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Thursday, January 24, 2013

Digesting Technology

As an MBA student at a Boston based school of management, I was lucky enough to take a class with a field study component out to the West Coast. Prior to heading out of town, I'd read about how great the food is at Apple, Google and Microsoft. I visited these companies with high expectations for the food and the management and expectations were exceeded on every count. Given the top secret nature of most of the places we visited, I had to keep my camera in my bag, so we will both have to live through the written memories of the tasty meals in Seattle and Silicon Valley instead of photographed ones.

The first corporate cafeteria we went to was at Microsoft/XBox and it was fun and delicious. Turns out Monday is free cookie day. The headquarters was a very modern, airy campus in Seattle. There were so many food options to choose from including some of Seattle's finest from Pike's Place market. Yes, those homemade donuts made it to Microsoft's campus, but I resisted. Given the time constraints, I chose to make a salad. The salad bar was better than the Whole Foods salad bar, which I hold in the highest regard. While the food was about the same price as any other cafeteria, I appreciated that drinks and Monday cookies were free. I chose an oatmeal raisin cookie and saved it for later. It was outstanding. It tasted homemade and was perfectly crisp and gooey. One of my dining buddies had a chocolate chip cookie and claimed it was the best he'd ever tasted, high praise if I've ever heard it.

The next day we journeyed to Silicon Valley to spend time at Google. The headquarters is worth the hype. Between the large meeting bike to the kitchens every 150 feet, I was impressed. People work amazingly hard and it's great that they receive perks while doing it. The Google food was amazing. We went to Charlie's Cafe, a cafeteria inspired by the original Google chef for lunch. The food was free, thus disproving the theory that there's no such thing as a free lunch! I had some neat rice balls, seaweed salad, sweet potato soup, whole chicken pieces, the salad of the day and dessert. Let's just say that if I worked at Google, I'd have to rein it in as to keep my girlish figure. The dessert was spectacular, and I indulged. There was chocolate banana bread pudding, banana cupcakes with cream cheese frosting and cookies. The cookies were creative and exciting like Google. I had a cappuccino chocolate chip cookie and it was buttery and chewy and crunchy. I also indulged in a chocolate chip one. Banana is my favorite element of dessert, so it was a treat to have bread pudding and cupcakes, both banana themed. I loved that the sweet potato soup did not have cream or milk in it. The consistency was smooth and it just tasted like fall. Overall Google had the best cookies from any company on the trip.

A few days later, we went to One Infinite Loop to meet with Phil Schiller. Of course that meeting was the highlight of the visit to Apple, but the food was great too. We got to Apple really early, so they brought us to the cafeteria to get coffee and breakfast. I got an almond butter and avocado open faced sandwich. It sounded too unique not to get, so I got it and they held the pepper and just sprinkled some salt. It was the most filling sandwich I'd had in a while and I can't wait to reproduce it at home. Anything with avocado has my vote. After my sandwich we had a great discussion with some executives and then went on to lunch. I wish I could tell you what I learned, but we had to keep things confidential, so instead I will focus on the food!

Lunch at Apple was innovative. All of the produce was was fresh and delicious and the dishes seemed deliberately prepared. The cafeteria was subsidized so the prices were fair and far less than they would be for the high quality food elsewhere. I had a chopped salad with beets and avocado and artichokes and then I had spaghetti squash with turkey bolognese sauce. I loved that everything was so healthy. So I could make an apple to apple comparison (pun intended), I got a chocolate chip cookie to compare with Google and Microsoft. While the cookie was good, it was not great. I felt like I was eating food that a really great mom or grandma was making. I am going to make a variation of the spaghetti squash for dinner this weekend!

Overall, the field study could not be beat. My brain and body were both well nourished and we were shown such hospitality. After a trip out west, I will never look at the corporate cafeteria the same way

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Drink, Sportello and Girls Night Out

Ever have those nights were money and calories don't count? You just want to eat really well, drink great drinks and have fun with your friends. Saturday night was one of those nights that will go down in history as one of my best nights in Boston from a food, friends, fun and drink perspective. We decided to start the evening at Drink and then work our way upstairs to Sportello. I found out after the fact that if you do the reverse, they can sometimes help you skip the line at Drink, but this is water under the bridge. This post is a bit longer than usual, so I will start with some advice in case you're in a hurry. Run as fast as you can to Drink and Sportello. The food, service and drinks are outstanding. Please share a part of your soul with the mixologist/waiter at drink and then when you are done or on another occasion go upstairs and order the tagliatelle bolognese. I am not innately a pasta person, but I will now dream of Sportello's pasta dishes.

We arrived at 7:30 to get five of us in at Drink. To add some context, Sportello and Drink are both part of the Barbara Lynch restaurant empire and happen to be housed in the same building in the Fort Point area. Drink is on the bottom and Sportello on top. Lucky for us, we only had to wait in the hallway for about 25 minutes before being served at Drink. We had a 9pm reservation at Sportello and they came down to retrieve us when the table was ready (super convenient). Drink is dimly lit with exposed brick and beautiful wooden bars all around. If you are lucky, you get to stand and if you're luckier you get to sit. I will tell you, I don't like standing at a bar for extended periods of time, but for Drink, I feel lucky to be in the room. It has such a positive happy fun vibe. The waitperson comes over to your party and gives you a food menu and then asks what you want to drink. To this you can say something like "I like sweet things" (me) or "I like cucumber" (a friend) or "I feel like something holiday" (my other friend) and they bring out a beautifully constructed tasty cocktail for you. Mine was a champagne with citrus, my friend had some sort of fresh cucumber drink presented in an old school champagne glass and my other friend had a brandy Alexander like drink with frothy foam on top. My first drink was like happiness in a glass. I love champagne and it was a pretty color. The second drink I ordered was perfect given the descriptor I gave, but I forgot to mention that Tequila and I are not friends. The waiter could not have been nicer and took it right out of my hand and off of the bill. Drink has some of the best service I've experienced. The waiter was subtle and kind about exchanging my drink, which I imagine happens so infrequently given how tasty and well constructed the cocktails are there.

It wasn't just drinks at Drink. They have great food, but given that Sportello was in our midst, it was bar cheese and toast for five of us. The toast had a little bit of oil on it and the bar cheese was like chive cream cheese-- the good stuff that you get in New York.

At approximately 9:10, the host from Sportello came down to get us. This was perfect because there was no lingering and waiting upstairs, instead it was a fluid transition from one establishment to the other. Had any glasses still been full they were welcome upstairs! Sportello is the perfect balance with Drink. It is bright and white and relaxed. When you walk in, it looks like a very clean diner. The kitchen area is open and there is a bakery counter lining one wall. We were seated on two sides of a table/bench between the "kitchen" and the bakery counter. Our waitress was awesome! She came over and gave us a heads up that the beef carpaccio and fish special were about to see out, so two of my dining buddies secured their dishes on the spot. Also, she offered a great perspective on the wine. We ordered a bottle of Pino Nior but it was white instead of red. The flavor was smooth and cool.

I shared a squash salad with one of my friends to start. While it was delicious and creative, I wished there was more on the plate. Others at the table ordered the spicy tomato soup and the last beef carpaccio in the kitchen (yum).

For dinner I had pasta bolognese. To say this was delicious was an understatement. I would have been happy if someone dumped me in a vat of pasta, bolognese and asked me to eat my way out. It was homemade pasta, which meant the pasta was a perfect smooth consistency. The sauce was full of different kinds of meat. I think there may have been hints of lamb in the sauce that had the perfect balance of tomato, herbs, meat and spices.

Dessert was a combination of cookies, cupcakes and a whoopie pie both to stay and to go. I can't get enough pumpkin especially in cookie form so I was excited about the pumpkin whoopie pie and a bacon cupcake seemed too good to be true, so I got one to go. The chocolate cookie was creatively sweet and salty. The bacon cupcake was really vanilla cake and maple butter cream with bacon on top.

Moral of the story is go to Sportello and Drink. You will not be disappointed. If you're on a budget, go to Sportello for a price fixed lunch.