Theory Kitchen: A Dining Experience Unlike Any Other

by Caroline Gentile ’17

On a recommendation from my blockmate, I decided to escape the Harvard bubble and attend a pop-up dinner at an apartment in Central Square, hosted by Theory Kitchen.

After a cursory Google search of Theory Kitchen, I learned that the founder, Theo Friedman, is a recent Tufts grad with a passion for experimental cooking. While he was a student at Tufts, Friedman hosted several pop-up dinners and taco nights with the help of fellow students. In fact, for his senior thesis, he made a 20-course meal to highlight how the industrial food system disconnects diners and the people who make their food. After graduating, Theo took to operating Theory Kitchen full time, hosting pop-up dinners all over New England. No two dinners are the same; the menu and location change every time.

I knew this was going to be good. Anyone who finds time to cook anything, let alone a full gourmet meal, while in college must have a true passion for it! And Theo’s passion certainly translated into skill.

Although Google told me that Friedman was only 22-years-old, upon walking into the apartment, I was surprised to see someone so close to my age prepping an eleven-course meal. His workspace, complete with serving equipment as well as Tupperware containers filled with the elements of each course, was impeccably organized—even more impressive considering the kitchen in which he was working was totally new to him.

And then the dinner began. Before each course, Theo explained the story behind the food before us. The salmon dish, he told us, was inspired by bagel and lox. The last course, a kumquat and rhubarb fruit roll-up, was inspired by his childhood love for fruit roll-ups. In addition to deconstructing the story behind each meal, we were also able to watch them be prepared. This interactive environment with the chef himself created a level of intimacy in this dining experience that I do not think is possible at a restaurant.

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Bagel and lox: salmon coated with everything bagel seasoning, a savory bulgur mixture, salmon eggs and roe (photo courtesy of Theo Friedman)
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Gourmet fruit roll-ups (photo courtesy of Theo Friedman)

Not only did each course have a unique story, but each also boasted unique flavors and textures. The first course was a warm sunchoke soup with cold scallops, both of which were savory, paired with sweet pomegranate seeds. Another course, a favorite among all of us dinner-goers, was a soy-flavored, poached egg, with yolk oozing over kale and crispy shiitake mushrooms.

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Sunchoke and scallops (photo courtesy of Theo Friedman)

Of note, in my opinion, were the desserts. This may be because I have an insatiable sweet tooth, but I found Theo’s three desserts to be especially creative. First came his grapefruit, fernet, and dill dessert. Never had I expected to eat dill for dessert, and in a meringue no less! Then came rice crispy treats, another childhood-inspired dish, which combined crispy pork skin and creamy dulce du leche. Finally was my favorite dessert: a chocolate and peppercorn cake with preserved strawberries.

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Rice Crispy Treat (photo courtesy of Theo Friedman)
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Grapefruit, fernet, and dill dessert
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Preserved strawberries, cream, and chocolate peppercorn cake

The other event attendees, many of them also undergraduates, were just as in awe as I was of Theo’s creative cooking skills. Each course brought an exciting new combination of flavors and textures that we could not believe he had put together in such a deliciously harmonious way. Although we had all been complete strangers before the dinner, by the end, we had all shared a novel culinary experience together, and bonded over our admiration for Theo and his cooking.

Barbecued Bliss at Sweet Cheeks Q

by Caroline Gentile ‘17

Compared to my hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio, Boston has a lot more to offer. In terms of culture, things to do, and most importantly, things to eat, the difference is like night and day. In fact, I think Harvard Square alone has more diversity in fare than my homogeneous suburb of Cincinnati. However, the one category in which I’ve found the greater Boston area—and New England in general— has fallen short, is barbecue.

Until I found Sweet Cheeks Q.

Finally, a place where I could stuff my face with smoked meat and biscuits the size of my face – and wash it all down with a towering glass of sweet tea! At first, I will say, I was skeptical. Given the scarcity of barbecue in New England, I did not have high hopes for Sweet Cheeks. Located in Fenway, the restaurant itself seemed a bit too polished with to serve truly authentic barbecue compared to the dive-like barbecue establishments I’m used to.

I was quickly proven wrong. When a large bucket, overflowing with warm, fluffy, buttery biscuits was placed right in front of me, with a side of honey butter, I could barely control myself. After a 5-minute-but-felt-like-5-years walk in the 15-degree weather from the T to the restaurant, let me tell you that there are few things better than coming in from the cold and being given a bucket of biscuits to slather in melted honey butter deliciousness.

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Approximately two minutes elapsed until my table had demolished all ten of the massive buttery biscuits. Our next victim? The drinks. I should have known from the bar vibe that Sweet Cheeks gives off—think bar stools and massive TV—but they have some damn good drinks. The legal members of my fellow diners decided to go for the John Daly Scorpion Ball. For those of you who are unfamiliar, a John Daly is the alcoholic twist of an Arnold Palmer: lemonade, sweet tea, and sweet tea vodka. When the drink finally arrived, we were in shock; the Mason jar, filled to the brim with the sweet, yet tart elixir, was literally bigger than our faces. For the under-21 crew, the non-alcoholic version of this beverage was just as tasty, and also served in an absurdly massive mason jar.

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Now, for the star of the show: the barbecue. By this point in the meal, I was already overflowing with biscuits and sweet tea, but I soldiered on so as to make room for what I really came for. A friend and I decided to split the Fat Cheeks Tray, which allowed us to pick three kinds of meat, a cold side, and a hot side. We decided on pulled pork, pulled chicken, and brisket, with sides of mac n’ cheese and potato salad.

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While the pulled chicken was nothing impressive, the pulled pork and brisket were everything smoked meat should be: tender, flavorful, and well, smoky. Their tangy, savory barbecue sauce went perfectly with their meat. The potato salad was crisp and fresh. Honestly, though, I think the best part of the Fat Cheeks Tray—even better than the barbecue itself— was the mac n’ cheese. Not too thick, creamy, or cheesy, and covered in toasted breadcrumbs, this mac n’ cheese was probably the best I’ve ever had.

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Frankly, because I am not truly from the South (although Cincinnati does share an airport with Kentucky…), I am not entirely qualified to make informed decisions and recommendations about barbecue. I am, however, a mac n cheese expert. Rest assured, one of my friends who accompanied me to Sweet Cheeks Q hails from San Antonio, and she, too, was impressed with not only the mac n cheese, but also the barbecue. And if a Texan likes it, you know it must be good.

 

Sweet Cheeks Q

Location: 1381 Boylston Street, Boston, MA 02215

Reservation: TableUp or call at (617)-266-1300

Stand-out dishes: Brisket, Mac n’ Cheese

Overall Rating: 4/5

Food: 4/5

Service: 3.5/5

Ambience: 3.5/5

 

Editor’s note: Tiffani Faison, the head chef and owner of Sweet Cheeks Q, recently opened an Asian-inspired restaurant, Tiger Mama. Check both of them out!

 

Peanut Butter Cookies

by Michelle Chiang ’19

I’ve always loved peanut butter – so much so, in fact, that for my 11th birthday I asked for peanut butter as a present. I also really like cookies. Put the two together, and you achieve perfection: peanut butter cookies are heavenly. Unfortunately, they’re also nowhere to be found in the dining halls. To date, I only remember HUDS serving peanut butter cookies twice, and they were a far cry from the melt-in-your-mouth masterpieces found at places like Insomnia Cookies. It’s culinary discrimination. Chocolate chip and oatmeal raisin get their fair representation, but when that peanut-butter-cookie craving strikes, where can a desperate student turn?

They say that desperation is the mother of invention, and this article is about to prove that saying true.
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Plain, boring ranger cookies
I think inspiration struck one night in Dunster dining hall. Brain break featured a tray of Ranger cookies, a sugary offering to the bleary-eyed students running on three hours of sleep. While Ranger cookies do have strong points, such as their satisfying crunch and slight hint of coconut, they obviously lack peanut butter. I picked up a cookie. My gaze landed on the ever-present container of peanut butter at brain breaks. I smeared a plump dollop of peanut butter onto the cookie, hesitantly took a bite, and…
Sweet, sweet success.
The creamy peanut butter provides perfect contrast to the crunch of the Ranger cookie. It also makes overbaked and dry cookies seem softer, more soothing on the tongue. Both organic peanut butter and normal peanut butter work; since the cookie contains more sugar than is probably necessary, the organic peanut butter will also taste sweet.
 In short, it’s a win for everyone.
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Divinely transformed Ranger cookies.

Oishii Boston: Sushi Like You’ve Never Tasted Before

by Bovey Rao ‘19

Sushi is simple. A thin slice of fish gently draped over a molded portion of rice. The minimal offers of rich soy sauce, spicy grated wasabi, and refreshing pickled ginger serve as accents to the beauty and purity of sushi. In the modern era, one of the cornerstones of Japanese cuisine is being desecrated. The art of sushi-making has been refined for hundreds of years, and we seem to disregard those traditions as we partake in our California rolls, green dyed horseradish, and pink ginger. I cringe as I watch yet another sushi “enthusiast” take the massive glob of “wasabi” and dump it into their dish of soy sauce. The suffering only intensifies as each meticulously formed nigiri or maki is dunked nonchalantly and left to soak in the soy sauce. These practices not only destroy the essence of sushi but are considered to be disrespectful to the work of the chef.

Oishii Boston is an offshoot of the original Oishii store in Chestnut Hill, and thank god, they chose to expand. After a particularly stressful week, all I wanted to do was to get off campus and rehabilitate my mind. For me, this often involves a long conversation with a friend over a truly magnificent meal, and Oishii Boston went above and beyond my expectations (in price as well, so be prepared financially).

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My friend and I ambled through the sunny South End, as we perfectly timed our route for our reservation time. After promptly being seated, we marveled at the lengthy sushi bar and cracked open the menu. Oishii serves an eclectic mix of Japanese cuisine. Japanese techniques like sushi, robata, and tempura are combined with an incredible collection of fresh ingredients, both traditional and nouveau. Similarly, conventional Japanese ingredients like Hamachi kama, enoki mushrooms, and yuzu are given new life through the techniques of haute cuisine. Oishii incorporates the best of both worlds in every imaginable way. After ordering a diverse set of dishes and sushi, we waited for our courses to arrive.

We did not wait long as a bamboo steamer was quickly brought over. My favorite dish to order at modern Asian restaurants is the pork belly bun. The pork belly bun has played an essential role in the rapid dissemination of Asian food throughout the country. It may seem to be a lazy dish of a steamed bun, a slice of pork belly, and some assortment of pickles, but the execution of the simple things characterizes a restaurant. This pork bun was truly transcendental. Pork belly is an incredibly difficult protein to manipulate as the high levels of fat can lead to unappealing textures and oily aftertastes. The first bite blew my mind, and I was left pining as the entire bun vanished quickly into my mouth. The soft sweet bun caressed the tender pork belly as miso provided the necessary salt and umami. With such an indulgent and soft dish, the acidity and crispness from the brined cucumbers left me refreshed, without the cloying oiliness that I have sometimes experienced.

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The okonomiyaki that followed also did not disappoint. Okonomiyaki is a traditional Japanese style pancake with cabbage and miscellaneous seafood. Oishii’s version came with a generous portion of bonito flakes, or katsuobushi, with the thin flakes magically flowing with the subtle air currents. The savory pancake filled with fresh seafood was flavorful and melded wonderfully with the lattice of sweet mayonnaise.

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For the last of the hot dishes was a uni cream pasta, which was the most indulgent dish I have ever eaten. With shavings of black truffles over a perfectly poached egg, the al dente pasta absorbed the voluptuous yolk as we made a small incision. While I am normally not a fan of these almost hedonistic ingredients, I was pleasantly surprised as the flavors were not overwhelming. However, it is a dish that makes an incredible impact on the palette that I am unsure if I would order it again.

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For once it felt like appetizers truly stimulated the appetite, and we prepared ourselves for our sushi order. At Oishii, they import the freshest seafood from Tsukiji, the famous Japanese fish market, and from various other seafood markets in the US. Thus, they can guarantee the best possible product. One day, I will return for a sushi omakase to truly subject myself to the whims of the chef. However, on this day, I wanted to indulge in my own desires for sushi.

Oishii chooses to not serve minimalist sushi, where it is simply fish and rice. Rather, they choose to include nuanced accessories to each piece of sushi to elevate the flavor even further. Whether it was the thin slice of lime on the botan ebi or strawberry on the Hamachi toro, the already sophisticated taste of sushi was balanced with complex but necessary garnishes. It would be tedious to describe each individual piece, so I will keep it brief and only discuss the highlights. My personal favorite was the chutoro topped with pickled shallots. Chutoro is tuna with moderate fat, so it has the butteriness that is so sought after, while still retaining the natural savory flavor of tuna. Additionally, the tamago or egg sushi was exceptional. The light, fluffy egg was given a deep sweetness that was greatly reminiscent of a cake.

For dessert, we selected the coconut sphere with coffee mousse and yuzu sorbet. A truly interactive dessert, it might have been a hassle to consume, but I enjoyed the process of steadily chipping away at the frozen sphere of sweetened coconut milk to reveal the subtly flavored coffee mousse.

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Over the course of the three hour meal, I was delighted with every bite of food that I consumed. While this process may be more time intensive for me than the average person, I can truly attest to the quality and dedication that Oishii puts into their food. It is a pricey experience, and many may scoff at the ephemeral nature of food. But for me, Oishii delivered exactly what I needed. When I wish to receive another monumental sushi experience, I will return to Oishii.

 

Oishii Boston

Location: 1166 Washington St, Boston, MA 02118

Reservation: OpenTable or Call (617)-482-8868

Stand out dishes: Pork Belly Bun, Chutoro, Tamago, Coconut Sphere

Overall Rating: 5/5

Food: 5/5

Service: 5/5

Ambience: 4/5

Gluten-Free Cheerios

A quick breakfast is often necessary for a college student before early morning class. I have always searched for a delicious gluten-free food that I can quickly consume for breakfast. Fortunately for all gluten-free eaters, five new flavors of gluten-free Cheerios are now available: Apple Cinnamon, Frosted, Original, Honey Nut, and Multi Grain. The Cheerios can be found at CVS in Harvard Square. Several of my friends who do not eat gluten-free have not been able to taste the difference between regular Cheerios and gluten-free Cheerios. I enjoy eating the Honey Nut Cheerios with lactose-free milk and bananas, but the Cheerios can also be topped with several other types of fruit. Many of my friends like the Apple Cinnamon flavor the best. Additionally, the gluten-free Cheerios are a great snack for in between classes.

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The process of how the gluten-free Cheerios are made is quite interesting. Wheat, rye, and barley grains are removed from the regular oat supply to make the Cheerios gluten-free. First, the oats are harvested. Normally, many farmers who grow oats rotate their crops, meaning they also grow grains like wheat, barley, and rye. These other grains normally get mixed in with the oats during harvesting and transport. To make the Cheerios gluten-free, wheat, barley, and rye are separated from the oats by a sifter. Each batch of oats is tested to make sure that on average, for every 15,000 grains of oats, there can be no more than 1 grain of wheat, barley, or rye. The oats then go to a mill that makes gluten-free flour. The flour is then checked to make sure it is gluten-free. The flour travels in dedicated gluten-free trucks, and finally the oat flour is puffed and toasted into gluten-free Cheerios. The finished Cheerios are tested to ensure they are gluten-free (http://www.cheerios.com/ourgfprocess.aspx).

Gluten-free food lovers should definitely try these five new flavors of gluten-free Cheerios. Whether you are looking for an easy and tasty breakfast or a yummy on-the-go snack, these gluten-free Cheerios are the perfect option!

Photo 1 taken from glutenfreehomemaker.com; photo 2 taken from bringmethenews.com.

Lunar New Year: A Labor of Love

by Allison Yan ’19

Every Lunar New Year, I look forward to food. Friends, family, and fun, too, but mostly food.

Even though my parents immigrated to America years ago and proudly claim to have assimilated to American culture, celebrating Lunar New Year with the people we love has always been a staple of our heritage. The Lunar New Year parties are always an amazing festivity, and the potluck style of the dinner guarantees a variety of wonderful dishes to satisfy anyone and everyone’s cravings.

The preparations for these parties are always a labor of love (emphasis on the labor). It is like Thanksgiving dinner preparations, but the Asian version. My mother, a frequent host of the parties, often spends days in advance preparing the house, and the two days leading up to the party meticulously cooking enough dishes to feed a group of at least 60.

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Meats of any (and every!) kind are a cornerstone of the dinner. My mother has always been partial to smoked salmon, and is known among her friend group for having the best salmon dish in town, but she, and all of the other wonderful mothers contribute plentiful types of meats.  From spicy chicken to pork to pig ears, there’s something for everyone.

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The meat dishes are, of course, supplemented by plentiful amounts of vegetables, noodle dishes, and bao zi (Chinese rolls). My parents and their friends take their spicy food seriously, and it’s not uncommon to see pepper or some other spicy-looking sauce liberally tossed on top of most dishes. The lotus and cauliflower and leeks and chicken dishes are favorites of my family’s. Spicy tofu soup is also a staple of every year’s dinner. As someone who unfortunately can’t handle much spicy food, I usually try to mitigate the burning sensations of too much spicy with copious amounts of rice.

I’ve always had a weakness for the dessert options at these parties. The soft sweetness of the red bean cakes and handmade red bean mochi by family friends complement an otherwise very savory and rich meal. Red bean filling is the most unique part of an Asian dessert dish.

There’s one more dish that I haven’t mentioned: the pork dumplings that my family makes. These dumplings are particularly special to me, because my family actually comes together to help mix the filling, knead the dough, and fold up the finished dumpling into their signature bow shapes. It’s almost difficult to eat the dish that so accurately represents the labor and love that goes into creating a Lunar New Year Dinner.

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I have always looked forward to celebrating Lunar New Year with my family. The food, of course, is wonderful, but the sense of joy and community of so many people coming together to eat and celebrate is something unique to this special day.

The Ultimate Dining Hall Hack: A Review of Mange App

by Richa Chaturvedi ’18

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At long last, Mange App is a dining hall hack that everyone on campus will enjoy.  Currently beta testing in Cabot, this app allows for HUDS grill orders to go paperless.  The app displays the daily menu, takes grill orders from anywhere on campus, and texts students when their orders are ready.  Finally, no more of that awkward circling around the grill during the chaos that is lunch hour!

Mange App currently lives exclusively online – the iPhone and Android app should be rolling out in the next month – and, while there are some areas for improvement, it definitely has this starving student’s stamp of approval.  The first time I used Mange App I was a bit annoyed.  I was running to office hours, wanted something from the grill, and had to register as a user and figure out a new interface just to get a piece of chicken.  I soon realized that my aversion to adapt to something new got in the way of me understanding the coolness of the entire set-up.  Now, if I need something quickly, I can order from my room and get a text telling me to go pick my food up.  I’ll probably start getting more texts from Mange App than I will from my roommates, to be honest.

Like I mentioned, no rollout is without its drawbacks.  Currently, lunch time on the app is set to begin at noon.  That means for you early lunchers that you literally cannot order food until 12:00, even if lunch technically begins at 11:30.  This, and other small issues, are already being worked on and will be resolved before the school-wide release of the app.  HUDS has even been kind enough to set up an iPad on the counter so that students without smart phones can use the service.

I am sure that the school-wide release of Mange App will turn out to be successful.  Already, Cabot grill (which is definitely the best) is more efficient, while using less paper.  Mange App is the ultimate dining hall hack: it increases productivity without sacrificing taste.  You may ask yourself, now what?  I have my grilled chicken in no time and now have no idea what to do with it.  For some great ideas on how to spruce up your dining hall meals, check out more Crimson Crave dining hall hacks!

 

 

 

Where to Eat this Valentine’s Day

by Caroline Gentile ’17

As is the case for most holidays, my favorite part of Valentine’s Day is always the food.  Although many cast Valentine’s Day as merely a commercial holiday or a sad reminder of one’s loneliness, to me, there is nothing better than a day that encourages you to eat chocolate and drink wine (whether by yourself, with friends, or with a special someone). Regardless of who your celebrating with, Valentine’s Day is a great opportunity to go try some fun, new restaurants, especially those that are running special deals in honor of it. Below is a list of suggestions for where to eat this Valentine’s Day:
Zinneken’s
1154 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA
(617)-876-0836
A tried and true Harvard Square favorite, this Belgian waffle joint never fails to please. If you’re looking for somewhere relatively well-priced, conveniently located, and romantic, this is your place. And of course, we can’t forget about their delicious waffles, topped with whatever your heart desires.
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Strawberries + banana + chocolate sauce= true love
Orinoco
56 JFK Street, Cambridge, MA
(617)-354-6900
This cozy Venezuelan restaurant, tucked away on JFK street, offers a warm and inviting ambiance in addition to hearty, flavorful fare.  Be sure to try the datiles, or the bacon-wrapped dates!  They do not accept reservations, so try to go at an off-peak hour if you aren’t willing to wait for a table.
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Datiles at Orinoco
Max Brenner
745 Boylston St., Boston, MA
(617)-274-1741
For those of you who view Valentine’s Day as an excuse to eat all of the dessert in sight, then you must go to Max Brenner. Located conveniently near the Copley Square T stop, this is definitely the place to go get chocolate wasted. In addition to real food (which is pretty good in itself), they offer a variety of decadent sundaes, milkshakes, hot chocolate, lava cake, fondue, and chocolate-inspired cocktails. Be sure to make a reservation or call ahead, though, as they do get very busy!
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Dessert Pizza at Max Brenner
Temple Bar
1688 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge
617-547-5055
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For all of you Quadlings, Temple Bar is a tempting choice due to its proximity. Not only is their location prime, but they also are offering a three-course prix fixe menu, as well as a vegetarian tasting menu, in honor of Valentine’s Day! Dinner is $49 per person, or $39 per person if you go before 6pm.  For the 21+ crowd, add wine pairings for $19.
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(Photo courtesy of http://www.tripadvisor.com)
Russell House Tavern
14 JFK St., Boston.
617-500-3055
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Another Harvard Square favorite, Russell House Tavern is offering a special three-course prix fixe menu, featuring seared Gloucester monkfish loin and cider glazed heritage pork shank.  Dinner is $59 per person, or $79 with wine pairings.  If you go between 5pm and 6pm, there is a $10 discount on the prix fixe menu.  Be sure to make reservations!
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(Photo courtesy of http://www.bostonglobe.com)
The Beehive
541 Tremont St., Boston
617-423-0069
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The sister restaurant of Harvard Square’s Beat Hotel, the Beehive offers a cool ambiance, an extensive champagne list, and a mouthwatering Valentine’s Day menu.  Start with appetizers like their fall-off-the-bone baby back ribs or lobster chowder, then choose from a variety of delicious entrees, and finish with strawberry cheesecake, chocolate pot de creme, or the dessert du jour.  Dinner is served from 5:30 p.m. – 1 a.m. Friday and Saturday, 5:30 p.m. – 11 p.m. Sunday – Tuesday.  On Valentine’s Day, their prix fixe menu is $65 per person, but they are still offering their specials on the 12th and 13th as well.  Don’t forget reservations!

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A romantic ambiance at the Beehive (photo courtesy of thebostoncalendar.com)

 

 

Sofra Bakery and Cafe: Cambridge Bakery Brings Middle Eastern Spices to the Masses

by Bovey Rao ’19

In 2001, Ana Sortun opened her landmark restaurant, Oleana, in Somerville. After an incredible tour of Turkey, Sortun returned to Boston to introduce the city to exotic Eastern Mediterranean flavors. The restaurant exploded in popularity, and in 2005, Sortun was awarded the James Beard Award for Best Chef Northeast. As Oleana was filled consistently, Sortun began looking into a new project, Sofra.

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Sofra Bakery and Café was inspired by Turkish bazaars, which offer food, drinks, spices, and other ingredients in a small area. The store has two separate sections with a café in one section, then a market space that sells condiments, wines, and spices. Upon entering, you encounter the vibrant aromas of the Mediterranean like cardamom, cinnamon, and coriander. A quick glance at the counter reveals an extensive menu with a wide assortment of baked goods. Sofra followed the meze style of dining, so there are many small vegetarian dishes as well as some larger dishes with meats. With staples like falafel, shawarma, and hummus, the menu might seem generic at first; however, upon closer inspection, the subtle complexities shown through. Sortun’s goal is to make Mediterranean flavors and spices approachable to the American palette, so many local ingredients are incorporated into the complex “foreign” dishes.

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As my exhausted group of friends and I collapsed into Sofra after a run, we glanced over the counter at the menu. After we caught our breath, we placed our orders and cooled down from our run. A short while later, my spinach falafel wrap, pumpkin turnover, and grape sharbat arrived with my friend’s orders of chicken shawarma and a red-dragon iced tea.

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The spinach falafel wrap was served with a little tahini, beet tzatziki, pickles, and fresh greens. Falafel is a traditional Middle Eastern dish, prepared by grinding fava beans or chickpeas and then frying it. While the dish may be simple, there is a complexity to the dish, with a unique mix of spices and textural differences giving it almost meaty impression. Sofra’s rendition was mixed with spinach and accompanied by rich, creamy tahini and acidic pickles. Unfortunately, the exterior of the falafel lacked the distinctive crispness I expected. Thus, I was slightly underwhelmed as the wrap had a uniform texture, but the refreshing bitterness of the greens and crunch of the pickles improved dish immensely.

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While ordering, I was overwhelmed by the sheer number of choices for the baked goods. With cookies, tarts, breads, and a plethora of other seasonal baked goods, Sofra prepares a number of traditional Mediterranean pastries as well other European baked items with Mediterranean influences. Fortunately, the cashier provided a quick recommendation of the pumpkin turnover. While the recommendation seemed plain, I was pleasantly surprised by the flavorful sweet and savory pastry. With the traditional pumpkin spices of cinnamon and nutmeg, the flavor was incredible with the flaky buttery turnover. The fresh sweet pumpkin inside was a nostalgic reminder of autumn.

Normally, I do not comment on the drinks that are served in my restaurant reviews, but the seasonal sharbat was sensational. With a strong grape cardamom concentrate mixed with sparkling water, the drink left a powerful sweet flavor.

A mere two miles away, Sofra serves as a cheaper destination for those seeking the Mediterranean experience. The more accessible sister of Oleana, Sofra delivers similar flavors in a cozier and more comfortable environment. While the food may not have been as elevated as at Oleana, the identity of the restaurant as an approachable café was apparent. If I ever desire a falafel wrap or a savory, spiced pastry, I will run in the direction of Sofra.

Sofra Bakery and Cafe

Location: 1 Belmont Street, Cambridge, MA 02138

Reservation: N/A

Stand out dishes: Pumpkin Turnover (Seasonal), Grape Sharbat (Seasonal)

Overall Rating: 4/5

Food: 3.5/5

Service: 5/5

Ambience: 4.5/5


 

 

Boston Restaurants to be Graded on Cleanliness

by Bovey Rao ’19

Many larger cities have adopted standardized grading systems for their restaurants. Frequent inspections made restaurants maintain higher standards of operation and cleanliness to earn their respective grade. These ratings improved their respective food scenes in terms of quality, but many concerns about consistency and corruption were voiced with this process. The power of the inspectors to give a restaurant a lower cleanliness rating could destroy a business. Similarly, some restaurants might be coerced into bribes and other underhanded methods to boost their letter grades. As Boston prepares to roll out their own grading system, I hope that the city is aware of potential repercussions.

Early next year, Boston is on track to begin grading restaurants on a scale from A to C (with A being the best and C being the worst). Restaurants that receive the C rating are then given 30 days to repair any issues and then be regraded by health inspectors. However, these ratings would not posted on storefronts like in many other metropolitan areas; instead, they would found online on a public database. This proposal now seemingly loses it merit because these ratings would not be visible. It is tedious to have to check a website when trying to figure out where to eat. At the same time, it would allow for restaurants of Boston to truly understand how the system works and to prepare themselves for it.

This ultimately brings up the issue of food safety and regulation. It is reasonable to expect restaurants to serve food from sanitary conditions in a comfortable and clean environment. If an establishment fails to meet those expectations, a potential customer would like to know. The immediate problem is to explain what the respective rating means. What differs between an A rating and a B rating? Does having a B rating change whether or not a person is likely to dine at a restaurant?

However, from a restauranteur’s perspective, it is also frustrating and sometimes hindering to have to adhere to standardized practices. Given the arbitrary nature of inspections, there is the issue of consistency and timeliness in visits. Fortunately, the provision allowing for a 30 day period to improve allows for this to be a non-issue. While many restaurants may protest these demands, the accommodations provided by the city are fair and justified. It is currently hard to tell whether or not the changes are going to help or harm the Boston food scene, but I believe that having a standardized restaurant health code will ultimately benefit the city.