Dinner at Picco.

It’s always an extravagance to eat out more than once in a day, especially if you’re not traveling or on vacation. I had dinner with JD at Picco in the South End; we hadn’t seen each other since last year, something that is still strange to say, regardless of the truth behind the statement.

I chose Picco because it’s centrally located, affordable and on the way home for the two of us, even though we live in completely opposite directions. Those reasons, and the food is really good. The menu veers towards the Italian, what with the paninis, pizzas and pastas, but the décor always seems brasserie-esque to me — the red velvet drape around the door, blocking out the cold; the darkly-hued bar with its chalkboard of ice cream flavors (oh, does Picco have ice cream!); the banquette seating and highly varnished apple red chairs. Whether I would classify Picco as an “Italian brasserie” is an entirely different question, but it’s the only reference I’ve got as I’ve never been to Italy. For all I know, Picco is exact replica of a joint in Milan.

JD and I looked over the menu and, for a moment, I thought I was going to have a repeat event from the morning, when Darlington and I ordered the same breakfast from Rachel’s Kitchen. JD and I both decided on the panini pluses, but we chose different paninis and different pluses so I think that makes it altogether dissimilar. JD went with a Cubano panini and French onion soup; I chose the grilled cheese and green salad.

The green salad was literally just that — a salad of greens — tossed with a tangy-sweet honey-lemon dressing that reminded me of a cheese I had tasted this past Sunday at Formaggio Kitchen. It was a soft pillow which had been rolled in golden raisins and was disturbingly delicious. It’s called Regal de Bourgogne and I can’t express how much I now regret not buying it, so I could taste it to see if it really was similar to the dressing, or if it’s just my memory teasing me.

My panini was a little greasier than I liked, but good nevertheless. (A question: Is it possible not to have even a little bit of oil on your fingers after eating a panini?) The cheese was actually not one cheese, but three — Cheddar, Gruyère and Taleggio — and it was so smooth and oozey that it made me think of the cheese sauce in mac n’ cheese. I suppose in a way that could make sense, particularly considering that a primary difference between the two is the form in which the carbohydrate appears. Sometimes a girl wants her pasta, and sometimes she wants to eat with her hands (though one of my aunts makes a fantastic mac n’ cheese that is cut into squares and eaten sans fork). Generally speaking, the flavor behind my grilled cheese panini was nice and mild, comforting and warm. The sourdough had a good crunch to it — not so crunchy that it hurt, or worse still, cut the roof of the mouth, but not so soft that it seemed like Wonder Bread.

For dessert, we split the sampler: three demi-tasses of ice cream. Since each flavor seemed so appealing, we eliminated what we were the least interested in — cinnamon, caramel and honey — and ended up with PB cookie, malted chip and coffee fudge. Of the trio, the clear favorite was PB cookie, JD’s first choice. It wasn’t like the kind of everyday cookie dough ice cream, because the pieces of peanut butter cookie interspersed amongst the vanilla had an intense and vibrant peanut buttery flavor, the depth of which was truly unexpected. I’m a sucker for puffy peanut butter cookies and these chunks of cookie were pretty damn close to perfect, so much so that even though I enjoyed the malt chip (too sweet, not malty enough) and the coffee fudge (more like espresso fudge, replete with gritty grounds) they simply couldn’t compare with the PB cookie. Because I’m such a swell gal, I even let JD have the last spoonful, and that was before he said he was going to treat me. What a pal.

It’s hard to think of now, mainly because it’s snowing outside, but Picco is even better in the warmer weather, when a portion of the over-wide sidewalk in front is set with tables for outdoor dining. Time to start counting down the months…

Picco
513 Tremont Street
Boston, Massachusetts 02116
617.927.0066
piccorestaurant.com

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Breakfast at Rachel’s Kitchen.

This morning Darlington and I had breakfast at Rachel’s Kitchen, which occupies what could possibly be the teensiest restaurant space I have seen in this country. I’m actually a little curious to know what the square footage is, or at least the maximum number of people the walls can hold. If anything, it reminds me of phone booth squashing — not that anyone uses pay phones anymore, let alone crams into a booth with twenty-two of his or her closest friends.

To give you an idea of how petite the place is… there are three tables at Rachel’s, each of which is probably two feet by two feet, that are situated in front of blond slatted-wood benches anchored to the walls. If the benches are occupied and more seating is needed, there are folding chairs leaning against the juice fridge. Then there’s the counter, the bitty coffee area, and the “kitchen” aspect of Rachel’s Kitchen. All of this fits in the space about the size of a one-car garage, albeit a many-windowed citron green and smoky gray one-car garage. The picture on Rachel’s site (which I have pilfered, as I forgot my camera at home and hate my phone’s photos, which is why I don’t have a photo of my meal) is really accurate in portraying its size, and its color scheme, since you can see bits of the painted walls inside.

Darlington and I timed our arrival perfectly. When she got to Rachel’s it had cleared out; right as we finished ordering, two couples walked in — and just like that, every seat in the house was occupied, folding chairs included. Six people doesn’t seem like a lot, but in Rachel’s it almost was, particularly with the two owners behind the counter. The thing is, it was the perfect number. Four separate conversations took place without anyone having to shout, newspapers were shaken out, coffee was slurped. It was ridiculously cozy, especially with the bright winter morning light coming in the windows behind where I was sitting.

It’s funny, because Darlington and I have different tastes in food, especially in that she’s a vegetarian and I likes me some meat. That said, we both craved on the same item: the Breakfast Eddie. We differed only in the bagel department — onion for me, everything for her. Aside from that, though, it was cream cheese, scallions, tomato and scrambled egg atop the aforementioned bagel, alongside a hash brown that reminded me of McDonald’s… in a good way. It was salty and potato-y, with the little golden shreds of potato shaped into a perfect oblong. Darlington used a fork and a knife to eat hers, but I tore into mine barbarian-style, and licked my fingers afterwards. The Eddie itself was delicious; the taste of each component shone clear as individual ingredients, but each flavor went really well together. I loved the scallions too — a nice crisp burst of green amongst the melty cheese, the soft tomato and the warm egg. The only thing I was a little underwhelmed by was the bagel itself; I thought it was a tad too doughy, but that might be because I grew up with New York bagels and can’t help but disparage bagels of shady origin.

One of the nicest things about Rachel’s is the women running it. Though Rachel herself is no longer at Rachel’s Kitchen, Erin and Megan are both incredibly nice and unbelievably friendly. When I arrived a few minutes before Darlington, they were playing matchmaker to a policewoman who dropped by for a coffee. Afterwards, they greeted patrons by name and worked as efficiently as any machine, back-to-back in the minuscule cooking space, joking and chatting all the while, and generally adding to the cozy, convivial feel. Thus far I’ve only been to Rachel’s in the morning; next time I’ll make sure I drop by for lunch. I’ve already got my eye on the Allen & Company, with bacon.

Rachel’s Kitchen
12 Church street
Boston, Massachusestts 02116
617.423.eggs
rachelskitchenboston.com

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