À bout de Souffle

I absolutely love dinner parties. When you invite someone to dinner, you invite them into your home and into your heart. Retrieving a recipe, obtaining the ingredients, monitoring the stove, laying the table and of course cooking the meal requires a degree of care and intimacy that no restaurant meal could ever match. So, as I rang the buzzer outside SFP 2, I smiled in anticipation of the happy French meal that lay ahead.

We started with prawn cocktail and pastry puffs, followed by a lovely salad of sliced strawberries, fresh arugula, slivered almonds and a sweet tangy vinaigrette. The main course was baked salmon accompanied by roasted zucchini and steamed rice.

And dessert! Shabs made individual dark chocolate souffles. They only took 12 minutes to bake and were deliciously light yet decadent. I haven’t done any baking in a while, but these mouthwatering souffles (and cute silicone baking cups) have inspired me to give it a go. Get the recipe here!

New York v Boston or Boston v Cambridge?

Every so often, when I’m in New York, someone will ask me “how do you like Boston?”. And, every so often, I will hesitate before pulling out my stock answer “it’s fine, you know, its a great student town, but really, it’s nothing like New York.” The reason behind my hesitation is that Boston is actually a great town…err city. It’s clean, it’s incredibly pretty (when not covered with snow and freezing rain), it’s safe and importantly, it’s within easy reach of some wonderful weekend road trips. Despite these and many more merits, Boston’s failure to deliver on the restaurant front has unfortunately landed it squarely in my “nothing like NY” bucket.

It’s not that Boston food is bad, by any means. In fact, the abundance of fresh seafood gives the city a unique advantage and character. However, the more I eat out, the more convinced I am that Boston’s dining experience consists of a few basic cuisines (Italian, Seafood, American), a staid, stuffier ambience and good, but not stellar, food. Underwhelmed by recent trips to Market Jean Georges, Stephanie’s on Newbury and Casa Romero, I decided to spend some more time exploring my own back yard – the small but upscale city of Cambridge, MA. And what a good decision it was…

I just got back from the Cellar, a cute but inconspicuous little place on Mass Av that rightly lives up to its unpretentious name. Much like a Nottinghill gastropub, the Cellar is split into a downstairs bar and a more upscale upstairs restaurant (“Garden at the Cellar”). Neither place takes reservations and the space is small, so you’d do well to get there before 9pm on a weeknight and before 7pm (I’ve been told) on a weekend. Eyeing the line at the restaurant, we decided to head downstairs and quickly found seats at the bar. There’s no waitstaff downstairs and the menu is slightly shorter, but our bartender was very friendly and told us we could order from either place. A quick look at the deliciously-worded list and we decided to order tapas style, choosing a few small plates to share. Our food arrived quickly and was absolutely divine. The Pancetta Wrapped Dates with Goat Cheese and Apple Hash were scrumptiously juicy and bursting with flavour. The Chicken & Thyme Croquettes were crisp, grease-free and perfectly spiced. The Homemade Tater Tots were surprisingly delicate and the Mini Burgers on Brioche with Crispy Potatoes were melt-in-the-mouth delicious. Yum! To top it all off, our bill was less than $15 per person – absolutely incredible when you consider the rip off prices we usually end up paying for dinner. Are you listening Boston?

The Ambience: Dim-lighting, lively vibe, background music at perfect pitch. Crowd is mostly older students and young professionals. Perfect for small groups, drinks and dates.
The Verdict: Cellar – je t’adore! Your terrific menu, delicious food and great prices make you a firm favorite and I look forward to seeing you again soon 🙂

Greek Dinner at the Haigh’s

Last Saturday, Erin invited a group of us over for dinner. As a tribute to Athi’s Greek roots (not to mention Rachel Ray), our gracious host decided to cook chicken souvlaki sticks with tzatziki and orzo pasta with grape tomatoes and feta – yum! Needless to say, dinner was a big hit. The meal took less than half an hour to prepare and ranked highly on the taste vs. cooking ability scale.

Inspired by the Haigh’s success, I decided to rehash the meal last night, as a surprise for the boyfriend (who often ends up doing a lot of our cooking). Here are the results:

I’ve never cooked orzo before, but discovered that its surprising easy (and deliciously good) tossed with a handful of crumbled feta and a half pint of grape tomatoes halved and left to juice with fresh young basil leaves.

The chicken souvlaki is best prepared with tender chicken breast marinated for ten minutes in a mix of olive oil, garlic, herbs and spices and then threaded and grilled (either George Foreman style or out on the BBQ).

The tzatziki is surprisingly similar to raita – an Indian yoghurt concoction, especially desirable when trying to cut the intense spices of a curried meat – only based on thicker greek yoghurt rather than the more watery Indian kind. I whipped it up with some grated cucumber and spices before serving it as a dipping sauce for the chicken skewers.

Here are the original recipes in case you feel inspired 🙂

Chicken Souvlaki with Yoghurt Sauce

Orzo with Feta and Tomatoes (and some basil for good measure)

Crepes Taste Better With Hot Sauce

…Especially when you’ve braved a torrential downpour to get to them. Class ended at 11.40am today and despite the fact that I had a team assignment to work on, an interview call at 2pm, a two hour Spanish class to attend, three cases to read and a date with the gym pending, I decided to follow my two favourite girls across the bridge in search of crepes. It had been raining buckets all night and the wind was howling louder than ever, but nothing could shake our steely will (and resolute stomachs). We snubbed the dining hall suggestions of our well-intentioned class mates and, raising our (two) umbrellas high, stepped outside.

The Daily Menu @ Arrow Street Creperie

Where the magic happens

By the time we got to the Creperie, we were soaked to the skin and absolutely freezing. But oh what a feeling it was to walk into that charming, old-fashioned cafe and be greeted by the warm smell of sizzling butter and sweet sweet sugar. The Arrow Street Creperie is tiny and adorable with a few small tables and wrought iron chairs. We found a larger spot with a bench and stepped up to the counter to order. On the advice of my friends, I decided to try the St Martin Justin’s Delight – a savory crepe on the daily specials menu stuffed with walnut pesto, pungent gruyere, sauteed mushrooms and other goodies. Absolutely divine. The crepe itself was thin and crisp, the filling gooey and flavorful. The combination worked well, with the ingredients retaining their integrity in a complementary but un-confusing way. The friendly crepe man behind the counter laughed knowingly when I asked for tabasco and instead poured a smidgen of home-made hot sauce into a ramekin and handed it to me. My friends at the table were enthusiastically tucking into the Standard (smoked ham, baby spinach, two eggs, mozzarella) and the Biarritz (fresh asparagus, smoked ham, swiss and roquefort) but the menu near the counter listed a number of more traditional crepes as well.

Thai Chicken Salad

Strawberry, Banana, Nutella - a classic

The Californian - pesto, juicy tomatoes, mozzarella, walnuts and smoked ham (because I dont like turkey)

In fact, the Creperie offers a good mix of fun, creative fillings, traditional sweet crepes as well as hot drinks and smoothies. Definitely a great option for breakfast through dessert. At $8.99, my crepe was probably expensive for what it was, but I personally thought it was the perfect lunch. We inhaled our food in sync and, at 12.45pm, picked ourselves up, donned our rain gear and stepped back out into the storm.

Skipping the Pond

So its been a week (a great week actually) since school re-started and, as much I love the convenience of being able to run home to take naps / collect forgotten notes / make phone calls, I am strongly considering moving off campus. Several of my closest friends live across the “Pond” (Charles River) in Cambridge, in cute neighbourhoods adjoining Harvard Square and the appeal of a sub $1000 rent, a large kitchen and perhaps most importantly, a connection to the real food world, is starting to chip away at my moving inertia.

This Thursday after class, I was led across the bridge by two hardened off-campusers. After much debate about Indian buffet and Greek salad, we decided to head to Crema Cafe, an adorable little place on Brattle street, dearly-loved for its fresh sandwiches and mouthwatering deserts. As I tucked into my perfectly grilled crema chicken, I realized how happy I was. I leaned back in my chair, momentarily zoning out in order to soak up the happy sounds of clattering dishes, lazy conversation and Regina Spektor singing about a statue. Moving to a smaller table, we decided to stick around and get started on the next day’s homework. I downed a cappuccino and breezed through the first case. Working off-campus was easy! Moving off-campus should be easy too…hmm.

Recognizing that my productivity is significantly boosted by mildly frenetic environments, I decided, on Saturday, to head to another fantastic cafe, Dado Tea for lunch and some more work. I ordered the Cran Apple Salad and a chai latte and sat down with my friend, to wait. The food arrived within ten minutes and was absolutely delicious. The salad was huge and succeeded in balancing the (often tricky) ratio of feta, cranberries, apple and grilled chicken. The latte was foamy and unsweetened, the temperature was perfect. Dado Tea is busy on Saturday afternoons and tends to be dominated by laptop toting grad students who’ve perfected the fine art of pacing their bubble tea sippage with wifi consumption. The place still gets its fair share of tourists and townies though, seduced no doubt by the tempting array of Dado’s desserts and hot drinks.

Does any of this help my cause? Not really. Despite the universe’s impressive attempts to sell me on the across-the-pond lifestyle, I am still torn between that and staying in my uber convenient, roll-out-of-bed-fall-into-class situation. Will I find mi casa off campus? We shall see…