Thursday, July 22, 2010

A Taste of Cambridge (and Boston!)

Once upon a time, I lived in Boston.  As a young and impressionable college student, I experienced some enlightening and some not-so-enlightening culinary encounters.  Though I don't live there anymore, I look forward to all of my visits to try new places, and of course revisit some of my favorites.  Most recently I visited some friends living in Cambridge, a part of town I rarely visit (my alma mater is on the other side of the river =)).  It was a nice, relaxing, and incredibly nostalgic experience catching up with old friends.  And fortunately, all of our food experiences were without fail!

First, my friend Sarah and I made a trip into Boston proper and indulged in some dim sum for lunch at China Pearl.  It was my first time in Boston's Chinatown (believe it or not) and only my second official Chinatown dim sum experience (carts and all).  Everything we tried was delicious, and we could barely finish all our food!  I love all the different textures and flavors of the various dumplings, even those that appear to be similar.  For example, we enjoyed two different steamed shrimp dumplings.  One had a somewhat thicker, chewier dough layer, while the other had a thinner skin and was filled with shrimp and scallions, adding the exact amount of mild onion flavor to set these apart from their friends.  Both were great, but just different.  I also think they did a great job with my favorite dim sum treat, the char siu bao, or steamed bbq pork buns.  These were incredibly fluffy and chewy, with the perfectly sweet pork meat inside.  Heaven!  The only downside is that the whole shrimps in the rice noodles visibly had their poop chutes intact, which I'm told is completely normal at dim sum restaurants.  Eww, but I'm sure we all eat shrimp poop without realizing it right?  The whole meal cost about $22 (including tea), an incredible deal for the sheer quantity of delicious food (which we couldn't even finish)!  Poop and all :)

Steamed Shrimp Dumplings (these had thicker and chewier dough! Great texture contrast)

Steamed Shrimp and Scallion Dumplings 

Inside Steamed Shrimp and Scallion Dumplings 

Sticky Rice in Lotus Leaves 

Pork Siu Mai (very juicy!)

Steamed Char Siu Bao (BBQ Pork Buns) 

Inside Char Siu Bao 

Rice Noodle with Shrimp (despite the visible shrimp poops which I avoided, these were good)

After lunch, we popped into Bao Bao Bakery one street over for some bubble tea.  When I was in college I frequented the bubble tea shop on campus, so often in fact that my photo is (last I checked) still hanging on the wall along with the other wall of fame-ers :) The bubble tea at Bao Bao definitely quenched the craving I've developed in the near decade since I last enjoyed it.  I went with taro (a classic bubble tea flavor) while my friend Sarah opted for honeydew.

For dinner, many hours later, we decided to try the tapas at Dali in Somerville.  I'm pretty sure it's owned by the same people as Tapeo on Newbury Street, mainly because so many of the menu items are identical, but don't quote me on that.  The decor was also very similar, the same pair of lady's stockinged legs protruding from the wall, among other fun thematic decor :)  It seemed that the day was meant to be filled with casual "tasting menus" of Asian and Spanish influence, between the dim sum and tapas we inhaled.  Our waiter here was not only efficient, but had a great sense of humor! We questioned his ability to remember our entire order without writing it down (it just seemed impossible to us) and he responded by making up a fake order as a joke, and then following with the exact order we had just placed, just to prove us wrong.  Needless to say, all of the food that arrived was exactly what we had chosen.  Without further ado, here are our tapas choices of the evening!!  And PS, once again, not a single disappointment, except maybe the "boring" bread!

The somewhat boring breads with the much less boring, tasty chickpea puree! At least the spread made up for the mediocre bread :) 

Plato Mixto - Spanish Cheeses, Serrano Ham, Roasted Red Peppers, Olives (classic, what more can you say?)

Patatas Bravas - Potatoes with Piquant Tomato & Alioli (an old favorite of mine)

Gorditas - Bacon-wrapped Prunes stuffed with Goat Cheese (absolute lust! I'd love to drown in a bathtub filled with these...minus the toothpicks, that might hurt) 

Butifarras Con Brevas - Pork Sausage with Figs (I love sausage with a side of sweet! These were great!)

Pato Braseado - Roast Duckling with Berry Sauce (though the sauce seemed very sweet on it's own, it was a perfect accompaniment to the duck)

Codorniz de Castilla - Broiled Herb and Garlic Quail stuffed with Bacon (anything with a bacon surprise inside has my vote!)

Vieiras al Azafrán - Broiled Scallops in Saffron Cream (fyi, I've been known to drink this sauce when all the scallops are gone... just sayin') 

Our tapas meal hit the spot, and although there were so many different flavors, proteins, fruits, and spices reflected in our dishes, every single item went so well with the others.  The one dish I didn't photograph was the garlic soup, which one of my friends ordered.  I did taste it, however, and it was total and complete nirvana.  Next winter, when I am desiring some soup, I will need lots and lots of garlic soup (and I'll probably enjoy it alone because God knows I won't want to share... and also there's of course the breath issue, haha).

Dinner was followed by a bit of ice cream at Toscanini's Ice Cream in Central Square.  Along with the necessary traditional flavors, there were tons of unique ones like blueberry pancakes, flower power (I believe it was rose water, hibiscus, and lavender?), and mango black tea, which just happen to be the flavors my two friends and I ordered (there were so many unique flavors, I can't even begin to remember them all).  My mango black tea ice cream tasted exactly like the mango black tea I purchased in the Caribbean.  I still have a bunch of tea bags left,and may need to recreate this one at home!  Sooooo good, yet we had some issues with melting in the heat outside.  Messy, but delicious :)

Ooops, did I make that mess? 

Man, writing about all this food is making me hungry again, but unfortunately for both of us, I'm not finished!  I still have to discuss breakfast the next day!  We headed to Sofra in Cambridge, the sister bakery to Oleana, a higher end Middle Eastern restaurant also in Cambridge.  Sofra is small, and during busy times, it may be a challenge to find a seat, but it's worth the wait.  Sofra offers lighter fare than it's formal sister, as well as some of the salads and specialties offered at Oleana (in the refrigerator case), lots of wonderful pastries, sandwiches, breakfast items, along with many of the spices that are used in the cooking, all for purchase in one great spot!  I made off with some Aleppo chilies, Urfa chilies, and smoked salt, along with some pastries to eat later.  For breakfast I had a dish of eggs poached in a tomato sauce.  Although tasty, my eggs were overcooked for my taste.  Otherwise, the concept of the dish and the flavors were great.  I also tasted the fried feta cheese component of my friend's Turkish breakfast, which was amazing!  Especially slathered in some of the accompanying tomato salsa.  The zucchini turnover I enjoyed later was flaky and delicious, filled with zucchini and summer squash, feta, tomatoes, and sumac.  I also tried the Persian spice donuts, which were great.  The dough wasn't sweet at all and tasted somewhat eggy, but the sugar-spice mixture on the outside was just that perfect touch! A great balance without being overly sweet like a lot of other donuts tend to be.

Spices and such for sale! 

Dunia's Iced Tea (flavored of dates and rose water and garnished with toasted pine nuts) 

Turkish Breakfast - Soft Boiled Egg, Cucumber, Tomato, Olives, Feta, Thick Yogurt with Spoon Sweets 

Egg and Bacon Sandwich 

Shakshuka - Eggs Poached in Tomato with Curry & Pita Crumbs (I also wished their choice of accompanying bread was more "Middle Eastern" than a hot dinner roll)

Zucchini Turnover (enjoyed at home!) 

Persian Spice Donut (also enjoyed at home) 


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