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Saturday, February 25, 2012

Gnocco: You make me smile

I've been on a whirlwind NYC trip (sounds scandalous, I know). Last night (Friday), I went to Gnocco with a friend for her birthday. The restaurant is way downtown and truly a hidden gem. Not only was the food outstanding and homemade, but it was also extremely affordable.

The restaurant is on E10th between A and B and when we walked it, it looked like we were stopping into a pizza joint. Now NYC has great pizza, so I would have been ok with that but I knew better! We were seated in their garden area. The best way to describe it is like a baseball stadium with a sky dome. It was a brick area with some plants, tables and a tent-like seal overhead.

The meal started with some italian bread and outstanding olive oil and balsamic poured for us. Since we could not decide individually on pizza or pasta, we got two dishes and shared. Great choice! The pasta dish was tagliotelli with homemade ragu and peas. The pasta was fresh and sturdy and the sauce was perfect. As my friend put it "there is way more meat than tomatoes." I could also tell by the consistency of the peas that they too were fresh. See the photo we took below on a smart phone.

 The pizza was outstanding. We got a vegetable one. The crust was as thin as possible without breaking. The pizza was loaded with artichokes, mushrooms, fresh tomatoes, cheese, sauce, eggplant and onions. It was perfectly cooked. The crust was tasty with a hint of salt. As I'm writing about it right now, I'm wishing I took the leftover slice home and had it for breakfast.

Also, the service was outstanding. Next time, I go, I plan to save room for one of their homemade desserts.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Boston Lamb Jam 2012

The Lamb Jam is one of my favorite foodie events. This year's Boston Lamb Jam took place on Sunday, February 19th at the Charles Hotel in Harvard Square. It was definitely more crowded than last year, so I'm happy we got there early. The event started at 3pm and we were in line at 2:15pm, eating by 3pm. My trick is to get there early for any food festivals to eat as much as possible as soon as possible. The event took place in the upstairs banquet area of the Charles Hotel. The room was split in half with some of the best restaurants in New England on the outer edges of the room. The center was a bar with local, exciting beers. As we entered the Lamb Jam, there was a room of lamb swag, a room of lamb, wine and beer. The best part? The event was a contest. I got to feel like a judge on top chef. There were entrants in each of four categories: leg, shank, shoulder and loin. The room was split up into quarters.

When we got into the room with the food. We went straight for the leg/shank half of the room and we were thrilled. My first taste was Brian Reyelt's lamb leg and bone marrow polpettone with Bourbon cherries. The dish was from Citizen and was presented in a bone. Please see the picture below. I was wowed by the creativity and tastiness. I did not know that I liked bone marrow but this was simple, delicious and flavorful. I had been hearing great things about Citizen and now I know the reviews must be spot on.

We lucked out because by the time other people started flooding in, we moved on to the "Shank" area. Here, below, my favorite dish was by Jim Solomon from The Fireplace. It was a Mayflower Porter braised lamb shank with sweet garlic yogurt and blood orange over cheesy grits. I enjoyed this dish and one of my friends loved it so much that she went back for seconds. It was a full mini-meal which made it a lot of fun to eat. It was flavorful and beautiful.

Last year my favorite two dishes were from Pain D'Avignon and Bistro du Midi. This year both were good but different, to be expected. Pain D'Avignon had lamb jelly donuts. They were beignets with lamb butter in the dough and lamb and jelly inside. I look forward to going back to Pain D'Avignon for their lamb hot dogs/hamburgers because they are my true favorite lamb dish that they make. Bistro du Midi had a really unique smoked lamb dish this year.

Once we finished the first half of the room, we traveled across to the very crowded shoulder/loin side. The shoulder winner overall (by the judges panel) was Brian Alberg's meatballs. They were lamb shoulder and kale with smoked tomato puree and Parmesan crustade. I enjoyed Tavolo's beer braised lamb shoulder with seared potato gnocchi and saffron pepper sauce. Both dishes were great and make me want to check out the restaurants. I've heard rumors that the Red Lion Inn is worth the drive to Stockbridge. Can't wait to try more by these chefs!

As for the loin, I already mentioned Bistro du Midi. My favorite in that category was also the judges' favorite. Matt Jennings from La Laiterie made a Korean lamb Reuben with lamb potato chips. It was really fun and tasty. This dish was a full meal and was a lot of fun to eat.

By the time we had finished all eighteen of the lamb dishes we were full and it was only 4pm. What to do? We drank some delicious wine, beer and coffee. There was a stand with Captain's cold pressed coffee in beer bottles.  This is photographed below. I was excited that these were bottled in beer bottles. What a delicious treat. By the time we made it to this stand, all they had back was the hazelnut flavored. It was smooth, cold and delicious.

Additionally, they had butchering demos. Originally, I did not think I'd go to this because I feared that I would see them break down a lamb from its full form and that I would not be able to justify all of the meat I consumed. Thank goodness it was just talking about different cuts. This session was led by my buddies at the Meat House. My only wish was that I had gotten some trivia right and taken home some fresh cut American Lamb.

All in all, this food event was one not to be missed. Lamb Jam should win a lamb trophy for a fantastically delicious event. My taste buds were alive with the taste of lamb. It was a fun event and a delicious way to sample many restaurants that I do not eat at regularly. The list of 18 restaurants at this event will fuel more food adventures. My countdown is starting for next year's Lamb Jam.

Are there any food festivals that you enjoy? I am always looking for additional ideas.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Boston Restaurant Week list is up

Just wanted to do a quick post to share what I found: the list of Boston restaurants for Restaurant Week are up! The menus are coming slowly but surely. Stop by to take a look. Restaurant week is from March 18-23 and March 25-30.

I made a few reservations including finally getting tables at Mistral and Meritage. I have had great experiences at Henrietta's Table, Lala Rokh and Grotto in the past (to name a few).

Any restaurants that you are hoping to go to? Please share in the comments section.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

SWIM is a win!

Good thing this blog is labeled Food Friends 'N Fun because I want to share a fun experience that is connected more with leadership and inspiration than food. This Friday was the Sloan Women in Management Conference (SWIM) and it was a true success. Before I jump into inspiration, I will tell you that I knew we were off to a good start when I saw "Bakers Best Catering" stickers on everything because it meant the food would be delicious. I will share some highlights and inspiration I felt here. I could truly write a whole blog about each of the individual women that spoke, but for the sake of space, I highlighted a few. I encourage you to read the below and respond to some questions I have posed as well as to check out the hyperlinks to learn more...

SWIM - Sloan Women In Management

The SWIM Conference was held in the Media Center on MIT and it was a beautiful campus.  This 8 hour conference was impressive and energizing. There were about 400 participants, many volunteers and about 210 people on the waiting list for this event. The event was great and filled with some of the finest women in business and media including VP of Google: Marissa Mayer, Founder of Gilt: Alexandra Wilkis Wilson, CEO of BJ's: Laura Sen and Founder and CEO of Vosges: Katrina Markoff. I was mesmerized and in awe of each woman I met and heard speak. My only wish is that men could have shared in the experience that I had.

Marissa Mayer, the morning keynote speaker, makes me feel good about being a bit of a dork, she used Tech Geek to describe herself but she reminded me that there is power in being smart and innovative. She was the first female engineer at Google and believes that "Passion has no Gender" and that we should all "Find our rhythm." My rhythm is to always have something good to eat, no matter how busy I get-- it's what keeps me going and energized. What's your rhythm?

Part of my inspiration to start this blog comes from an entrepreneurial place. Lunch was my dream come true. Alexandra Wilkis Wilson joined ten of us and told her the story of her life as well as how she founded Gilt and made it a huge success. She was perfectly accessorized and I would expect nothing less from a fashion guru! She works hard and over 4.5 years took Gilt from a tiny company with 13,000 people on the mailing list to a Billion Dollar company with over 5 million people world wide. WOW! Many of the restaurants I visit and neat things I do come through a Gilt City Voucher. I am curious to understand how daily deals and flash sales affect customers and businesses. She interviewed with 120 companies out of Harvard Business School and the connections she made through this process helped form her list of companies to work with on Gilt. Keeping the connection is key! Can't wait to read the book Alexandra and her partner are finishing up in May 2012 when it comes out!

Also at lunch, I was lucky enough to chat with Katrina Markoff of Vosges Haute Chocolate. She is also a foodie and has a creative imagination when it comes to chocolate. I know her as the one who created those innovative chocolate bars in Whole Foods including a bar with bacon in it. I had visited her store in SOHO a bunch of years ago and can't wait to go back to see the newly renovated space. It was great to meet a woman who has made it in the food industry. She just went with her gut and created awesome products! Travel and food inspire her, what inspires you?

Laura Sen was the closer, if we're looking at the conference as a baseball game, SWIM had pitched a perfect game and the BJ's CEO closed it out. Laura Sen is one of twelve female CEOs in a Fortune 500 Company. She embodies great leadership and believes that teamwork, hard work and kindness are keys to success. She goes to visit every one of the BJ's stores to thank people for their hard work. Also, for success, we need to promote ourselves and always stick with our core values. What are yours?

Now, I will start the count down for next year's SWIM conference! I guarantee that the team of women putting the conference together worked hard to find some of the most dynamic leaders in business and they hit it out of the park. It was empowering to listen to these women talk about how important it is to mentor and develop your teams while innovating.

Image for this post were from the SWIM website.

Thank you to Sloan Women In Management for highlighting this post on your site! What an honor.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Count Down to Lamb Jam

Who out there likes lamb? I can tell you that I have been waiting all year for February 19th to come. The Lamb Jam is back and I'm hoping better than ever. Let's just say that last year, I had to do stair climbs in order to fit in the lamb from the 17 places I tried as well as the wineries and breweries. I will be wearing something with elastic and potentially fasting.

Looks like the event may be sold out but I will be posting about it. Hoping that Pain D'Avignon brings those amazing hot dogs and homemade buns again this year.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Ode to Eggs Benedict

Ever read the book The Tipping Point? It's one of my favorites because it talks about the various roles people play in life. I like to think that I'm a connector among my friends and that I'm a maven when it comes to restaurants. I love giving out restaurant recommendations especially when I get to go on and on about one of my favorite brunch places, Lineage. Recently at a party word got out that I wrote a piece on Lineage and their Eggs Benedict and bread basket. Let's start this blog off right! 

My favorite thing to do is to eat my way through life. I pride myself on finding the most interesting and delicious foods in all price ranges. My favorite Brookline restaurant is Lineage for its outstanding service, creative and consistently stellar menu and promise to provide fresh and local food. Jeremy Sewall, one of the co-founders and best known chefs in Boston, has his “Lineage” roots in Brookline, hence the restaurant’s name. There’s something magical about the bright and cheery atmosphere paired with the simple and fresh food.

The first time I went to Lineage was for a birthday brunch. Part of why I love brunch at Lineage is that I can afford it without thinking twice. Their dinners are for special occasions because they are expensive and exquisite. When you walk through the door, you’re greeted by a friendly host and a daily menu that reflects the freshest local ingredients available. The tables are in two rooms, one with a bar and a hearth oven and the other with a window to the outside. 

Chef Jeremy purchases local ingredients and will only put tomatoes on burgers if they are in season. Brunch starts with delicious fresh scones, muffins and breads paired with homemade maple butter and jam, which is like having dessert for an appetizer. The hot apple cider comes with an orange and a cinnamon stick. I am an Eggs Benedict connoisseur, and Lineage makes the best. The dish is surprisingly light, and full of flavor. The hollandaise sauce is a glaze, not the focus of the meal. The dish gets better before the knife hits the plate. Eggs Benedict, traditionally made on an English muffin, is instead atop an open brioche, which I have been known to dream about. The homemade brioche is warm, flaky, buttery and the perfect size for the eggs, ham and spinach on top.

The truth is that I have yet to order dessert at Lineage’s brunch because I always fill up on the well-worth-it bread basket and outstanding Eggs Benedict. When I go for dinner, I save room for dessert, with the most memorable being corn Crème brûlée. I applaud the use of a savory ingredient in dessert, since it is a creative use of what is freshest on the farm. Lineage is one of the best restaurants in Boston and is a leader of the “local food” movement, and I always feel happy and satisfied when I eat there.

Monday, February 6, 2012

The start of something delicious!

It is a dream of mine to share my dining experiences! One of my favorite things to do is eat my way through cities, towns... really anywhere that will have me. I love going out to eat and enjoy exploring the fine, fun and frugal. Ideally I enjoy the fine dining at a frugal price. My love of food is not limited to eating out though, I appreciate and enjoy a good home cooked meal especially if it has a homemade dessert. From NY now living in Boston, I eat wherever I go.

Why did I name the blog what I did? Food, Friends and Fun are important to me and I think the three go well together. I would have added "family" but then the domain name gets too long. For the time being, I am keeping my identity as "Fun Foodie." Please feel free follow the blog, post your comments etc. Can't wait to hear from you and dine together!