving, and place the bowl in the refrigerator to marinate, at least an hour. The flavors really come together and the coconut milk takes the ceviche to another dimension of delicious. I think if you are going to use raw, sashimi grade fish you will want to set it in the lime juice and maybe salt & chile pepper to marinate a few hours to overnight so it is “cooked” and then add all the other ingredients and let it sit.

We ate it with tortilla chips, but you can use whatever you like. You WILL be drinking the juice out of the bowl. Seriously addictive stuff. I didn’t even think to snap a photo yesterday since we were focused on the prize of inhaling this fragrant tangy tropical concoction.

I am sure there are many variations of this concept, but there is something about Hawaiian beachfront, a tropical drink, your new spouse and an umbrella drink that makes this dish unforgettable.

Not your usual Tex Mex

My husband and I try to get out for dinner at least once a week to break things up. Monday night was one such night and we had made plans to eat out with an old college friend of my husband.

One of the things I love about where we live outside Boston is that we have a number of really good, and more importantly, diverse dining out options. One such place is an excellent “authentic” Mexican restauarant called Tu y Yo. www.tuyyo2.com

The food is unique in that it is real Mexican food that Mexicans eat, not a cruncheweesy greasy taco hell concoction, but real fresh and uniquely flavored dishes. I tend to judge a restaurant by how they make their “basics” and for Tu y Yo I would call their “basic” the black beans and rice which are served with every dish. I’ve never had such tasty but light and almost creamy black beans like that in my life. YUM ! And, they make some seriously bitchin sangria which smacks of fruit and cinnamon. Definitely a great option for that “i’m feeling like something new and different” kind of night out.