Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Lambic Beer

I went to Brussels a few years back (and blogged about it) and had lambic beer for the first time. It is traditionally brewed in only a few places in Belgium by spontaneous fermentation (from the medley of wild yeast in the environment of the brewery and not from carefully controlled yeast strains), taking several years to make, and has a distinctive sour taste (maybe more winey than beery). Often flavored by fruit, the authentic stuff adds real, whole fruit with a secondary fermentation. The imitators add sweeteners and syrups. Here's a good article I found on lambic, and here's the wiki page.

Some of the best of the real deal comes from the Cantillon brewery in Brussels. Thankfully, it is acquirable in the U.S. The most commonly found 'lambic' in the U.S. is Lindemans. It's dangerously yummy, but if you've had Cantillon at the brewery in Brussels, you will immediately know that Lindemans' not the real deal. It's sweet, never sour.

Given the complexity of the lambic-making process, blending and aging is as important as the spontaneous fermentation. Hanssens Artisanaal is a blender -- buying lambic from brewer before fermentation takes hold and aging and blending in their own cellars.

Which brings us to the beer in the photo: Hanssens Artisanaal's Experimental Cassis. A friend found it in a local liquor store. Fruity, sour, dry, with little aftertaste -- it's great. Here's the Beer Advocate listing. All of the reviews which rate it below an A are written by idiots with no taste buds.


Saturday, December 25, 2010

Best Food Day (in Boston) Ever

On Friday, we went to Men-Tei, a tiny hole-in-the-wall Japanese noodle and rice bowl shop near Newbury and Hereford. It was our first time, and it was awesome. I had fried pork chop noodles. It was exactly like the noodles you get in Taiwan -- fried pork goodness and chewy noodles for a good price ($9 in Boston, probably $3-4 in Taiwan).

For special occasions, my Mom makes a roasted duck stuffed with sticky rice dish. Since Sean and I are staying in Boston for the holidays this year, we decided that Sean would try to make it. But my Mom outright refused to tell us how -- she decided that deboning a duck, stuffing it, and sewing it up again was beyond our abilities. (She said she's show us how next year.) Anyway, we compromised and made the duck and sticky rice, separately. The sticky rice is made with sweet rice, onions, mushrooms, chestnuts, and a little ground pork. The key ingredient in the sticky rice, however, is duck fat collected from the roasting duck. For dessert, Sean made raspberry pie. It was a glorious meal:


Saturday, December 18, 2010

Das Räuchermännchen

Sean went to Germany a few weeks ago and came back with a räuchermännchen ('little smoking man'). A figurine of a woodsman or craftsman (is this little guy a shepherd?), there is a little plate in the center of it on which a little cone of incense is burned, and the smoke comes out of the mouth.


Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Christmas Tree


Sunday, November 28, 2010

Germany is on the Honor System Redux

I wrote a post a long, long time ago on how the German public transportation system operates on the honor system. You buy and validate tickets, but bus drivers are not checking boarding passengers for valid tickets (you can get on in the back of the bus) and there are no turnstiles in the subway. The honor system is probably the reason that you can go to the bus stop in Germany, look at the bus schedule posted, and know at what minute the bus will arrive. There are random checks and fines if you are found without a valid ticket, but I cannot remember ever being checked in the entire time I lived there -- never on the bus for sure, never on the U-Bahn, maybe once on the S-Bahn (actually, that might have been a Deutsche Bahn train). I assumed that the system works because Germans are just more honest than Americans. Anyway, Sean is in Germany right now and he says that today when the ticket checker came into his S-Bahn car, 4 of 8 people did not have a ticket. There goes that theory.


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Still Alive ... For Now

I accidentally ate some moldy pie (apple, if you're curious) this morning -- yes, for breakfast --which puts me one step closer to actually being Homer Simpson.

Also, it gives me an excuse to post this classic clip:

This was the best resolution clip I found. It has the added features of being the German version and, for some reason, mirror-reversed. (German Homer is weird, right? Very pimply-faced kid-like. I tried to explain this when I lived in Germany, but they were just too used to it to hear it.)


Sunday, October 31, 2010

Still Alive

Sorry about all the blog neglect. I've just gotten really, really busy. I promise that I'll be back again with more posts in a couple of weeks.


Monday, September 06, 2010


Even more delinquent, here are a few pictures from my trip to Taiwan in April.

Above is Longshan Temple in Taipei. It is crazy in there with people and lots of lots of incense smoke. Here's another picture:

1.) Tourist-y things to note about Taiwan. Stay long enough and you will be in an earthquake. Usually they're pretty mild. I was on the 13th floor and it was a significant rocking motion, but if I'd been on the street I probably wouldn't have noticed a thing. The biggest tourist attraction in Taiwan is probably the National Palace Museum with a giant collection of ancient Chinese art. (The "National Palace" in question is the Forbidden City in Beijing. The tourists in question are Mainland Chinese.) We also went to Taipei 101, now the second tallest building in the world. Nowadays, Taipei has a very nice, very convenient subway system. Below are pictures from the Chiang Kai-Shek memorials. It's massive.

2.) Food. You would think that a week in Taiwan (a sub-tropical country) would be bad for my digestive system, the dreaded 'Delhi belly' and all. But I was basically fine, as was Sean. (Oddly enough, Japan was much worse for the both of us.) That was a relief because Taiwan is full of good (and often incredibly cheap) things to eat. Din Tai Fung (twice). Department store food courts are really good -- a giant meal for about $4 USD. Night markets. The Taiwanese love to eat. My grandparents organized a little 13 course banquet for us. And giant shrimp. I can't find the photo now, but we ate some shrimp that were larger than my hand and we saw at the night market these shrimp-like things where the front two legs extended two or three times the length of the shrimp's body. Crazy!

3.) I suppose it's true of anywhere, but Taiwan has really changed from what I remember from trips when I was a kid. The old, dirty, smelly, pushy Taiwan is still there -- in parts. But now there's a new Taiwan: clean (really clean, not just less dirty), orderly, cosmopolitan, yuppie, where the only pushy-ness is from busloads of Chinese tourists. The dog of choice is a toy poodle -- in an elaborate and adorable costume (i.e., you have a cute toy poodle, you must put him in an even cuter bumblebee costume). The parks. The fancy subway. The live MLB baseball shown on multiple channels. The acknowledgement and celebration of aboriginal culture at some tourist spots. The clearest example are the taxis. They still dart through traffic, seconds away from the a crash (one taxi ride involved a full block of driving on the wrong side of the road right in the middle of the city). But they used to be foul, full of cigarette-stick affairs. Now they smell actually good. Really good. Better than any taxi in the U.S. and all the drivers have tiny HD TVs to watch while waiting.

One last thing about old Taiwan. I went to see my Dad's old house. It's in the old part of the city -- a place that was developed early and was probably cutting-edge many decades ago but now seems pretty old in comparison to the other quarters. Across the street is still the same bakery that my Dad loved as a kid. I'd been to the house before, but this time my Dad pointed across the street and to the corner, a few buildings down. That building was (naturally) under construction, but he said very casually, 'that's where the 228 incident happened.' Holy cow. In the annuals of Taiwanese history, 228 is one of the biggest events (read the wikipedia entry about it here). As it turns out, my Dad and his family had gone out that night (to the movies, I think) and missed the actual precipitating incident.

4.) One morning, we tried to fly to Hualien (on the East coast) from Taipei for a day trip, but with poor visibility, the 20 minute flight because 75 minutes of flying in circles before we landed back in Taipei.

Crazy messages on baseball hats worn by actual tourists at the airport: 1.) "World Terrorism. Wow." 2.) "This is my Fuck Cap."

We tried again the next day -- this time via the train. Taroko Gorge is gorgeous, the kind of scenery where -- as Sean whispered to me in the car -- "that's where the pandas are!"

5.) We also went to the Southern end of the island. There are a bunch of little beach towns there (by the way, it doesn't matter where in the world you are, beach towns all look the same). And I guess it was onion season because we drove past miles and miles of onion stands.

Old Ching-era city all:


Saturday, August 28, 2010


I went to Fairyland in Oakland, CA today with (to entertain my niece) and met this fella who goes by -- I'm not kidding -- Señor Juan Valdez. He seemed to really like me, coming up to say hello a lot and 'humming' (really more of a whine).


Saturday, August 21, 2010

Tokyo Redux

Oh so very very late, here are a few pictures from my trip to Tokyo in May. I heavily blogged my last trip to Tokyo, but this time around not so much. So here are some highlights.

1.) We stayed at one hotel with hilarious 1960s-vision-of-the-future decor. Everything in white. Everything in our room in molded white plastic. Awesome view, though. I tried to get some pictures:

2.) Watching tv in Japan is great. Every commercial has an adorable animated mascot. And I correctly guessed that the tv show were were watching was a boy band talk show.

3.) Food. You know what's surprisingly good together? Foie gras and daikon. I know, sounds terrible. But it was really really good. We went to a tiny, classy, old-school bar where the bartender chipped ice from big blocks by hand. And, most importantly, the ninja restaurant!

4.) Last time, I went to the Roppongi Hills (indoor) observation deck. This time, they had opened up the helipad for tourists. It's not like any other outdoor observation deck. No rails or fencing. Just standing out in this big open space way up on the roof (floor 54) and you can see city as far as you can see.

5.) Finally, we went to the Studio Ghibli museum. It's a bit out of the city. But so very worth it. It's not a regular museum: there are no maps, no little plaques explaining the historical context of the exhibits. It's really looks exactly as you imagine it would look in a Miyazaki movie or possibly what the inside of Miyazaki's mind looks like. There's a mock-up of an animation studio. There's a room with a giant Catbus for (and, sadly, only for) little kids to play on and in. And their theater shows shorts that are only shown there. And there's no video screens. Just drawings and models and film being projected. Here is someone else's photos and description of the museum and my favorite (and this blogger's too) part of the museum is described: the zoetrope. You're not allowed to take photos inside, but here are some from the outside.

Totoro's in the ticket office!

On the roof of the building there's a giant statue of one of the robots from Castle in the Sky. You can go have have your picture taken with it.


Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Books I Still Haven't Finished

If you have been monitoring my goodreads.com profile, you will have noticed that there are a couple of books that have been on the 'currently reading' list for more than a year: Neal Stephenson's Quicksilver and Halldor Laxness's Independent People. I haven't ruled out finishing them, but I'm not actively trying to read them now. I also started the novel version of Isaac Asimov's Nightfall more than a month ago and haven't finished it. Why haven't I finished reading these books?

I can pinpoint the answer for Quicksilver:

The year is 1713, and Enoch Root goes to visit Dr. Daniel Waterhouse and the institute he has founded: the Massachusetts Bay Colony Institute of Technologickal Arts. It's only page 16 of 916 and it's unbearably cute. I didn't make it past page 50.

Independent People came highly recommended. It just seems to require more attention than I can give to it. Basically all my reading gets done on airplanes and it's just not airplane reading material.

As for Nightfall, it is hilariously direct in the analogy between fictional astronomical conundrums and real-life counterparts. But it's only been a month and a half, so I might still pull through.

Anyone want to make a case for taking another crack at any/all of these books?


Monday, August 09, 2010

Egg Timer

I'm sorry for all the blog neglect. I've been busy, but it's not like I have a really good excuse like Tim. I still have a backlog of really old stuff to blog, but to get going I'm presenting to you right now the most awesome kitchen gadget ever:

Sean and I found it at Crate & Barrel while trying to use up the last of our wedding gift cards. It's an egg timer for boiling eggs, telling when they'll be soft, medium, or hard. And I hate hard boiling eggs: I'm always anxious. Am I cooking them long enough? Am I leaving them in too long?

How does it work? Put it in the pot of boiling water with the eggs.


The eggs are now medium (I only pulled the timer out for a better photo.)

And now, they're hard.



Friday, July 02, 2010

Random World Cup Thoughts

Anyone following the World Cup? I've been watching even though I can't ever remember the name of the one U.S. player I've heard of. Landon Donovan is such an odd name, so I get as far as "Lan" and then all I can think of is "-do Calrissian?"

I was fairly invested in the Germany-England match. Despite the WWII reference nonsense, I was rooting for Germany (it's the only team where I actually know the players' names). I was so tense when England had the non-goal goal (thinking that the tide was turning) that I couldn't watch until it was 3-1. I'm okay with Germany losing to Argentina or Spain if they get that far. But England seems to be all whining and self-absorption (this opinion is, of course, totally uninformed by anything) -- like the Yankees, but suckier at their given sport.

Aside from my Germany leanings, the most awesome final -- in a very Simpsons-tastic way -- would naturally be Paraguay v. Uruguay. Unfortunately the countries aren't right, but I couldn't resist including this clip:


Tuesday, June 15, 2010

New Office

After dawdling for a few weeks, I finally moved into my new office today. It's got windows and I'm now actually kinda weirded out by typing in natural light. I'd been holding out until new(er) furniture arrived in the office and then until I felt like I had more free time. I moved my books yesterday, but the final straw for moving my computer and actual work stuff came this morning when a professor showed up and said he'd be stashing a few summer students in my old office for a while.
Old office:

New office:


Monday, June 14, 2010

Gay Pride Parade 2010

A couple of decades ago, the neighborhood where I live -- the South End -- was considered a gay neighborhood. With gentrification, that identity has faded and now it's more like a 'gay lawyers who live in multi-million dollar houses' neighborhood. The gay pride parade (the 40th!) was held this Saturday, and our apartment faced out onto the very end of the staging area and very beginning of the parade route.

On the whole, it was family friendly and surprisingly neighborhood-y. Unfortunately, the sporadic drizzle turned into steady rain by the midpoint of the parade and the crowd thinned out. But there was a nice crowd in front of my building (not even on the official parade route) at the start.

Our corner was the staging area for all the motorcycle clubs. Unfortunately, I didn't get any really good picture of the bikes.

Of course, the mayor and the governor were there:

One of the biggest groups was actually a protest against Hyatt with signs saying "Anti-Worker, Anti-Gay."

I think the first costume is a lobster, but I'm not sure what the second one is or represents:

There's something about this rainbow colored dumbbell; I think it's the awesome amateur-ness of it. And what is with that Chipotle Grill sponsored balloon? Is it supposed to be something more than an amorphous cylinder?


Monday, May 31, 2010

Eastern Standard

I went to Eastern Standard Saturday night. It is an American/French food restaurant located not far from Fenway Park. I had an appetizer of bone marrow and an entree of lobster risotto. The bone marrow, though good, was ginormous. Three full chunks of bone (one of which was significantly wider at the bottom) with 4 toast points. By the last one, I was just piling the marrow on, desperately trying to balance it. I think that if I had a regular slice of bread, I could have covered it in marrow 1 inch thick. I had no idea that you could get full on bone marrow. (I only made it maybe 1/2 way through the risotto and had to take the rest home. It tasted much better the next day when I wasn't just trying to gut it out.)


Today in Weather

It was hot and clear when I went to the gym this morning. When I got out, it was noticeably cooler. It is hazy in all directions. There is the smell of smoke too, but the haze is everywhere -- way too pervasive to be a local fire. Ash from Iceland? Smoke from fire somewhere? Crazy ideas. I convinced myself that it must be offshore fog rolling in, but checking the weather shows I was right the first time: wildfires in Canada. Unbelievable.


Eurovision 2010

Germany won the Eurovision Song Contest this Saturday with this song, "Satellite" sung by 19-year old Lena. I didn't see it, of course, but it's notable for 2 reasons. One, it runs counter to the trend of domination by Eastern European countries. Although there have been recent wins by Finland and Norway, one might have thought that the old school Eurovision countries -- e.g., France, Germany -- might never win again. The second unusual thing is that the song is a genuine pop hit. Here's the song (not the live performance):


Monday, May 17, 2010


I know I ought to be blogging about Taiwan and Japan, but this weekend Sean found mangosteens on sale at the Chinese grocery store. Banned from importation into the U.S. until 2007, I'd read about the tropical fruit online but never seen it or tasted it fresh. (By the way, I have had canned mangosteen which was fairly gross and I can now report tastes nothing like mangosteen at all.) To eat, cut the leathery skin until you can pull off a hemisphere and then use your fingers or a small fork to ease out the white segments. The fruit is very soft (softer than any other fruit I can think of) and there's not a lot to eat (the larger segments have big seeds that you spit out). The descriptions of its flavor that I'd read said citrus. After eating one, it is really hard to describe. Sweet and citrus-y, yes, and it has a vague kiwi flavor but sweet and mild, with no acid-y tang. It was really good and I can see why people love them.


Friday, May 14, 2010


I landed in Boston Sunday night and I'm still very jetlagged. Took-the-6:30AM-train-to-work jetlagged. When I first got back, I was sleepy in the afternoons and awake in the mornings. I've now progressed to tired and can sleep in the afternoons and tired and cannot sleep in the mornings. Fantastic. Anyway, I wrote a couple of short book reviews on my goodreads account yesterday and I'll start working on some vacation posts soon.


Monday, April 19, 2010


I got around to watching "Ponyo," the latest film from Hayao Miyazaki, last night. It's the most awesomely adorable thing ever. And having seen several Miyazaki films, that's saying a lot.

Here's the adorable end credit song (in Japanese).

I'm going to Taiwan and Tokyo for a a couple of weeks, starting this Thursday. I don't know if I'll be able to update from the road. If not, I'll see you guys when I'm back.


Thursday, April 15, 2010

Crazy or Faking It?

So there were 6 of us at journal club today when some guy peeked his head in. It's prefrosh days at Brown and he showed up talking to a professor, so even though he looked to be in his mid-twenties, the assumption was that he was a prospective student. He apologized for interrupting and asked if he could introduce himself and ask a question. We asked him what the question was and he launched into a halting and rambling spiel. He apologized for having difficulties talking because he English wasn't his first language ... because he was an alien ... from the future. I should point out right now that he was a mostly ordinary looking white guy except that he had long blond hair maybe in some sort of braid, a Russian hat (suede looking, not fur), and an animal skull hanging around his neck. At some point, one of the students interrupted him and asked him what his actual question was. What I could pick out of his statement had to do with H.G. Wells and building a time machine and wanting to discuss it with some sort of theoretical astrophysicist, and who could he talk to? Another of the students suggested that he needed engineers not theorists if he wanted to build something, but he was adamant that he wanted to discuss theory. Eventually I told him that he had to decide: he could sit down and join the meeting (and presumably, listen to some student describe a paper) or he could leave. He chose to leave.

We actually finished the rest of the meeting before talking about the little visit. Most of the reactions were 'how crazy was he?' But I'm fairly convinced that the whole thing was an act -- maybe some sort of weird performance art. If I had thought he was truly crazy, I think I would have been nicer to him. But, instead, these 3 things struck me as he was speaking:

1.) His origin story seemed to be cribbed from Scientology. I don't remember exactly what he said other than that he was from googols and googols in the future, but it had a distinct Scientology bent to it.

2.) He said that he didn't speak English very well and spoke haltingly. But he also looked down a lot and seemed to be reading from at least notes and quite possibly a script.

3.) I feel like crackpots usually try to ingratiate themselves with people they think either can help them or need their help. He seemed more interested in making us uncomfortable than ingratiating himself with us.

Now there are all valid crazy person explanations for these three things: crazy people often crib from other sources and are not known for their social skills. Still, I wouldn't be surprised to find out there's some sort of 'musings from a time traveling alien' blog with today's post being 'interacting with Brown University astrophysicists.'

An aside, what about that professor he showed up with? Our visitor must have accosted him in the hall and when the professor saw that he was distracted by us, slipped away. He totally dumped the (possibly faking) crazy guy on us. Not cool, not cool. ;)


Tuesday, April 06, 2010

I Live in the US, But I Still Cannot Pronounce Anything Properly

Back in the day, I wrote this post about "English" words that people in Germany used but I didn't recognize. I also noted recently that I never pronounced the name of the city I lived in properly.

Well, I live in the US now, but one of the quirks of living in Boston, or maybe in Massachusetts generally or even in the East Coast generically, is that a lot of places have names that you think you know how to pronounce, but don't. I suppose it's carried over from the UK, so the city of Worcester, MA is pronounced "Wooster" (well more like wuhster). And Haverhill is pronounced HAY-vril, naturally. Even words that you're 100% sure you know how to say are pronounced differently. For example, Peabody, MA isn't pea-body as you might assume, but pea-buddy.

I live on Tremont Street. It took me a couple of weeks before I realized that it is not pronounced TREE-mont. Knowing that there was a different pronunciation, my first thought was that it must be TRAY-mont. But no, still wrong. It took me a couple of months, probably, to get it right, and now it's a little difficult to puzzle out how to write what I say. I'll go with treh-mont or maybe treh-munt, unless someone else has a better idea.


Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Boston Restaurant Week - Uni Sashimi Bar at Clio Restaurant

Sunday we went to Uni Sashimi Bar at Clio Restaurant. They're both projects of Ken Oringer -- who's responsible for Toro (our restaurant week winner so far). Clio is a French restaurant, and Uni is the sashimi bar in a little alcove of the restaurant. There were two tables and we sat at the bar (just 6 seats). It's the only place on our list that's not in the South End (it's in Back Bay) and is a fairly high end, upscale place.

First Course:

Poke with sweet onions, sesame, seaweek & pickled mung bean
Fluke sashimi with jalapeno vinagrette, blood orange, and Thai basil

Second Course:


The rice was cooked in plum wine and maybe some soy (it was red and sweet and maybe a little sour) and consisted of two kinds of rice, white and forbidden rice. On top was pickled daikon, pickled burdock root, fermented seaweed, pickled ginger, and one more thing I couldn't identify. Although I was worried about tiny, tiny portions at a place like this, the fish -- yellowtail, salmon, tuna -- was 9 pieces total.

Third Course:

Coconut tapioca with passionfruit, pineapple & guava sorbet
Japanese Yuzu Curd with coffee croquant & whole milk ice cream

Another winner. The fluke sashimi was awesome -- the jalapeno vinagrette was a nice touch. The chirashi was excellent (loved the rice). And while the yuzu curd was great, Sean managed to form some sort of emotional bond with the 5 spoonfuls of coconut tapioca and the 1 spoonful of guava sorbet. He was ready to order a trough full. As you might expect from a place like that, $33 of food wasn't exactly belly busting. You probably need to spend about twice that amount to get really full at a high end sushi place.

Other notes:

Outside of some fast-food sushi, this is the first time I've seen a restaurant with a non-Japanese sushi chef.

Sunday at 6:30pm is a much better time to go to dinner than a weekday at 8pm. No waiting. Excellent service.

They gave us a $20 gift card to use on a non-restaurant week return visit. Pretty cool. I suppose they're trying to drum up business. While the Uni side was fairly full, the Clio side (not participating in restaurant week) was entirely empty. And while both sides are expensive, they seem to offer some pretty cool weekday deals. I think we'll make it back (the Clio menu has some of the yummy-looking items that we saw on the chef's Iron Chef America episode).

[Updated 11:45 AM] And that's it for restaurant week. We had one more reservation for tonight. But a bad review and a bad report from someone we know, and we just canceled. I declare Toro our restaurant week winner.


Sunday, March 21, 2010

Boston Restaurant Week - Sibling Rivalry

Sean and I have actually been to Sibling Rivalry before, and we went on Thursday with friends, so this report will probably be a little shorter, less thorough, than the others. The concept for Sibling Rivalry is that there are two chefs -- brothers -- and each prepares a dish based upon one ingredient. So there's two shellfish dish options, two lamb dish options, etc.

8pm is evidently a tough time for a reservation. We waited 25 minute for a table. And we didn't get out of there until 10:20pm, but it was a far superior experience than at the Butcher Shop: there was a lot more food, we spent a significantly longer amount of time actually eating, the seats were way more comfortable, and the bread came right away. And the basket of bread includes slices of corn bread (I love corn bread).

I had tuna and pork wontons, rack of lamb, and blueberry & apple crisp. The wontons were good, but really the best dumplings are always the ones you make yourself or the ones you get at a real dumpling place like Din Tai Fung. The dessert was fine. The lamb, however, was excellent. I was initially thinking that after all that meat at Toro and the Butcher Shop, I should get fish. That's loser thinking. After I was done with the lamb, I really wanted to pick it up and gnaw on the bones; they were so tender and yummy. And it came with some sort of mashed potato thing that was fluffy and delicious.


Thursday, March 18, 2010

Boston Restaurant Week - The Butcher Shop

Wednesday night was the Butcher Shop. A wine bar / actual butcher shop, it's a tiny place with maybe 20 seats at tables and another 10 seats at the bar. A butcher block table is set up in the back where a few (maybe 10) people can stand and have a drink and a snack while waiting for a table. And against the back wall is a set of glass refrigerated cases where you can see the meat, sausages and sides available to take home. The place is supposedly a favorite of Tom Brady and Gisele Bundchen.

Where Toro was down-to-earth and unpretentious, the Butcher Shop is the exact opposite. It's not just that it was d-bag central in there; a surprising number of people seemed to have no idea how to behave in public. (Seriously, random person. Are you really going to sit on the butcher block table that people are eating off of like you're in your kitchen at home? Seriously?) And the prices on the regular menu, while not astronomical -- and, yes, that's totally a scientific assessment ;) -- were fairly silly when you could see right in the refrigerated case how much less you'd pay if you took it home. And, then, 1.) you wouldn't be standing around for 20 minutes waiting for a table even though you have a reservation, and 2.) you wouldn't have to hang out with the kind of people who go to the Butcher Shop. For example, the duck hot dog was $16 on the menu (and it's just the hot dog with a bun and a few chips), but I could have bought the hot dog itself for $3. In terms of value, portions were not particular big either. A 20-something dollar entree of meat is just that -- sides are extra. Of course, really none of this (the people, the wait, the money, the portions) was unexpected to me. But what about the food?

This was their restaurant week menu:

Duck Consomme or
Endive Salad

Pork Shoulder or
Skirt Steak

Chocolate Mousse or
Lemon Curd

Since it was the two of use, we got everything on the special menu. The soup, the salad, and the desserts were all fine. The pork shoulder was quite good. The only really excellent thing was the skirt steak. Perfectly medium-rare. The jus was perfect, the crust was perfect (crusty but not at all burnt, so yummy), and finally the delicious center was perfect (juicy, tender, buttery). I didn't know skirt steak could taste like that.

So, not spectacular but quite good. Would I go back? I'm definitely never eating there again (although I'm still a little intrigued by the duck hot dogs). It was not worth the regular prices. Value is, of course, subjective. So what if I were X times richer than I am? Still no because there's still something I haven't commented on: the waiting and the service.

We had reservations at 8pm. When we arrived, the host says that they're not quite ready and puts us at the butcher's block to wait and for drinks. Later, he says that some guests are taking longer than expected and offers us seats at the bar -- which we take. We sit at around 8:20pm. Our appetizers arrive at 8:45pm. It took 45 minutes to get any food -- even bread. The bread, by the way, comes with some fancy honey that Sean quite liked. Our entrees arrive somewhere around 9:20pm. The dessert arrived at 9:45pm. We managed to get out of there at 10pm.

Now, one might think of a lot of reasons for such slow service: 1.) giant influx of people, 2.) not enough waitstaff, 3.) mean or lazy waitstaff. But none of these are what actually happened. As far as I can tell, the Butcher Shop is just completely inefficiently run -- disorganized and possibly incompetent. As I listed before, there's about 30 seats in the whole place (not 30 tables, 30 seats). To serve those 30 people, there was a bartender, 2 waiters, 1 host, and one other person whose exact job was unclear but also added up checks, took drink orders, etc. There was 1 service person for every 6 people in the restaurant. If you include the people who were waiting and got drinks or snacks, there's still 1 service person for every 8 people. You'd think that place that size should be able to get by with half the number of workers. And it wasn't that the people working were sitting around doing nothing -- they were constantly doing stuff and talking about how they can clear a table for new people. But somehow, in some way I cannot fathom, they were incapable of handling everything. Seats went open for 10 minutes or more because no one could get around to cleaning it up or seating new customers. People with reservations had to wait for a seat because 'guests were taking longer than expected' probably because those guests had to wait to be served. And, you might think that maybe the kitchen was the hold up, but most of the menu requires little more than pouring wine and slicing pate, so that's seems fairly improbable too. You would expect a lot of things at a place like the Butcher Shop: the people, the prices, the portions, and hopefully really good meat. But this ineffectualness in the service, the overall dining experience was shocking and completely baffling.


Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Boston Restaurant Week - Toro

Sunday was the beginning of Restaurant Week in Boston. Actually two weeks, participating restaurants offer prix fixe menus ($33.10 per person for dinners). We live in near a bunch of restaurants which we've never gone to for fear that they would be a big waste of money, so we made five reservations. Sunday night was Toro, a Spanish tapas place. (Toro has a famous chef owner, Ken Oringer. And, coincidentally, we saw his episode of Iron Chef America the day before.)

The restaurant is actually fairly small -- 55 seats -- and was not d-bag-y (as I feared). It's actually more lively and homey. And the service was great. More importantly, on to the food we ate:


Corazon a la Plancha - grass-fed beef heart with romesco
Cabeza - pig-head terrine with carrots

Okay, let me just go ahead and spoil the ending for you: it was fantastic. Everything. Every little bit. And when we went home and looked at the regular menu prices, it was all fairly reasonable. We're going back (you would be extremely lucky to come with us). Anyway, the cabeza was basically a pate made from pig's head with little tiny shavings of extremely sweet carrots. The beef heart came sliced thin and piled on top of toast smeared with romesco sauce. It was like the best roast beef you ever had, the extremely smooth texture probably the only sign that it was heart.


Boquerones - white anchoives in vinegar and olive oil

I haven't really liked anchoives in the past; they're very oily and fishy. But even though nothing in this dish disguised those basic properties, they were somehow really great anyway. Also, that was some yummy olive oil.

Pulpos - octopus

So soft but not mushy.

Maiz Asado con Alioli y Queso Cotija. La Especialidad de la Casa - grilled corn with alioli, lime, espelette pepper and aged cheese

These just had chunks of butter coating it. You'd think that'd be gross and too rich. I was undeterred.

Asado de Huesos - roasted bone marrow with radish citrus salad and oxtail marmalade

Oh my. As Sean (his first time eating marrow) said: meat butter. Salty, flavorful and flavored, fat. It's awesome. I expect that someday soon, we'll pop in for a drink and this. The oxtail marmalade was really oxtail on toast -- I'm not sure where the 'marmalade' comes in.

Vientre de Cerdo - crispy pork belly, Burgundy snails, fava beans and smoked maple crumble

The very last thing I ate. It was great, but I wasn't that into the fava beans and maple crumble.


Churros con Chocolate - airy crisp fried pastry with chili infused chocolate

Best churros we'd ever had.

Okay, probably not a lot there for any vegetarians to work with. Sorry. To summarize, by far, the best tapas I've ever had. A few more random thoughts: Now I admit that I have a high tolerance for fatty/oily foods. I've eaten lardo. Usually after tapas, you feel greasy. Even though there was oil and fat and butter in everything, I didn't feel that way at all. And though I was worried there'd be tiny portions, we were both satisfactorily full after the meal.


Monday, March 15, 2010


Waiting at the train station this morning. My train is delayed
naturally. There's a couple inches of water on tracks. How very