So I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You This for a While…

I’m going to elBulli.

After about six years of trying, we were able to get a dinner reservation in November.  I’ll be writing about the meal, obviously, but I’ll also write about getting there, Barcelona and our plans.

Just thought you’d want to know.

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Dinner at Russell House Tavern.

My cousin Niki’s in town from the Philippines for a month, and since she’s a cook this means we’ll likely be eating out a lot while she’s here.  Last night we met up at Russell House Tavern in Harvard Square, and let me tell you that you should stop reading right now and get yourself over there.

It’s busy and loud at the restaurant, but don’t let that stop you from enjoying your food — especially if you get the crispy soft-poached egg ($7.00) off of the small plates menu.  Don’t pay any attention to the spare, boring-sounding description (“Pecorino aïoli, toasted brioche, house pancetta”).  Honestly, those words do nothing for this dish.  Maybe it should instead say something like “absolutely amazing, will make you want to order thirds, trust me.”

I’m really not being ridiculous here.  The sous-chef is a friend of Niki’s, and after introductions and hellos, we pummeled him with questions about this dish.  Apparently the egg is poached at a precise temperature — I think he said 140° — for something like forty-five minutes before it is breaded and deep-fried.  (Yes, you read that correctly.  Breaded and deep-fried.)  The egg is then placed on a small mound of greens and encircled with a creamy ring of aïoli that just about knocked me out of my chair.  Though the restaurant has only been open for barely over a month, the egg is already considered to be its signature dish.

After such a start, I guess it would be natural to have doubts as to whether other menu items could possibly stand next to that fantastic egg but I’m here to assure you that you have nothing to worry about.  I made a meal of small plates and appetizers — some of which I grudgingly shared — but the very reasonably-priced dinner menu has options that include pizzas, sandwiches and steak frites.  It’s an American gastropub after all, and though I can’t speak for its British predecessors, I don’t think they’d have any objection to Russell House sharing the category.

In addition to the egg (oh, that egg), we ordered the spinach gratin ($9.00) and charcuterie board ($10.00) to share.  I never have anything negative to say about charcuterie, and I dare anyone to try to do that regarding the chicken liver pâté, the smoky pork rillettes and the anise-flavored terrine that I tried to keep for myself.  The gratin was nothing to complain about either; its blue cheese base went so well with the sesame-zahtar flatbreads we spooned the spinach onto.

The one dish I didn’t share was the steak tartare ($10.00), which is probably because I’m just a greedy person at my core.  What I really liked about the tartare was, aside from its tenderness and delicate flavor, that the beef was chopped rather than ground.  Otherwise, I feel as though I’m eating a raw hamburger.

One last thing and then I’ll let you go: make sure to have a safe way to get home because when you see the beer/wine/cocktail list you are going to want to try one of everything.  I don’t advise that, but I do suggest you get the Battle of Trafalgar (which is worth its price of $9.00 and more).  It’s dangerously good, and should be since it’s made with Pimm’s, St. Germain and honey.  If you’re not a mixed drink kind of person, the beer selection will probably make you happy.  I know I was pleased to see Goose Island Matilda, my favorite beer from my trip to Chicago, on the roster.

I can’t stress enough how much I think Russell House Tavern is affordably-priced.  The portions, even on the small plates, are generous (though I’ve got to say that no one at my table ordered an entrée, so I can’t truthfully comment on that).  Gigantic salads passed us, we couldn’t finish the gratin, Keith took half a pizza home.   I truly think that the menu is comparable in value-for-money to Garden at the Cellar, which is one of my favorite places to eat in the area, and if Russell House proves to be consistent both will be competing for a place in my heart.  Or stomach.  Whichever.

So what are you waiting for?  Go already.

Russell House Tavern
14 JFK Street
Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138
617.500.3055
russellhousecambridge.com

Russell House Tavern on Urbanspoon

(Almost) Five Days in New Orleans.

No matter where I am, home or away, I’m always looking ahead to my next trip.  I can’t help it.  There’s so much in the world that I haven’t seen, and I can’t understand why we spend so much time standing still.  I mean, sure — I’m cozy on my sofa right now listening to Sparklehorse‘s It’s a Wonderful Life and I’m considering another Fluffernutter, but I’m also thinking about Saigon, I’m also thinking about Singapore, I’m also thinking about Cebu.

I’m also, as it turns out, thinking about the time Keith and I spend in New Orleans last week.  I had visited the city with a friend nine years before and had really loved the it, so I was eager to see what Keith thought.

Monday*
Got on the plan in warmer-than-usual-but-still-incredibly-cold Boston and got off in wet, windy and chilly New Orleans.  I swear to you — temperatures in New Orleans were lower than they were at home.  Hopped a cab to the W on Poydras and, once we got to our room, immediately crawled under the covers.  After a nap, debated which within-walking-distance restaurant to check out for dinner and settled on the Cajun cuisine at Cochon.  Walked the half mile in absolutely torrential rain that soaked us through our raincoats in spite of our overworked umbrellas.  Tried to dry off while sharing small plates of fried rabbit livers with pepper jelly on toast ($9.00) and caramelized onion and grits casserole ($9.00).  Neither Keith nor I could decide on entrées so we opted to be That Couple and also split our main courses.  Ordered the eponymous cochon with turnips, cabbage and cracklins ($22.00) as well as the oyster and bacon sandwich ($14.00), thus beginning my week of fried-oyster-eatin’.  Of course, by dinner’s end the rain had stopped so we slogged our waterlogged selves by to the hotel for a warm bath and bed.

Tuesday
Woke up to a dry city… that was utterly freezing.  Pulled on as many layers as possible and wished I had packed a pair of gloves, especially as we walked to the French Quarter.  In spite of the cold, wandered around before popping into Faulkner House Books on Pirate’s Alley, where Keith picked up a really nice Flannery O’Connor anthology. Lunch at Mr. B’s Bistro.  Made a little meal out of appetizers — creamy mushroom soup and (more) fried oysters — while Keith drank a $1.50 vodka lemonade while eating gumbo and barbecued shrimp.  Got couple-y again and shared bread pudding for dessert.  Headed to the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas to hang out with the penguins, stingrays and sea otters, followed by a Sazerac and  a not-as-gingery-as-expected ginger mojito at The Living Room.  Finished reading M. F. K. Fisher‘s Long Ago In France: The Years In Dijon while Keith took a pre-dinner nap.  Dinner at Brigtsen’s: an oyster and artichokes gratin ($10.00) and the signature seafood platter ($32.00), which was comprised of drum fish with a crawfish and pistachio lime sauce, shrimp cornbread with jalapeño smoked corn, a baked oyster smothered in shrimp and crabmeat, a baked oyster Bienville, shrimp with jalapeño coleslaw and a panéed scallop with asparagus coulis.  Continued the twosome streak by divvying up a piece of pecan pie drizzled with caramel sauce ($6.00).   Drinks at The Swizzle Stick Bar, then bed.

Wednesday
Finally, a warm and sunny day!  Grabbed coffee, chai and a croissant before catching the St. Charles Avenue streetcar to the Garden District, where we took a walking tour led by someone who must be the most informative, interesting guide working for Historic New Orleans Tours.  Couldn’t resist having lunch at Commander’s Palace, what with its famous —  and famously strong — 25¢ martinis, so ordered one with extra olives and the special of turtle soup and citrus-glazed gulf fish ($16.00).  Turned out Keith and I were on a roll with the dessert-sharing since we split the bread pudding soufflé ($8.50).   Walked down Magazine Street to the amazing National World War II Museum before riding the streetcar back to the hotel for a second pre-dinner nap.  More fried oysters, this time on a po’boy from Mother’s Restaurant.  A French 75 at the French 75 Bar, where bartender Chris Hannah suggested we check out the Sazerac Bar and its cocktails; we headed over and I drank something called a “French Quarter” — pear vodka, pear nectar, brandy and sugar — before calling it a night.

Thursday
Slept in and got off to a late start, but that’s what vacations  are for!  Lunch at Stanley, whose owners also run Stella — get it? — but was on oyster overload so got crazy and ordered  the “world famous burger” ($8.75), which was  more fine than famous.  Sampled fragrances at Hové Parfumeur before selecting Rue Royal and Verveine as my favorites.  Midday cocktails at the Carousel Bar in the Hotel Monteleone; since Chris Hannah had told us to order milk punch and the Ramos Gin Fizz, we did and loved them.  Hailed a cab to take us to the Audubon Zoo, where peacocks and pelicans roam free.  Streetcar back to the hotel for — you guessed it! — a nap, though I was too busy reading  Marcelo In The Real World by Francisco X. Stork to sleep.  Dinner at Lüke.  I loved my  rabbit and duck liver pâté ($8.00) and was satisfied with my crabmeat-stuffed ravioli and its Meyer lemon sauce ($19.00) but was appalled by the sloppy service.  Drinks at Napoleon House before ending up yet again at the Sazerac Bar  with another Ramos Gin Fizz since Bar Uncommon was hosting an event.  Tipsily walked back to the hotel.

Friday
Wanted to sleep in but didn’t have that much time left in Louisiana so hauled ourselves out of bed to make the mandatory pit stop at Café du Monde.  Took one look at the dining-in line and politely elbowed over to the take-out queue; although also long, it was less than half the length of its rival.  Sat on a nearby  bench with our bags of beignets and my cup of chicory café au lait, taking care not to sprinkle myself — and my dark clothing — with the excess powdered sugar.  Dodged shoppers at the French Market, which wasn’t nearly as produce-heavy as I would have liked and instead seemed to focus on  kitschy souvenirs.  Picked out Mardi Gras beads and a matching mask for our niece, as well as pralines from Aunt Sally’s before stopping by Central Grocery to buy a muffuletta to eat on the plane.  Got a ride to the airport the nicest taxi driver of all time.  Disembarked in Boston, where  the temperature raised itself to welcome us home.

* This picture is from a not-rainy day.

I Don’t Smoke…

…but I love matches too.  I don’t collect them, though — mine actually get used up.  Right now, I’ve got an old teacup of Keith’s grandmother in the living room, and that’s where I keep the matchbooks.  At the moment, there’s only a small assortment in there: