All posts by leahklein

As far back as I can remember, I would wake up from my nap time to the smell and sounds of something cooking in the kitchen. I would stumble out of my bed and slowly make my way to the kitchen. My mom would be there chopping, stirring, mixing, or washing. I would rub my eyes take a deep breath and eventually be awake enough to either taste something she was chopping or ask to help out.

Broadway, Ballet & Al Fresco Spectating

  
The Opera House isn’t dormant, but Boston Ballet is on a break if by “break” one means special projects, guest performing, galas and ballerina bootcamps. While Boston Ballet Company is scattered around the world working on summer projects Broadway in Boston is filling the stage with their craft.  Some companies have summer homes.  New York City Ballet is performing in Saratoga.  The Boston Symphony Orchestra has settled in at Tanglewood. Other settings become summer homes for dancers from all over the country and the world.  Jacob’s Pillow has a summer full of performances. Outside the Box Boston has outdoor stages around Boston Common.  In Houston Texas there is the Miller Outdoor Theatre. In New York City there is the Hudson River Dance Festival. There is something about summer that goes beyond ice cold lemonade and the sweet juice of the freshest fruit dripping down your chin. Especially in  New England, summer loosens our strings a little. We gather outside to watch movies, listen to concerts, dance and watch live performance stogether. 

Coming up on July 25th is a dance festival and outdoor performance that is new to me, and I cannot wait to go check it out.  The Cape Dance Festival is held in Provincetown with the beach and ocean as the backdrop.  I think part of what makes outdoor performance spaces so special is that they are ephemeral in a unique way. Some of the best dances every created were neither choreographed nor captured, they were dances that emerged in our contact improv sessions at the Bates Dance Festival with Andrew Harwood. Some of the best songs are the ones you overhear being performed in the shower walking by a stranger’s house.  Some of the best art is the thing you happen upon when you’re trying to make something else or a simple sight that catches your eye. Some of the best recipes are lucky accidents. There is an element of “uncontrol” that plays a part in an outdoor performance. The lighting is only partially controlled but the natural light of the sun slowly setting is magical. The dancing itself feels different in a space without walls and the sky as the cieling.  The auduence’s light summer dresses replace the structured gowns of the Opera House and theatres.  The audience even feels different. 

 

Jeffrey Cirio soloist at American Ballet Theatre and Director, Choreographer and dancer of Cirio Collective. Photo by Jordan Jennings courtesy of Cape Dance Festival
 
Leading up to the Saturday performance at the Cape Dance Festival are master classes and special events such as MAKING BALLET: AN EVENING WITH THE CIRIO COLLECTIVE.  Jeffrey Cirio, who has been starring with Boston Ballet as principal dancer and will be going to NYC to join American Ballet Theatre as a soloist is not only an exceptional dancer but a talented choreographer with his own company The Cirio Collective.  

Another favorite of mine performing at the Cape Cod Dance Festival this year is Doug Varone.  I became familiar with is work many years ago at the Bates Dance Festival.  He is an incredible story teller in his work.  This year’s performers look like a wonderful varied group and I look forward to an evening of dance by the sea.  

The setting. Photo courtesy of Cape Dance Festival
  
 
Here is what you will be treated to this year for the 3rd annual Cape Dance Festival:
Cirio Collective • Jeffery Cirio, Lia Cirio, Whitney Jensen, Bradley Schlagheck, Isaac Akiba, Altan Dugaara, Paul Craig, Emily Mistretta

Doug Varone and Dancers • Featuring, Home, choreographed by Doug Varone

Catherine Cabeen – Hyphen • Catherine Cabeen, Germaul Barnes 

Nickerson Rossi Dance • Chad Ortiz, Brooklynn Reeves, Heidi Buehler 

American Ballet Theater Alumni • Anna Liceica and Vitali Krauchenka

The Pharmacy Project • Nora Petroliunas 

Adam Spencer • British Ballroom Champion, with TIDES dance company

Project Moves Dance Company • Featuring a new work by Rennie Gold

Dine Like a Parisian in Cambridge: It’s not the food it’s how you do it.

  
As a child I lived in France for two years, although I didn’t have cocktail hour then, I understood the habits of dining à la Française.  In France, at the time, we had two hours for lunch at school.  Most children went home to have their main meal of the day then with their family.  After school, children would have their goûter, which was often candy from the Tabac (the corner store that sold it’s namesake: tobacco, stationery and lots of candy), or a piece of baguette with a square of chocolate.  Later, dinner would be served and it was most often what we would consider a light snack.  

  
Especially in the summer, I find if I eat a good breakfast and sit down to a complete lunch, dinner isn’t really necessary.  That’s when you can really enjoy a cocktail and a small bite and call it dinner.  You enjoy the evening, chat with friends, have a few nibbles and go to bed feeling good  and not weighed down with a heavy meal in your belly, but rather a few fabulous flavours just dancing on your tongue. 

Catalyst in Cambridge, has the ideal way for you to take this wonderful habit for a test drive.  So first, make sure you eat a good breakfast.  There is no need to go crazy.  A coffee, tea, smoothie, and a small bite to eat will do.  Then, take a friend, a few colleagues, and go eat a good lunch.  Take your time with lunch, eat well, eat slowly experience it as the meal it should be. Working lunch, power lunch, lunch break are all unacceptible alternatives to a proper lunch. Then, later in the evening when you feel a bit peckish, grab a few friends 3 or 5 or 7 is a great number.  Head to the patio at Catalyst and you can enjoy punch with friends and a few bites from the perfect summer patio menu.  The punch is served in vintage punch bowls and transports you to a time when things seemed simpler and the pace was slower.  Chef Kovel’s food is the perfect food for a “small bites” dinner because the layering of his flavours is impeccable and the flavours are bold, textures are correct, and if you choose well you can pair it all nicely with the punch du jour.  The punch serves 4, 6 or 8 people.  It is available on the patio only and is offered with the chalkboard specials.  It really is the perfect way to dine this summer.

Of course, if you perfer to dine in the American way you can definitely come for lunch for your light bite or come for dinner and order off the regular menu as well. 

Catalyst is located at 300 Technology Square in Cambridge. 

A CSA Recipe:  Simple Kohlrabi Salad

I love kohlrabi and before we started our CSA many years ago, I had never eaten before.  Now, I look forward to seeing it sitting in the CSA baskets in the cool pick up area around the corner from the tree swing and hammock. This simple recipe is a great way to enjoy the slightly sweet, clean tasting vegetable that looks like a bulb.  The common vegetable it reminds me most of is broccoli.  For this recipe, I use a mandoline, but you can make it more of a slaw and use a grater as well.  

 
Simple Shaved Kohrabi Salad 

(serves 4)

Ingredients

  • one kohlrabi
  • 2 tsp of Cider Vinegar
  • 2 tsp of another vinegar such as white balsamic, Champagne vinegar, or white wine vinegar. I used Tuscan Market’s tangerine white balsamic.
  • 1 tsp of Dijon mustard
  • 2 TBSP of olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • Fresh dill fronds (8-10 fronds)

Prep

  • Trim the long stems and leaves off of the kohlrabi.  
  • Wash the kohlrabi. Wash the dill and set it on a kitchen towel to dry.
  • For a more delecate shaved salad, peel the kohlrabi, but it isn’t essential.
  • Using a mandoline on a thin setting (I used the 1/8 ” setting on my Oxo Mandoline). If you do not have a mandoline just use a grater and you can have shredded strips of kohlrabi instead of larger rounds.
  • Mix the vinegars and mustard in a bowl or jar.  Add the oil, a pinch of Kosher or Maldon sea salt, and about 1/2 tsp of pepper. Whisk together with a fork until combined.  If you do this in a jar you can just give it a great shake to combine. 
  • Generously pour the dressing (you will have some leftover for salads later in the week) over the kohlrabi.  Mix around to cover all of the kohlrabi.  Break off pieces of the dill frond and toss it into the salad.  Sprinkle with a little kosher or Malden sea salt to finish.  
  • For best results let the salad sit in the fridge or counter for 30 minutes or so before indulging. j

  

Summer Life in the City: Family Film Fest at the Prudential

Wellfleet has their Drive in Movie theatre, Truro has their concerts on the green,  and Boston has the Prudential Family Film Fest.
Wellfleet has their Drive in Movie theatre, Truro has their concerts on the green, and Boston has the Prudential Family Film Fest.

There’s a funny thing people do when they are away from home and on vacation.  They go out.  They explore.  They stay out past the usual bedtimes.  They try new things. They carry on annual summer traditions.  The thing is, you don’t actually have to travel far or travel at all to do those things.  Summer in the city is a thing to celebrate.  You don’t have to have a beach house or a family weekend on the Cape to be on vacation.  Because your home is someone else’s vacation spot and there is nothing stopping you from being on vacation right here in the city.

The Prudential Center's South Garden is a perfect urban oasis with flowers, a sandy path, and a beautiful lawn to lay out blankets for the movies.
The Prudential Center’s South Garden is a perfect urban oasis with flowers, a sandy path, and a beautiful lawn to lay out blankets for the movies.

When I was a teenager, I used to work at a summer camp and every spare moment that wasn’t spent working, I spent at the movies.  There is something about movies that are a vacation in themselves.  Watching a movie is a journey into someone else’s life, a step away from the day to day of your life, and a little escape from reality. We could all use that a little once in a while.

Movies begin at dusk.  Plan for a late night, of course as summer goes on the movies can start a bit earlier each week.
Movies begin at dusk. Plan for a late night, of course as summer goes on the movies can start a bit earlier each week.

The Prudential Center hosts, and invited my family to check out, their Family Film Fest. The Family Film Fest at the Prudential is free and open to the public.  I had heard about the outdoor films the past few years, but couldn’t quite picture what it was like until we headed down to the Prudential Center’s South Garden and experienced it for ourselves.  It was not too different from experiences we’ve had on the Cape except for the fact that we were in an urban setting nestled between the high rise buildings watching the sun set instead of on the town green.   There is something so summery about watching a movie outside on the big screen.  After a hot day, there is a little chill in the air (bring blankets to cozy up with).  The setting of the South Garden is nice because it is somewhat enclosed and there are security staff on the premises too to help with logistics, wandering children, respectful use of the space, etc.

DSC_9185There are a few advantages of being in the city and not on some small town green.

  1. There are no bugs.  Well I’m sure there are some bugs but we didn’t see or more importantly feel any and  we went home mosquito bite free.
  2. Dining options.  Of course, if you want to pack a picnic you can, but if you didn’t have time to put something together after work, the Prudential has more options than any family could need.  We had 5 Napkins Burgers.  I saw families with takeout from California Pizza Kitchen and Cheesecake Factory.  Others, had perhaps dined at home and were enjoying some Pinkberry frozen yoghurt for dessert.  Some, stopped in the nearby Star Market to pick up popcorn and treats for the movie as well as dinner.
  3. Bathrooms.  The mall has plenty of bathrooms.  Real, running water, lounge seating (in some locations), clean, sparkly bathrooms.  The movie may end after the mall bathrooms close for the evening so plan accordingly.
  4. Multitasking opportunities.  My husband does not like going to the mall, but on occasion he needs to pick up or return an item.  While the kids are busy dancing, one parent can head into the mall to do a quick errand, return an item, shop, pick up a new book at Barnes & Nobles.
  5. Dance party.  Everyone had a chance to get up and dance.  From the tiniest tots to the grandest grandparents, the “dance floor” on the lawn was a party in itself.
  6. Great giveaways.  From museum passes to concert tickets and movie theatre passes to dinner gift certificates, the giveaways were impressive and plentiful.

Speaking of giveaways, I have a little one here to offer you as well.  Enter here to win a gift card for 5 Napkin Burger and a Prudential picnic blanket for your own Family Film Fest experience (valued at $60).

The Family Film Festival runs every Saturday from July 11 to August 29 in the Center’s South Garden with entertainment, games and gift card giveaways beginning at 6:00 p.m. followed by the featured movie starting at sundown. The festival is free to the public, and guests who make a $10 purchase in the Center can take advantage of on-site discounted parking.
Rain dates are scheduled for the following Wednesday, complete details can be found on The Shops at Prudential Center’s website. The schedule for the Family Film Festival is as follows:

July 11: The Boxtrolls
July 18: Frozen
July 25: Big Hero 6
August 1: UP
August 8: Paddington
August 15: Ratatouille
August 22: Toy Story
August 29: Despicable Me

Posto Mobile Pizza Food Truck: Come for the Pizza and Keep the Sauce

Wood fire stove on Posto Mobile's truck.
Wood fire stove on Posto Mobile’s truck. Photo by: Leah Klein

Pizza really is the best fast food available.  The problem is that it isn’t always fast and it isn’t always made from the best ingredients.  If you can find a place that makes it well, they have the right ingredients and the right equipment. In the Boston area (Boston’s South End, Cambridge, Somerville), we have a few family favorites.  Our local pizza of choice is Armando’s in Cambridge. My son gets the cheese pizza and my husband and I like that too or we’ll throw on some spinach and eggplant.  My daughter prefers their Sicilian slice which has a nice spongy crust and garlic flavour.  Then there’s the pizza bowling pizza, which is “so juicy” according to Henry.  Flatbread Pizza at Sacco Bowl in Somerville is one of his favorites because of the garlic oil drizzled over it. My daughter and I are regulars at PICCO because I loved the charred crust and we are both addicted to their Caesar salad. Another pizza I really enjoyed was Posto‘s pizza, but we don’t get to Davis Square that often.  Recently, though Henry and I were invited to track down Posto Mobile, Posto’s, food truck and I’ve been chasing it down like a pup chasing a mail truck ever since.

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One size really does fit all because even if you can’t finish it all for lunch, leftover pizza never goes to waste.  Posto also has salads and some pretty amazing dessert if you save a little room.

Posto Mobile is primarily pizza, but they always have a salad, drinks (of course), and dessert that is worth saving room for.  There is one more little thing that you absolutely must get…but I’ll get to that in a minute.

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Part of what I love about the Posto pizza is that the dough is thin, but the crust has a nice, soft chewiness to it, as a crust really should have.

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I love a good Hawaiian pizza and this one had pineapple and prosciutto on it. All you need with the sweet of the pineapple and the salt of the prosciutto is a little heat. Just wait until you taste it! Don’t forget to ask for this little “secret” ingredient.
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The crust has a nice char, but not so much that it isn’t appealing to my little traditional pizza eater. It gives just a hint of smokiness to the pizza.
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Henry enjoying his Pizza Margherita on the grass over by MGH. There is a parking lot on site if you don’t take the T so you can pop in and pick up a few pizzas without spending too much time or money. If you’re strolling on Charles Street on a Thursday, a little side trip here is definitely the way to go for lunch.


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And now that for that secret ingredient!  Posto has a little bit of liquid gold that you absolutely must ask for.

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Their chili oil comes in a small, ready-to-go container and is perfect for drizzling over your pizza to add a little extra spice and smokiness.  The oil is not so hot that it takes away from the flavor of the pizza and the extra smokiness is a great surprise.

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If you’ve got extra crust, give it a little dunk in the oil for a perfect finishing bite.

Posto Mobile can be found from 11:00 a.m. to 2 p.m. on these days at these locations:

Tuesday – Innovation & Design Center

Wednesday – High Street/ Rowes Wharf Plaza (High St. & Atlantic Ave) on Greenway

Thursday – West End (Blossom Street at Emerson Place behind Mass General Hospital)

Friday – High Street/ Rowes Wharf Plaza (High St. & Atlantic Ave) on Greenway

As noted above, I was a guest of Posto Mobile, but all opinions and subsequent Posto Mobile cravings are my own.

#SwitchersRemorse: Independence, Nationality and The 4th of July

 

At the finish of the Tour de France with my friend Kim.
 
I didn’t have a say when we picked up our life and moved away.  It wasn’t the first time I’d had to adjust to a big cross-country move.  I came home from my job at a performing arts camp one day and my parents casually told me, “We’re moving to New York.” and then they braced themselves for my epic meltdown.  I never was very good when it came to change.  I think I had a bit of a freak out, but the reaction wasn’t quite as earth-shattering as my parents had expected.  

I have now lived in the United States for longer than I did in my homeland just like my father, who at the time we moved had lived in Canada longer than he had in his homeland.  I still feel Canadian because my roots are Canadian, but I also feel American because it’s where I live and raise my family.  

My dad gave up the life of an academic for the life in the business world.  My mom was ready for a change from our life in a small Canadian university town and this was a great opportunity. I remember the first day he went to work from our house in the United States and I saw him in a button down shirt and dress pants.  It might as well have been a clown costume for as shocking a sight it was for us kids. Lately, though I’ve heard him express a little switcher’s remorse. He is frustrated with things about this country that are so hard to change, politics, prisons, health care, and I hear him mourn the fact that his children and grandchildren are “so American”.  

I don’t have switcher’s remorse.  I, the one who hated change. I, the lone one in the family who is still an alien according to my credentials in this country. I, the one who went back to Canada for college, and hope my children will too.  I don’t have switcher’s remorse. I love my home land, but I wouldn’t trade my American life.  True: I wish that parts of American culture and lifestyle were more European, more socially aware, more “survival of the fittest” and less “survival of the richest”, a greater appreciation for joie de vivre, and respect for the arts.  On the other hand, I think we’re growing.  The United States is still a young country.  It is like a toddler compared to Europe and the ancient cultures of Asia.  You don’t give up your toddler because they eat dirt, throw tantrums, and keep you up at night.  You hold their hand, you wash their face and offer some food in the place of dirt, you teach them to calm themselves down, and you stand by their side as they grow. 

In life, there are things we do that can’t be undone.  When I hear people say “I have no regrets.” my jaw drops because I just can’t even imagine that that is possible.  I have regrets every day.  Luckily for me more often than not they’re little regrets that fade fast.  I’ve learned from my dad, perhaps more than anyone that you can’t waste time dwelling on things that are over or can’t be undone.  So, it’s a bit ironic that he is the one who has this underlying feeling that moving us all to the United States was a mistake.  

Dad, this is for you.  Here are just a few reasons to let go of that switcher’s remorse.  

Dan, my husband, and the father to your grandchildren.  If we had not moved to New York we never would have met.  He loves his family, he works hard in his job, he is handy around the house, and he makes me laugh.

Isabelle, Henry and Max, your grandchildren.  I have to say, I’m a little biased but your grandchildren are pretty awesome.  They have your mathematical mind, your strong will, your artistic sensibilities, your love of music and stories.  They also live in American cities that offer them some wonderful arts opportunites from free performances to creative classes, farmer’s markets, and fabulous restaurants (that didn’t exist when we first moved to this country). 

McGill, my alma mater.  Plain and simple, if we had not moved to the United States I would never have gotten into McGill.  I wouldn’t have traded my year abroad at Lancaster either.  Living closer to your family and having albeit a very different life experience than you had in the UK, was wonderful and made me feel closer to your roots. 

Job opportunities for Jeremy (my brother) and I.  When people heard I was graduating with a philosophy degree, there were plenty of smirks and muffled guffaws.  Neither of your children took direct paths to get to their current careers, and I think those paths would have been much more challenging in any other country.

What I’ve learned from living in Canada, France, England, and the United States, all thanks to you, is that no country is perfect.  I take things from each of the places I’ve lived and visited and they form my life experience and outlook.  I may look and speak like an American, and whether you still have switcher’s remorse or not, regardless of which flag flies over our front door, above all I’m your daughter and about that I have no regrets.

Disclosure: This is a paid post for Verizon’s #SwitchersRemorse campaign. If you switched away from Verizon and are regretting it, don’t worry. They’re making it easy for customers to come back. For more information, head over to your local Verizon store.

Committee: Love at First Bite

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Boston’s Seaport is an eclectic mix of art, cocktails overlooking the water, gathering spots for a cold beer, and construction sites.  I love it over there.  It is a spacious corner of Boston where the vibe is hip and fun, but I feel totally comfortable going out with the family too.  Last night, I got a peek at one of the Seaport Innovations District’s latest spots, Committee.  I had seen a photo of the space on Facebook several weeks ago and fell in love with it. Upon walking into the building I really fell it.

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It’s somewhere I could grab lunch with a girlfriend or head out with the family for an early dinner.  The space is fun and airy. It’s a bit like a fabulous old home that has lots of little nooks for gathering and exploring, yet the whole space is open.

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I’m told that Committee is a Mediterranean restaurant which includes a modern twist on some Greek food as well as flavors from Lebanon, Turkey and North Africa.  I’m not too concerned about the heritage of the food, because after my first bite I experienced love at first bite so whatever they’re doing is okay by me.  The flavors were familiar but new, bold but balanced, and as I write this my mouth is watering at the memory of it all.  The “Mother of Greek Cooking,” renowned Chef Diane Kochilas, is Committee’s Consulting Chef working with Chef de Cuisine Geoff Lukas, who was most recently at Sofra and Zahav in Philadelphia.

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Committee is open for dinner and will be open for lunch beginning July 1st.  The menu is a mezze menu: a menu of small plates with lots of flavour. Weekend brunch will have Greek yoghurt pancakes, with seasonal toppings, baklava oatmeal with rolled oats, toasted walnuts, cinnamon, allspice, clove, Kalamata figs and Greek honey.

DSC_8969The cocktails I sampled were delicious.  There seemed to be a few inconsistencies (remember it’s brand new) with the cocktails with each individual drink being prepared in quite different ways.  The good news is they were all delicious.

DSC_8953 Committee is located at 50 Northern Avenue a stone’s throw from the Institute of Contemporary Art.  Parking is available valet, some nearby meters or at the Fan Pier Garage for $15 in the evening.

Busting Out of Little Kid-ness at Dave & Busters

When the kids were little we went to Chuck E. Cheese’s a handful of times. It was always a special treat because they knew it wasn’t the kind of place I like to go to or take them to. On stormy winter days or sweltering hot summer afternoons, Chuck E. Cheese was a break for me and a big deal for the kids.  At 8 and 10 years old now, it’s still a big treat and I can’t deny that the kids don’t have fun there, but they are slowly outgrowing it.  I had heard there were other places where the teens and tweens go, but I wasn’t really sure what to expect and whether I wanted to take my child there.  I have memories of going to places with video games as a high school student, but the games of my day were few and far between, they were simple, less graphic, with less sophisticated graphics and I was 16 not 8.

On occasion, I bring my children to work events, and usually it is my more sophisticated diner, Isabelle, that joins me because she is a great plus one who is also willing to try new foods.  When I got an invite to check out Dave & Buster’s, however, it had my son’s name in bright lights with sound effects all over it.  He was very excited to go on a work outing with me, so we hopped into the car and took a quick drive up to Dave & Buster’s in Woburn.  I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I imagined a room filled with games for older kids, and perhaps a small snack bar/restaurant.  Driving up to the building I knew already that what I had pictured in my mind was way off.

Space & Parking

Dave and Buster’s is a huge building with parking underneath the building (perfect for those really hot summer days and really snowy winter ones.  Inside, there is a sports bar with a wrap around bar and a seating area, a restaurant, and several private spaces for birthday parties and larger group meetings. I believe my son mentioned a few times on the tour that he’d like to do his birthday party here next year.

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Energy & Vibe

Dave and Buster’s is loud and full of energy, but even my noise sensitive child somehow managed to handle it all for the sake of playing games.  I was worried that within minutes I would be overwhelmed and done with it all, but because the restaurant spaces are well laid out and spacious, we were able to relax and enjoy dinner and play games without feeling overwhelmed at all.

I also assumed that Dave and Buster’s would be full of teenagers and adult gamers, but in fact there were plenty of families with children from tykes and tweens to teens and grown siblings and colleagues.

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Games

We are a video game free house (well not exactly – we do have iPhone apps and Minecraft) so I’m happy to take my kids out to a place like Dave and Buster’s every once in a while to get their fill of video game action.  I don’t love the “cheerleader” women in the games, and of course there are shooting games as well, but that’s the world we’re living in (like it or not) so I use these opportunities to talk to the kids about it.  I ask them why they think those women are there and if it’s an appropriate depiction or setting.  I ask them about guns and violence and remind them that in the real world guns are not a joke or a game.  Just like fantasy vs. reality in books they understand that these games are not the real world.

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One of the best parts of going to Dave and Buster’s is seeing the child in everyone.  My husband has that 5 year old child sparkle in his eye when he gets behind the wheel of a race car game.  I get a little wild with my air hockey paddle in hand and feel like a 10 year old again battling my brother on the air hockey table at some family event.

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Food

The food at Dave and Buster’s is a little bar food, a little bbq, and a little eclectic served in a fun way (faux cast iron pan), fondue, towering desserts.  I recommend putting your name down on the list and then going to play some games while you wait.  On the other hand, if you want to take advantage of some of the dine and play deals, ask your server about getting a game card when you order.  Everything is explained on the menu.

 

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Elephant Walks Between Two Slices of Bread: New Lunch Options in the South End

The Elephant Walk is known for it’s unique bicultural (yet not fusion) French and Cambodian menus.  Whether you order off the French side of the menu or the Cambodian side, my friends and I each have our favorite Elephant Walk dishes that we order again and again for dinner. I tend to think of it as a popular dinner and takeout spot, vuyt Elephant Walk was a surprising revelation as a lunch option. I was invited to come in and sample some of Elephant Walk’s new lunch menu recently and I cannot wait to go back. I usually go to Elephant Walk in Cambridge, and had not yet been in to Elephant Walk in the South End.  I love how airy and light the South End location is.  
IMG_8930Elephant walk has lunch on Thursdays and Fridays and brunch on Saturdays and Sundays as well as dinner 7 days a week.  On Thursday, when we went in for lunch, I was impressed how popular it was, but after enjoying lunch I understand why.

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We started with an old menu item, that I highly recommend, this soup has a nice citrus tang and delicious mushrooms just slightly undercooked (intentionally) and toothsome giving it a nice texture and freshness.  If I could remember which soup it was I would tell you (I’ll get back to you all on that soon.)  The avocado citrus soup is perfect for summer. 

If I’m craving a sweet pick me up, then I always get a Vietnamese iced tea.  It’s a bit like having dessert first, and isn’t that the advantage of being a grown up…you get to have dessert first. 

Below the iced tea is the crispy catfish sandwich.  My friend and I loved the catfish sandwich for both the freshness and lightness of the battered fish and the fabulous quick pickles that were on the sandwich.  

The hamburger looked like a Vietnamese bahn mi it was on a long Iggy’s ciabatta roll.  The burger was a bit more like a slice of meatloaf, but the best, lightest, most tasty, lemongrassy meatloaf you’ve ever had.

Sandwiches are served with a choice of fries or salad.  The fries were pretty darn good (what I’m saying is- get the fries!)

After sampling both sandwiches, chef brought us a little of the duck on it’s own to taste.  It was so good! It had those classic French flavours, but as a sandwich I think it would remind me of a very North American French Dip sandwich but made with duck.  The sauce is the kind that you want to soak right up into the bread and capture every last drop. 

   
                  

  

Elephant Walk’s new lunch items are:

Le Hamburger a la Citronelle

Half pound of special blend ground beef infused with lemongrass,  grilled; garnished with carrot, cucumber, scallion, cilantro, peanut dressed with Tuk Trey, spicy sriracha mayonnaise; fresh jalapeno optional $11

Avocado Salad

Avocado, cabbage, carrot, tomato, cucumber, baby arugula, red onion, toasted almond; dressed with either Tuk Trey or sesame soy vinaigrette $9 

Braised Duck

Duck braised in soy-ginger tamarind juices with portabella mushroom; garnished with baby arugula, carrot, cucumber, cilantro and scallion dressed with Tuk Trey $9

Crispy Catfish

Crispy Asian catfish with spicy sriracha mayonnaise, baby arugula, Cambodian quick pickles $9

Lemongrass Chicken

Bell and Evans chicken thigh in lemongrass sauce with peanut; garnished with carrot, cucumber, cilantro, and scallion dressed with Tuk Trey, spicy sriracha mayonnaise; fresh jalapeno optional $9 

Add side of fries or salad verte $4

Chain Link: Restaurants Worth Checking Out

In general, I skip a chain restaurant and prefer to go to a small, local independent restaurant whether I’m at home or in traveling to another city.  With social media sources for information such as Yelp, Chowhound, Urbanspoon Zomato, my Facebook feed full of food loving folks, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest, I can get a good sense of a local spot without having to live in a particular city so seeking out local gems isn’t that difficult.  Recently, in the South End Barcelona Wine Bar opened and my daughter and I have been thinking about trying it, but then I read that it was part of a group of restaurants; what I would consider a small chain of restaurants.  In the South End there are tons of options for local independent dining so we decided to skip Barcelona Wine Bar.  I had been to Toro, The Butcher Shop, B&G Oysters, among other restaurants located right next to Barcelona Wine Bar, and dream about the food at each of those places, so Barcelona Wine Bar was just going to have to wait.  It was the ever-present food blogger dilemma of too many good bites on this side of town and too few meals in a day (not to mention budget).

The paella was so tasty. It was a tad inconsistent with the rice and some of the seafood being over cooked while other parts of dish (seafood) was perfectly cooked. I'd definitely give it another try though because it was so tasty.
The paella was so tasty. It was a tad inconsistent with the rice and some of the seafood being over cooked while other parts of dish (seafood) was perfectly cooked. I’d definitely give it another try though because it was so tasty.

A year or so ago, the kids and I found ourselves at Chuck E. Cheese’s (an unfortunate situation but as many parents understand its an occasional necessity).  After Chuck E. Cheese’s we usually go to HMart for dinner, but for whatever reason we decided not to and instead we raced across the parking lot in the pouring rain and escaped into try Papa Razzi.  Papa Razzi is another chain that I first saw because I remember always passing this restaurant along Route 2 as we drove to Vermont year after year.  I’d seen the chain here and there and I have to admit I thought it was like a Bertucci’s or a standard pizza joint.

In both these cases, my assumptions were turned on their head.

Custom charcuterie board (choose your own or get the chef's choice) at Barcelona Wine Bar, South End, Boston.
Custom charcuterie board (choose your own or get the chef’s choice) at Barcelona Wine Bar, South End, Boston.

I decided giving Barcelona Wine Bar a chance after a local chef mentioned to me that they actually do a good job finding a chef and give their chef a certain amount of control over the menu.  I made reservations and dined with three fabulous food loving bloggers (A Beautiful Bite, Capability Mom and KimWorld).  Our reservations were for 6:30 and I believe we left at 10:00 our bellies filled with fabulous foods and having had a wonderful time all around. I will still go to Toro and PICCO and Coppa and my favourite local spots, but what I like about Barcelona Wine Bar is convenience, and the price.  Barcelona Wine Bar is a much larger restaurant than many other South End spots so the wait may not always be as long as elsewhre.  Price-wise, because Barcelona Wine Bar is a mid-sized, well-established chain, they have the advantage of business experience and being able to purchase beautiful product for all the restaurants at once which may help with cost.  Most of the dishes we ordered were fabulous.  There were a few little misses.  The Paella wasn’t perfect, but it was still delicious.  The shocker at the end of the evening was the bill (much less than expected).  We actually had to double check it because we were sure some items we had ordered were left off the tally.  I cannot wait to go back again, and I’ll definitely keep it in mind when I’m meeting a group for dinner that can’t be accommodated at some of the smaller restaurants nearby.

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And now for something completely different…  Papa Razzi, which apparently was known for it’s fine dining look and white table cloths is actually nothing like a Bertucci’s or a pizza joint like I asssumed.  My kids and I stopped in for lunch/brunch and we were pleasantly surprised by the quality of the food and the service we experienced.  It was a meal we all really enjoyed. I was recently invited to Papa Razzi to celebrate the launch of their new “Metro” look and vibe.

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The white table cloths are gone (I’m not missing them but I hear people who have been going to Papa Razzi for years are having a little trouble adjusting) but the food is still excellent.  The more casual environment isn’t reflected in the food, even if you’re popping in for their weekday power lunch.

What I really liked about Papa Razzi was that, once again, it is a larger space and the food is reasonably priced.  I take my children to fine dining, tiny restaurants   I take my daughter to tiny, high end, local restaurants because she dines well there, she appreciates the food and she can handle the setting.  My son on the other hand is not as comfortable in that type of setting.  At a restaurant like Papa Razzi, I can have good food and the children have options they like as well.  I don’t feel like I’m wasting money on poorly microwaved food served on a fancy looking plate.  Instead, I’m getting freshly prepared food and being served by a staff that seems happy to be doing what they do ( you can’t usually fake this stuff and that says a lot about the company to me.)

Creamy polenta with slow cooked oxtail at Papa Razzi Metro in Burlington, MA
Creamy polenta with slow cooked oxtail at Papa Razzi Metro in Burlington, MA

What have I learned?  Don’t judge a book by its cover…or rather don’t judge a restaurant because it is a chain.