Ostra

Screenshot 2014-01-16 20.19.47For a city on the water, there aren’t enough seafood restaurants in Boston that are worth bragging about. Neptune Oyster, obviously. Island Creek Oyster Bar, of course. Union Oyster House, sure. Are you sensing a trend? It was time for a change, for someone to really make a new statement in the seafood world. Enter Ostra!

Part of the Columbus Hospitality Group, Ostra joins Mistral, Sorellina, Mooo…, Teatro, and Burlington’s L’Andana as the newest addition to Chef Jamie Mammano’s impressive resume. Following in the footsteps of his previous restaurants – excluding the casual TeatroOstra is an upscale, fine-dining establishment, with top-notch service, a sophisticated and elegant atmosphere, serving high quality food with sky-high prices to match.

Fingerling potato and onion ciabatta bread was served with a side of softened butter sitting in a shallow pool of EVOO. Slightly warm, pre-cut and easy to tear; we were not disappointed when they brought us another loaf after we devoured the first.

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I started by splitting a “salad”: Crisp Snow Pea, Sunchoke, Watermelon Radish, Sunflower Sprouts, Bianco Sardo Champagne Vinaigrette. I put salad in quotes because there’s no actual lettuce or greens. This is strictly a plate of crunchy lightly dressed vegetables, which was a welcomed change to a typical leafy salad appetizer.
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Compliments of the chef, we received a mid-course tasting of Ricotta Gnocchetti, Maine Lobster, Beech Mushrooms, and Truffle. This dish now appears on the menu, and I highly recommend it! With what I’m assuming is house made pasta and large chunks of lobster, you can’t go wrong.
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For the main course I ordered the Grilled King Salmon, Heirloom Squash Velouté, Market Vegetable Rôtí. I don’t think I’ve ever seen salmon served in two thin pieces, rather than a single filet. Doesn’t matter to me as long as it’s a decent portion, which this was. Squash puree and grilled vegetables to accompany, my favorite!
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The Perfect Bite of the evening was hands down the Baked Apple: crumble, cider caramel, brown butter ice cream. This presentation was the most impressive: a thick slice of baked apple sits among the crumble and caramel on the bottom of the plate and is topped with a waffle shaped pie crust-like piece. Finish with a dollop of brown butter ice cream and an intricate design of crispy apple skin… and voilà! We ordered 1 for the 4 of us. Big mistake!
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Ostra is completely stunning; from the lounge (soon to feature nightly live piano music) with its high-backed chairs and booths, to the sleek bar, the fish on ice display, the jellyfish-like chandeliers… everything about Ostra is completely elegant. Even the bathroom is crisp and pristine. The service is of course of fine-dining standards, as are the prices. This was a special occasion meal for me and my family, and I’d go back for another one in a heartbeat.
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http://www.ostraboston.com

Blue Dragon

After being thoroughly impressed with my meal at Ming Tsai’s Blue Ginger in Wellesley, I’ve been dying to get to his Boston based restaurant Blue Dragon. While both of Chef Tsai’s locations boast East-West tapas style menus, I found Blue Ginger to be more of a casual yet sophisticated environment, and Blue Dragon had more of a comfortable neighborhood  -joint atmosphere. I personally preferred Dragon’s decor, covered in wood and warm earth tones. We also dined early on a snowy Saturday night, which added to the cozy feel.

Matt and I were joined by our two friends for dinner, and we did the tapas menu right! We ordered from just about all 7 menu sections (Snacks, Dim Sum, Veggies, Plates, Rice + Noodles, Platters, Dessert), and were pleasantly stuffed at the end of the meal.

DRINKS
Let’s start with a mocktail, shall we? This one is a take on their Hurricane cocktail, which typically comes with Mt. Gay Black Barrel, passion fruit, bitters, and citrus. Mine was perfectly delicious without the alcohol.

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VEGGIES

Wok-Charred Cauliflower with Thai Chile Harissa
Grilled vegetables with a flavorful dipping sauce? I don’t really care what it is, I’m in. This wasn’t my favorite dish – mainly because we tried incredible plates, and how mind-blowing can cauliflower really be? – BUT it was good and a nice start to the marathon meal.
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DIM SUM

Pork and Scallion Wontons
These wontons were stuffed full of slightly spicy pork and still managed to be light. Granted I only had 1.5 pieces, but I could have easily had all 6 to myself.
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Mushroom and Garlic Chive Potstickers (left)
Braised Short Rib and Chinese Celery Potstickers (right)
I’ll eat some mushrooms in some dishes, but they still aren’t a favorite of mine. I definitely preferred the short rib version of this appetizer.

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PLATES
Indonesian Curried Lamb Shepherd’s Pie
Mmm, shepherd’s pie. What a lovely surprise to see that it was topped with both white and sweet potatoes! Covering the ground curried lamb, the potatoes were whipped and smooth. Comfort food at its best.
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Red Roast Pork Tail with Mango Sticky Rice
Now I know what you’re thinking, because we were thinking it too: a) what the hell did we order, b) something dirty. Luckily the waiter came by and told us what to do with this… thing. It comes on a soft bone and we were instructed to shred the meat off the bone, mix it around with the sauce on top, and eat it with the rice. Once we did that it looked more like edible meat and was actually quite tasty. The pork tail has a lot of flavorful fat so you really have to shred, mix, and combine all components well.
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Duck Confit Rillettes with Scallion Pancakes
At this point there were so many plates on the table that I don’t think I focused on this dish as much as I should have. I grabbed a crispy scallion pancake, topped it with some frisée, a mandarin orange, and a spoonful of duck. This dish was a bit out-shined by the shepherd’s pie and mini burgers…
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Teriyaki Bison Mini Burgers with Smoked Gouda, Caramelized Onions & Shiitakes
I’m a sucker for burgers, and who doesn’t love a mini-burger? These little guys were stacked with flavor, a favorite of mine for sure. We weren’t sure what the sauce was exactly, but it was amazing, tasted great on the burger and as a fry dip. We cleared the plate then kept the remaining sauce to put on whatever we could.
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Vietnamese Chicken Wings with Spicy Caramel Glaze
Chicken wings aren’t my thing, so I didn’t try these, but the general consensus was that they were worth the order.
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RICE + NOODLES

Dan Dan Noodles 
I was craving noodles, and to mix it with ground lamb? It’s a Asian bolognese! This dish had a nice kick to it all well. Definitely one of the top 2 dishes of the night for me.
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Kimchee Fried Rice with Lobster
Unfortunately the fried egg had to be removed before we mixed up all these goodies (pregnancy problems), but everyone else was able to enjoy that part. Fried rice with lobster sounds so appealing, but this wasn’t a table favorite. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that it was the last plate of the night and we were all pretty stuffed (this was the only dish we didn’t lick clean). Each one of us also had a few bites that tasted a bit too fishy for our liking. It may not have been a crowd pleaser, but I certainly had no problem taking home the leftovers :) 
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DESSERT
The Cookie: Deep Dish Chocolate Chip Cookie Served Warm and Topped with Ice Cream and Soy Caramel Sauce
The largest chocolate chip cookie I’ve ever seen was served warm in a hot skillet, topped with vanilla ice cream and a soy caramel sauce. Parts of the cookie center weren’t fully baked, leaving a cookie dough consistency which I think was part of the point. Chocolate chip cookies aren’t on the top of my cookie list, and I typically say vanilla ice cream is a waste of time… but this dessert is a must try!

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The bathrooms were awesome and kept with the “lodge-y” theme and feel of the restaurant. There are 3 private bathrooms (men, women, unisex) which I love. The unisex one has a 1-way mirror over the sink that looks into the kitchen!
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I don’t repeat restaurants often but I hope to go back to Blue Dragon sometime this winter. If not for the incredible food, then for the great cozy atmosphere and friendly wait staff. It’s a bit off the beaten path in the Fort Point area, not directly surrounded by much activity. Perfect for a cold winter night. I hear it’s typically quite crowded, and they don’t take reservations so you may have to wait for a table. But trust me, it will be worth it.

The Perfect Bite: Between the Dan Dan Lamb Noodles and the Lamb Shepherd’s Pie.

http://www.ming.com/blue-dragon.htm

Pasta Tasting Menu at No. 9 Park

My best friend recently moved back to Boston from San Francisco, and I knew she would be one of the few people who would splurge with me on a food based activity. It’s ok to spend almost $100 on a meal if it’s justified by a special occasion. So… Merry Christmas to us!
I’ve always wanted to try a Chef’s Tasting menu of some kind, and when I heard No. 9 Park had a Pasta Tasting menu I knew this would be perfect for us. What’s also perfect is that one of our oldest and best friends happens to be one of the sous chefs at No. 9, and each sous chef gets his/her turn at preparing these pasta dishes.
The descriptions below are details I received directly from the No. 9 kitchen, courtesy of my dear friend Chef Benno. The menu typically comes with 6 courses including the dessert. There is an option for an additional course (served as course 4), which we had the pleasure of being served
Don’t ask me to choose a favorite course, because it’s nearly impossible! However if I must narrow it down my top 3 are: Bigoli with crab, Cappellacci, and the prune-filled Gnocchi.
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Octopus Salad: smoked ricotta, braised celery, bottarga
Spanish and baby octopus are braised in red wine, olive oil and aromatics. The baby are left whole and the Spanish are cut into segments. They are warmed to order in the braising liquid with some boiled fingerling potato coins and celery rib diamonds that have been peeled and braised in vegetable stock, white wine and lemon juice. This sits on top of whipped and smoked ricotta that has been seasoned with black pepper. Garnishing the plate are pickled cippolini onions, toasted pinenuts, and grated bottarga.
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Bigoli di Nasturzio: peekytoe crab, tangerine butter, toasted breadcrumbs
No. 9′s standard pasta dough (flour, semolina, eggs) is seasoned with a puree of Nasturtium and rolled into bigoli. The pasta is tossed with peekytoe crab and a butter sauce seasoned with white wine and tangerine juice. Breadcrumbs toasted with the zest of the tangerine finish the plate.
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Plaesentif di Viole Cappellacci: bacon confit, chantennay carrot, aged balsamic
No. 9′s standard pasta dough (flour, semolina, eggs) is rolled out and filled with plaesentif di viole, a cow’s milk cheese from northern Italy. Chantennay carrots are roasted along with bacon confit. A pan sauce is made with a little butter, jus and aged balsamic. The plate is topped with fried sage and pecorino.
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Prune-Stuffed Gnocchi: foie gras, almonds, vin santo (supplemental course)
This is a No. 9 Park house signature dish. It’s a standard gnocchi dough filled with prunes cooked down in vin santo. The sauce is made from foie gras and butter. It’s topped with slivered almonds, diced prunes and seared foie gras.
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Carnaroli Risotto: swiss chard, currant pecan vin, ricotta salata
Carnaroli rice is cooked risotto style and finished with braised and ground swiss chard as well as lemon whip. Topping the rice are pecans and currants dressed in EVOO and sherry vin. Ricotta Salata to finish.
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Duet of Beef: beef sausage, hen of the woods mushroom, cocoa short rib raviolo 
Beef short ribs are braised in red wine, pulled apart and the meat is glazed with jus seasoned with cocoa. This is used as a filling for a raviolo that sits with roasted hen of the woods mushrooms and beef sausage seasoned with pork fat parsley, white onion, and chili. Quince mostarda finishes the plate: quince, white onion, white wine, sugar, dijon and whole grain mustard.
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Apple Bread Pudding: honey crisp apples, calvados caramel, mascarpone glace
Bread pudding is made from apples cooked out in calvados, brioche, eggs, cream, sugar and cookie spices. It sits on a caramel sauce made with reduced calvados. Mascarpone glace finishes the plate.
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City Landing

City Landing is located in the Financial District near the Aquarium, filling Sel de la Terre’s old space on Atlantic Ave (at State Street). It’s been on my list since it opened about 2 years ago, but the original menu seemed a bit pricey so I never stopped by. I took a peek recently, and not only did the prices look more appealing, but the menu had such a great variety I knew it’d be a great spot to bring a large group of people.

Not only does City Landing have a wide range of contemporary American dishes, but it also offers a full vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free menu. Even the dessert menu has at least 1 vegan option. I’ll eat just about anything from any menu, but it’s nice to have so many options for different types of people / dietary restrictions.

It took a while to decide what to order – soup and entree? salad and pizzetta? – but the fall flavors made up my mind for me. It’s hard for me to not order seasonal dishes – like pumpkin anything – so I knew I’d be trying the Curried Mussel-Pumpkin Bisque with thyme creme fraiche. A beautiful presentation that matched the amazing flavor. I’ve never seen pumpkin bisque paired with mussels, and it didn’t upset me, but it also didn’t make or break the dish. Mussels or no mussels, this is one of the best pumpkin soups I’ve had all season.

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{We actually went back to City Landing a couple of weeks later with a different group of friends, and while I wanted the pumpkin bisque again, I made myself try the Yellow Tomato Bisque with creme fraiche, chive oil. Another gorgeous presentation, and this one had just as much flavor as the pumpkin. I highly recommend you somehow find a way to try both!}
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For my entree I had the Veggie Burger with chipotle aioli, avocado, roasted red pepper, pea tendrils. This burger was loaded with toppings / condiments that really made this dish what it is. It held together well and had a nice consistency, but the flavor really came from the aioli, avocado, and red peppers. A winner in my book, and I’ve had a lot of veggie burgers in my time.
IMG_6207The veggie burger came with a “choice of fries or greens” but instead I asked for a side of the Butternut Squash Crisp with sage sunflower seed streusel. I confirmed before I ordered that it was in fact a sweet side. Sweet or savory, it sounded too good to pass up, and I was right. The crisp topping is the same you’d find on any fruit crisp. A perfect fall / Thanksgiving-inspired side dish.
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I told my husband he could try a few bites of the Butternut Squash Crisp if I could dig into his side of Creamy Pumpkin Polenta. This is my favorite preparation of polenta: creamy but slightly gritty. If you’re a polenta fan it’s definitely worth a try.
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The women’s room was well decorated with a pretty statement mirror.
IMG_6204Overall I would absolutely recommend City Landing. We went twice within 3 weeks, and each person we ate with really enjoyed their meals. Some popular and well-liked dishes among our friends were the Roasted Boneless Half Chicken, the Caramelized Day Boat Scallops with mushroom ravioli, and the Bucatini Lamb Bolognese. The second time around I had the tomato soup with the large New England Chopped Salad with no blue cheese or bacon. The salad was ok, but that was my own doing since I removed 2 key ingredients. The Caesar Salad was popular however (my husband ordered it both times). Besides my poor salad decision, every dish everyone ordered went over very well!

http://www.citylanding.com

Farmstead Table

Farmstead Table is a small farm-to-table restaurant, tucked away on Union Street in Newton Center. The menu is constantly evolving based on the local and seasonally available ingredients. Which means you can go back every couple of months and always have a variety a of new items to chose from :) Although I hope it doesn’t change too frequently, because there were about 4 entrees on the menu that I desperately wanted to try.

The three I missed out on: Lentil and Sweet Potato Stuffed Cabbage (shiitakes, celery root puree, roasted carrots mutsu apple); Grilled Scottish Salmon (sweet potato puree, roasted cauliflower); and the Halibut special that came with butternut squash two ways (puree, roasted), and roasted brussel sprouts. I try not to repeat restaurants since there are so many I want to try, but I may be heading back to Farmstead Table sooner rather than later.

Thick slices of bread was served, one for each of us. It tasted like a subtle rye and was served with whipped softened butter.

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White Bean Hummus
Luckily the hummus came out soon after the bread; it is served with only a few slices of carrots which is not nearly enough for the amount of hummus that was given. More crudités please! We fortunately spread some hummus on our bread, which was perfect.

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Hadley Parsnip Soup: hazelnuts, clove, pomegranate reduction
I have trouble resisting soup, especially any kind of vegetable puree. This cup of parsnip soup was a great start to the meal; extremely smooth with hazelnuts for crunch and texture. I’m glad I didn’t miss out on this one.

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Braised Lamb Shank Ragù: hand-cut pappardelle, red wine mushrooms, parsnip cream, pecorino romano
I also have trouble resisting pasta. However, this was the perfect choice for me, because I wasn’t hungry enough to have hummus, soup, and a full entree. Luckily they offered a 1/2 portion of the lamb shank ragù. The $14 price was a little steep for the small appetizer size, but it was really good, so I don’t mind paying for a good quality meal. There was plenty of lamb and mushrooms in the dish, I just wish there were a few more noodles!

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I forget exactly what was on the dessert menu, but I do recall seeing a line about S’mores that I tried to avoid looking directly at. If I read the full description I’m sure I would have forced myself to order and eat the entire thing. I scanned the rest and definitely saw at least 3 options that I would have had in a heartbeat, but I was honestly stuffed to the brim. Oh well, maybe next time!

The prices at Farmstead Table are moderate for Boston/Newton; all entrees were in the $20 range, with the Rib-Eye Steak taking the top spot at $29. The appetizers were a little pricer as apps go, $8-$14. I drank only water but my friends noticed that the wine was pricey (I think the least expensive choice was around $14). The service was great, our waiter was attentive, refilled our water, checked on us an appropriate amount of times. The interior is warm, cozy, and welcoming. And most importantly, we all absolutely licked our plates clean! I look forward to going back soon.

The Perfect Bite: fork full of pasta with lamb and a cut of mushroom!

http://www.farmsteadtable.com

Trade

The first time I visited Trade was back in May 2012, about 6 months after the grand opening. My friend and I split a few items, including the burrrata, tomato & fennel soup, Trade’s famous lamb & sausage flatbread, and a chocolate budino for dessert. I enjoyed everything we ordered but never found my way back to 540 Atlantic Ave. This is no way reflects the menu items, but has more to do with the fact that the Boston restaurant scene is booming, and I’m trying (and failing) to keep up with all of the new openings.

I was lucky enough to recently meet Meghan Brady at last month’s Helping Hands event, sponsored by the Columbus Hospitality Group. Meghan is Trade’s Events & Marketing Manager, and she invited me into Trade last week to chat with her and indulge in some of Trade’s signature fall favorites.

Pumpkin Soup with pickled apples, pepitas, and honey
I just adore soup so I’m typically a tough critic when it comes to this fall / winter staple. I prefer purées topped with some sort of added crunch or texture, and that’s exactly what I got with Trade’s pumpkin soup. The consistency was perfectly smooth without being too thin or watered down. The honey added a slight sweetness, and the apples and pepitas provided that level of texture I always look for.
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Chicken Meatballs with provolone, sage, and pine nuts
Three meatballs came in a cheesy tomato sauce. Not only were the meatballs surrounded by pine nuts, but they also contained pine nut purée, adding flavor and moisture to the meat. Chicken meatballs aren’t a menu selection I see often, so I’m glad we ordered these. Highly recommended!
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Farrotto with squash, raisins, and pecorino
I have never heard of Farrotto before, and that’s because it’s a hybrid of farro and risotto. Brilliant! This dish is exactly what I’m looking for on a cool fall day: packed full of winter squash, cheesy, buttery, and a great comfort food appetizer. I highly suggest ordering this as a starter or side to split; it’s decadent and a must try.
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Mushroom, Fig, Sage Pesto, Gorgonzola, Walnut Flatbread

I really wanted to try a flatbread, and this one sounded so tasty. Too bad I can’t have Gorgonzola cheese (damn pregnancy rules); so in its place I substituted ricotta salata. It was definitely good, but I’m pretty sure it would have been 10 times better with the Gorgonzola. You just can’t substitute that type of flavor!
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Ginger-Braised Beef Short Rib with turnips, curry carrots, and orange
I couldn’t leave without trying at least one entree, so we ordered the short rib. The picture doesn’t really do it justice since you can’t get a good view of the meat, but just as you’d hope and expect, it pulls apart easily and basically melts in your mouth. This dish had great levels of flavor with the curried carrots, tangy orange, and savory meat.
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And last but not least, I was kindly treated to a birthday Apple Cake, as it was the day before my big 30th. What a great way to end a ‘flavors of the fall’ inspired meal.
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Trade has a great menu for splitting dishes among a group, but also offers enough entrees so you don’t have to feel pressured to share. The restaurant space is an open concept, so the bar and lounge blend into the dining area, which keeps the entire atmosphere lively and energetic. Trade’s private dining room is separated from the restaurant by a floor-to-ceiling glass wall. When it’s not occupied by a large group, the space is available for every day diners.

Serving lunch and dinner daily, Trade has a variety of options that can please everyone in your crowd. Keep you eyes peeled, possibly next summer, for some potential outdoor patio space!

http://trade-boston.com

Helping Hands Monkey Helpers: Food Festival

Saturday September 28, 2013 marked the annual Helping Hands Monkey Helpers Food Festival fundraiser at the WGBH studios. Every year food and beverage sponsors come together to support Helping Hands and raise money for the non-profit organization. Established in 1979, Helpings Hands is a unique group that provides service monkeys to disabled adults with mobility impairments. The organization cares for and trains each capuchin monkey for about 4 years before donating them to one of their applicants. It costs on average $40,000 to train each monkey, and as they are provided to recipients free of charge, it’s imperative that Helpings Hands receives support from generous donations.

Enter Columbus Hospitality Group! CHG is one of the many event supports, with the largest presence hosting five restaurant tables: Mistral, Sorellina, Teatro, Mooo…, and L’Andana. Other great Boston restaurants were represented, each serving up tastings of knock out appetizers.

This was my second time attending the fundraiser, and both years my favorite station was Mistral’s. The French bistro served Duck Confit and Wild Mushroom Cous Cous “Risotto” with Parmesan and Black Truffle. I don’t even like mushrooms and I had two bowls of this stellar dish.
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I think L’Andana was next on my list with their House Made Ricotta Bruschetta with fig and their own harvested honey. Fig + ricotta + honey may be one of my favorite food combinations. Sweet, light, and irresistible.

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Mooo… offered tiny but hearty Beef Sirloin Sliders with Mooo Sauce and Caramelized Onions on House Made Rolls.
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Being pregnant, I wasn’t able to taste Sorellina’s Tuna Tartare with spicy mustarda aioli and chili vinegar, although I’ve had it in the past at their restaurant and it can’t be missed!
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Along with raw tuna, other treats I couldn’t indulge in were…
Cinquecento‘s Red Wine Poached Pears with Whipped Gorgonzola & Olive Oil Crostini. If I were able to have “moldy cheeses” I would have probably consumed this enter plate.
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Jody Adams’s Trade and Rialto were represented at one table, offering Ceviche with dukkah, harrisa, and lime. Another raw fish option I had to avoid.
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I shouldn’t have tried Masa‘s Wild Mushroom Empanadas since they contained caramelized onions and feta cheese (some “soft cheeses” are a no-no while pregnant), but it was half way down when I realized there was feta in the middle. Oh well! It was worth it :)
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Back to the things I could eat, and ate a lot of!
The Catered Affair had incredible Butternut Squash Agnolotti drizzled with Sage Brown Butter and topped with Fried Sage. I had to walk away from the table after my second helping, because I could have stayed there all night.
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Zocalo may have had the best table, simply because they were serving three options, each one out doing the last. My husband probably had five spoonfuls of the Tuna Ceviche with lime, tomatoes, mangos, avocado, onion, cilantro and EVOO.
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Thank goodness avocados are not on the pregnancy “do not eat” list or else I’d be in major trouble. I was able to try (quite a few of) Zocalo’s Guacamole Tostadas.IMG_5803
And last but not least were the Chilapitas, which are sweet plantains stuffed with pulled pork, crema fresca, avocado and pickled onions, topped with ranchera sauce and cotija cheese. YUM! Out of all of the restaurants mentioned, this is the one I haven’t been to, and after their showing at Helping Hands I think I’ll be making a reservation very soon.
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After consuming all of the savory apps, my sweet tooth was calling. Thankfully Konditor Meister represented for desserts with unforgettable cream puffs, mini pies, tarts, and more.
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I couldn’t enjoy the open bar this year, but Ketel One was serving cocktails at their vodka bar, and beer and wine were flowing from Harpoon Brewery, M.S. Walker, and William Grant & Sons.

With guaranteed amazing food, live entertainment, a silent auction, raffle prizes, and knowing I’m contributing to an incredible cause, I look forward to attending the Helping Hands Monkey Helpers Food Festival every year! If you want to learn more about the organization or donate to assist in the care and training of the monkeys, visit www.monkeyhelpers.org