Max Brenner

"the bald man" | Passion Fruit Mojito

"the bald man" | Passion Fruit Mojito

Max Brenner might as well be referred to as the Willy Wonka of the Back Bay. One step inside this new restaurant and you’d swear they were pumping cocoa powder through the air ducts. The hostess mentioned this was not the case – the aroma was in fact coming from the chocolate shop in front of the dining area. Full of gourmet chocolate sweets & treats as well as chocolate infused lotions & soaps, I was like a kid in a candy store (literally). But alas, real food awaits and we were led through the circular room to our table. “Chocolate by the Bald Man” was everywhere you turned, in candy dispensers surrounding the diners, in the center of the room in glass containers, inticing you every step of the way.

center of the restaurant

center of the restaurant

Bread: I was so excited to be surrounded by chocolate that I just now noticed that we didn’t receive bread!! Weird, I always notice when food is missing…

Menu: We were presented with 2 menus, one being the dinner & drinks menu and the other a dessert/dessert drinks menu, both of which are overwhelming in a good why. “First Food Then Chocolate” as their slogan goes… the dinner menu consisted of sections such as: Rise & Shine, Slider Bar, Things to Dip, Crispy & Delicious, Food on a Stick, Max’s Pizzas, Tossed Around, For Your Hands, With a Knife and Fork, Entertaining Side Dishes. I was in a sandwich kind of mood, had 3 in mind, and our waiter encouraged me towards the tuna salad sandwich.

Food/Presentation:
The Unforgettable Spicy Tuna Salad Sandwich – tomato, lettuce, pickled jalapenos, crushed bbq chips brushed with cilantro & avocado mayo
My sandwich was cut in half and separated on a wooden slab by cocoa & chili powder dusted waffle fries, chipotle aioli, and dill pickles. I was very pleased to see there were only 5 or so fries in the small glass. The brioche bun of the sandwich was soft and buttery, the tuna was well dressed (not too much mayo), but it wasn’t as spicy as I was expecting. I also didn’t notice the BBQ chips – I think they were mixed in with the tuna salad rather than placed on top as a condiment. I nitpick, but it was definitely delicious!

tuna salad sandwich

tuna salad sandwich

Milk Chocolate Apple Caramel Crisp – oatmeal streusel, toffee ice cream, pure melted cinnamon chocolate
Straight from the laboratory! Served on a graph paper glass dish with a small cup of toffee ice cream, a beaker of extra toffee sauce, and a cast iron pot of warm apple crisp. The crisp itself was more of a hard crust which was tasty, but the apples themselves weren’t great (too mushy for my liking). If you dig, there’s a chocolate surprising underneath the apples which added an extra richness.

dessert

dessert

Bathroom: Lights! Lights would be good here! The bathroom was so dark I couldn’t even take a picture (I use my ancient iPhone 3G without a flash). Small, with three stalls, and matching floor & wall patterned tiles. The mirror told me “You Look Extremely Good Today” (written on the bottom) and I wasn’t about to argue.

Wait Staff: Shayne was fantastic. He was excited this was our first time in the restaurant and made it clear that he would be available and willing to follow through with any request we had (including charging my cell phone in a back room so that I could take pictures of my entrée!). Genuine and very accommodating!

Overall: A fun and interesting new addition to Boylston Street! Prices aren’t outrageous, multiple food options are available, atmosphere is quirky and delicious (in sight & smell). A great spot for just dessert (Chocolate Surprise Tiramisu is next), hot chocolate on a chilly day (the options are endless & amazing), or a post-dinner coffee (Baileys cappuccino).
We received our check in a tin expressing “Money For Life, Chocolate For The Soul”. Inside I was expecting some type of after-dinner mint/chocolate, but to no avail! Why have a decorative tin with only the bill inside? A bit disappointing, considering we were surrounded by dozens of little chocolate treats.

check tin

check tin

The Perfect Bite: A bite of the Tuna Salad Sandwich with a smear of chipotle aioli. Next time I’ll add slices of avocado!

http://www.maxbrenner.com

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Lolita

Located on Dartmouth Street in Paparazzi’s old location, it’s easy to pass right by Lolita’s small and modest entrance. However once you walk inside you are undoubtedly in Back Bay’s newest and trendiest Mexican ‘cocina & tequila bar’. The long main bar is constantly 2-3 people deep and the back lounge/bar – fit with sofas, chairs, and stools – tends to fill up as the night goes on. I had been twice before for drinks and apps and was excited to dive into their extensive menu.

Bread:  In replacement of the bread basket we were of course served chips with 4 different salsas – 3 served together on a square plate and the other brought in a bottle. I wish we had been warned about the queso-looking dip in the center – it was not a typical cheese queso as it was insanely hot! My mouth was on fire longer than I would have liked, but I was pleased with the variety of accompaniments.

chips & salsas

chips & salsas

Menu: Primero, Tacos, Sopa & Ensalada, Quesadillas, Tres Ceviches, Enchiladas, Vertical Nachos, Principal, Sancho (sides), Guacamole. Quite the selections to choose from! I basically wanted something from almost every section. I knew we’d be ordering guacamole, so I bypassed my craving for the Tortilla Soup and just ordered the Pulled Pork Tacos.

Food/Presentation: We were first brought an aperitif: a small steaming bowl of grapefruit pieces, topped with tequila and 4 tiny spoons. I had a taste but it was taken away before we could enjoy the whole thing!

aperitif

aperitif

Fresco Guacamole: fresh avocado, tomato, serrano chile, diced onion & cilantro
It’s very rare for me to taste a guac that I don’t like. Needless to say this bowl was gone in minutes. Next time I’ll have to try the “Especial Guac” filled with jumbo lump crab, Atlantic lobster, and garlic-wine butter drizzle!

guacamole

guacamole

Pulled Pork Tacos: seared crispy with salsa verde
Three soft shelled tacos were served filled with pork and grilled red peppers. The meal was great but I was expecting “pulled pork” as the menu stated, and as you can see from the photo these were pieces/chunks of pork which is very different. Slightly disappointed…

pulled pork taco

pulled pork taco

Bananarama: crisp fried banana-caramel cheesecake burritos with deep chocolate ice cream, butterscotch sauce, and pecan brittle
We so did not need dessert, but in the spirit of Ariane’s birthday we had no choice 🙂 I didn’t exactly get a sense of “cheesecake” in this dessert, but these burritos were right up my alley. Crispy and FULL of banana, I could have had this all to myself.

desserts

desserts

Buenas Notes: warm deep chocolate-espresso bread pudding with coffee ice cream, brown sugar caramel, and hot fudge sauce
The “bread pudding” had more of a brownie texture but it was still incredible, especially with that coffee ice cream. Heavy and filling, thank goodness there were 4 of us!

Sour Apple Cotton Candy with Cherry Pop-Rocks
Like we needed more sweets! In my previous Lolita experiences I remember eyeing the cotton candy I’d seen making it’s way from table to table. At first I thought it was a dessert option but I quickly learned it was complimentary – Lolita’s version of an after-dinner mint, served before we were given the check. I was delighted but noticed that many other tables left this large portion to go to waste.

cotton candy

cotton candy

Bathroom: In keeping with the dark, red, gothic theme, the bathroom has printed wallpaper, 3 individual black sinks, black shutter doors on each of the 5 stalls. Pardon my photo of the toilet, but how can you NOT take a picture of that crazy paisley print? A bit small for this constantly crowded establishment (the stalls are directly behind the sinks), but the full length mirror and the facecloth ‘napkins’ adds points.

bathroom sink, mirrors

bathroom sink, mirrors

fancy toilet

fancy toilet

Wait Staff: When we arrived we were told the wait was 30-45mins. When we checked back in 45 mins later we were told we were going to have to wait another 45 mins. My friend explained to them “No thank you. You told us that 45 mins ago!” so they tippity-tapped their fancy Reservations App on their iPad and assured us it would only be another 25 mins. Ugh, they’re lucky they can provide delicious sangria to keep me company.
Our waiter was “pissy” to start off the night, not making eye contact and acting like he didn’t give a damn. We were about to write him off but he later apologized for his mood and started acting more playful/friendly – we ended the night adoring him!

Overall: Trendy. Dark. Swanky. Gothic. Or if you’re Ariane you refer to it as a “vampire den”. Whatever you want to call it, you’re not going to Lolita for a quiet casual evening. The place is constantly packed so make a reservation if you plan on eating (only allowed if you have a party of 6 or more – annoying). I’m not a tequila fan so I avoided the 7 margarita options, but the Rojo Sangria is excellent (although one of the cheaper cocktails at $9). There’s plenty of food I still want to try so I’ll be back in the future, although it strikes me more as a winter spot considering there’s no windows or sunlight of any kind!

back lounge/bar area

back lounge/bar area

The Perfect Bite: The guac was excellent but I think (almost) every guacamole is amazing. My entrée was good but the menu lied to me making me believe I’d be served PULLED pork… so I’ll have to say the Bananarama dessert.

www.lolitaboston.com

Rustic Kitchen

I found Rustic Kitchen on OpenTable.com when looking for a 7pm reservation on the Saturday night before Valentine’s Day. I had never heard of this restaurant so I checked out the website and learned that not only do they have an impressive menu, but they film a live cooking show in a studio in the restaurant – very cool. Located in Back Bay’s Park Square, I originally thought it was associated with the Park Plaza Hotel which led me to believe this was more of an upscale establishment. Upon entering I realized it’s actually attached to the Radisson, which is a notch or two below the Park Plaza’s status. This made no difference, I was still excited for the evening ahead!

Bread: 4 slices were served on a square plated with olives and a white bean dip. The bread was soft and doughy, not bad. The bean dip was a little too watery for my liking, lacking texture/substance.

bread

bread

Menu: The options were endless: Italian and Seafood Starters, Pizza, Salads, Rustic Comfort Classics, Hand Crafted Pasta, Fresh From the Docks, Rustic Italian Steakhouse. I was of course eyeing the Tagliatelle Bolognese and after the waiter confirmed it was exceptional I just had to order it. This special occasion called for an appetizer as well, so I went with the Tuna Tartar.

tuna tartar

tuna tartar

Food/Presentation:
Tuna Tartar with spicy chile sauce, avocado & pistachio crackers:
The tuna app came in a massive mound with the 2 crackers sticking out of the middle, linked together by circles of thinly sliced red onion. This was unlike any tuna tartar I’ve had in the past. First of all, it was huge and could have easily fed 2-3 people; second, the consistency was mushier than I’m used to. Most tartars consist of finely cubed pieces of raw tuna but this one had all different shapes and sizes which made for an odd texture. I did appreciate the chunks of avocado though!

Tagliatelle Bolognese with an authentic creamy meat sauce served over rich egg noodle with grated Grana Padano cheese:
The pasta came in one of the coolest bowls I’ve ever seen. Not only did it have a place holder for my fork, but also a small circular indentation in place of a spoon, to use for twirling the noodles around the fork – brilliant! I wish I could say the same for the entrée. It was good, but the pasta was too thin and over cooked for my liking. I have no complaints about the meat or sauce, it’s just that I’ve have many a Bolognese in my day and I have high expectations. It’s my favorite dish of all time, after all! 🙂

bolognese

bolognese

Mango Sorbet with chocolate chip biscotti:
Topped with berries and 2 biscottis – and our waiter had already brought us 2 additional biscottis for Matt’s coffee (slash Dena’s enjoyment). The sorbet was refreshing and the biscotti was thin, crunchy, and paired perfectly when dipped in Matt’s coffee!

mango sorbet

mango sorbet

Bathroom: Located outside (down the hall) of the actual restaurant. Since it’s shared with the Radisson patrons there wasn’t much décor etc to connect it with Rustic Kitchen, but it was clean, modern, and had plenty of space.

bathroom

bathroom

Wait Staff: Gustavo was fantastic! One of the best waiters I’ve ever had. I honestly felt like a VIP. At the beginning of our night we were looking over the wine list and Gustavo immediately offered to bring us a tasting of two wine types that we knew we enjoyed (Malbec, Merlot). Usually I take a shot in the dark (not much of a wine connoisseur) but with his help we were able to choose a bottle we knew we’d love. He was just as helpful the rest of the evening, being honest with his recommendations of certain dishes/drinks. If it wasn’t creepy I would have given him a hug on the way out.

Kaikin Malbec

Kaikin Malbec

Overall: The décor was quite “rustic” with stone columns and brick walls, and the overall atmosphere was quite casual. The lighting was interesting – above each booth looked like an upside down lily. Gustavo absolutely made the night! The prices matched the portions (above average prices = large amount of food), but the dishes themselves were average. I’d give it another shot and return for the Cooking Show, no doubt about it.

lighting

lighting

The Perfect Bite/Sip: Biscotti dipped in coffee. Also, my Chocolate Covered Strawberry Martini. I don’t handle straight liquor very well, but this literally tasted like a liquid chocolate strawberry (which is one of my favorite foods). And judge me if you like, but dipping the biscotti in my martini wasn’t too shabby either.

chocolate strawberry martini

chocolate strawberry martini

www.rustickitchen.biz

Market

Last year my friend went to Market in the W Hotel just after it’s opening and said it was a must, so it’s been on my “To-Eat” list ever since. The W itself is quite modern and chic, located on Stuart Street in the Back Bay, and Market wasn’t any different. The dining room on Thursday evening was packed and lively, as was the bar located in the back of the room. While we were not seated in a booth, I have to make note of the fold down arm rests; I’ve never seen that before and I was thoroughly impressed/excited!

Bread: Sour dough, yum! Served in slices with a small round of softened butter. They refilled our basket automatically, which is a plus b/c 90% of the time people want more bread.

bread

bread

Menu: Divided into 7 sections featuring: Simply Raw, Pizza, Appetizers, Fish, Meat, Simply Cooked, and Sides. I was a bit torn b/c they had entrees under the Fish and Meat sections complete with sauce & sides, and then similar Simply Cooked items that were served a la carte and required you to choose a Side. After much deliberation among the soup, salad and entrée choices, I finally made a decision.

cheese fritters

cheese fritters

Presentation/Taste:
Cheese Fritters: The boys ordered these for the table so of course I had to try a bite. Basically just fancy mozzarella sticks in ball form. They were warm, gooey, and quite cheesy! 😉
Butternut Squash Soup: My bowl was set in front of me containing small chunks of butternut squash and then a server poured the soup at the table. I ordered it sans mushrooms (b/c chucks of shrooms scare me) and I’m sure it was just as delicious! I love soup, chunky or not, and this is definitely a fall favorite.
Yellowfin Tuna Steak: I ordered this “simply cooked” which meant it was only accompanied by lemon and some peppers. The steak was definitely smaller than I was expecting, but it was cooked just as I asked, seared on the outside and rare on the inside.

yellowfin tuna steak

yellowfin tuna steak

Bathroom: Really pretty counter tops and blue tiled accents around the mirrors, which unfortunately were ‘fat mirrors’ (girls, you know what I’m talking about – at least the full length was forgiving). Multiple stalls with dark wooden doors.

bathroom

bathroom

Wait Staff: Our waitress was fantastic as she was able to deal with our crazy & loud crowd (and throw in a few 1-liners herself)! Even when we had a major issue with the bill which ended up being our fault, she was understanding (upon receiving the check we noticed that the 2 bottles of wine we ordered at $25 a pop were in fact double that price – turns out we were looking at the ½ bottle page…).

Overall: The portions are small. The prices are on the high side. And it doesn’t help that most items require you to order a side or an app to go with it in order to make a full meal. I have no complaints about the taste, but the size of the meals were disappointing; my poor friend Jess ordered the Beet Salad (consisting of 2 endives and tiny cubes of beets) and the Black Truffle Pizza which looked like an app. Dessert however was fantastic: a caramel sundae with whipped cream, chocolate sauce, & caramel popcorn! And cheesecake topped with sobert.

dessert

dessert

The Perfect Bite: Butternut Squash Soup. The chunky pieces of squash really made this a winner.

butternut squash soup

butternut squash soup

http://www.marketbyjgboston.com/

Towne Stove & Spirits

Hooray for birthday dinners! My original plan was to allow my parents to treat me to a night at Sorellina (which normally I can’t afford), but I heard about Lydia Shire & Jasper White’s new restaurant Towne in the Hynes Convention Center and couldn’t resist. Upon entering it appears to be a small neighborhood bar, but round the corner to the left and you’ll find yourself in the cozy & contemporary dining room, complete with booths, tables, and a 2nd bar. Each table top is adorned with picnic patterned cloth napkins, lab beakers in replace of water glasses, and salt & peppers shakers that resemble sink faucets.

table top

table top

Bread: 3 different types with 3 different spreads. Unfortunately I couldn’t fully understand the server who delivered the bread but on the right we have an eggplant puree, the middle is butter which I didn’t try b/c the spread on the left was too damn good. Not spicy, but had a nice bite to it!

bread & spreads

bread & spreads

Menu: Large & laminated. Oversized menus annoy me; there’s never any room for them on the table (and mainly I’m concerned that I’m going to knock over a wine glass with it). The print & style of the menu was reminiscent of Lydia Shire’s Scampo: sections read vertical & horizontal and are divided into a variety of categories (Crustacea, Wood-Fired Rotisserie, Ocean, Rice etc…). Random flags appear next to certain meals representing their country of origin. After bouncing from one food group to the other I eventually landed on the “Salmon… charred wild king w/ tart key lime & palm sugar gastrique… okinawan yam”.

salmon, okinawan yam

salmon, okinawan yam

Presentation/Taste: I can’t say much about the “tart key lime & palm sugar gastrique”, mainly because I don’t know what/where it was… but the salmon was topped with swiss chard next to the beautifully displayed okinawan yam puree. I’ve never tried the purple yam before and I’m sorry I haven’t! The salmon was cooked ‘medium’ like I requested and paired well with the yam. And for dessert: Brown Butter Angel Food Cake. Known to certain diners as “The Don King”, the cake was topped with a mound of brown sugar cotton candy. What a b-day dessert this was! The cake itself was a bit too dense for me to consider it an “angel food cake”, but I wasn’t complaining, especially after trying the caramel ice cream.

brown butter angel food cake

brown butter angel food cake

Bathroom: Clean, sleek, with an odd green theme: the countertop is lime-ish green and the brick walls were a lighter shade of the same hue. I really enjoyed the sinks: motion activated and the water came pouring right out of the faucet. Always appreciate something different!

bathroom sinks

bathroom sinks

Wait Staff: Wonderful. When I called earlier in the day to add my uncle to the reservation they said it wasn’t possible, but upon arrival they were more than happy to change our table or pull up another chair to our 1/2 booth. Our waitress was personable, had answers to our many questions, and pretended like my over-zealous bday attitude was charming … therefore, I thoroughly enjoyed her.

Overall: While the menu doesn’t excite me to tears, there are still a few items I’d love to try. This is a fairly new restaurant (which I believe opened in July 2010) but I would have loved to see some seasonal dishes (not a pumpkin/butternut squash meal in sight!). Some items are over priced – the $21 hamburger for instance – but you can still have a full meal without digging too deep into your wallet (salads run around $11, pizzas around $17).

The Perfect Bite: Just give me the okinawan… purple yam all the way!

 

Sel de la Terre

 

apple street farm poached eggs

apple street farm poached eggs

Mother’s Day brunch is a must, and the first place that came to my mind was Sel del la Terre in the Back Bay. I’ve been there once with mom already and we sat at the bar for lunch; who knew there was a beautiful restaurant upstairs overlooking Boylston Street. A warm & casual atmosphere, we were seated at a high top directly on the window with a gret view of the busy street below. This French restaurant’s cuisine focuses on rustic fare from the South of France; all ingredients are fresh, and some locally grown.

Bread: Since it was brunch, we received a basket with a French croissant, blueberry muffin, and cinnamon scone (all homemade) with a side of strawberry jam. Each could have easily been split between 2 people. Mom & I immediately devoured the light & fluffy croissant, and I had no choice but to try the other 2 treats. The scone was crumbly & delicious, and the jam made for a perfect spread on the moist muffin.
 
Menu: Their menu is quite specific so I recommend checking it out online before making a reservation. The brunch menu had 3 sections: small starters, more traditional brunch items, and main courses. Mom went for the “Brioche French toast with apricot compote, honey roasted almonds, vanilla butter, & Vermont maple syrup”. I’m an egg girl and always will be; I opted for the “Apple Street Farm coddled eggs (which I changed to poached), potato hash, & house-made English Muffin”.
 
Presentation: My poached eggs came in a small cast iron skillet over the potatoes & onions, with the English Muffin on the side. The eggs were so delicate they looked like meringue! I placed the eggs on the muffin and was pleasantly surprised by my first bite: the bottom of the muffin must have had some salt or something that I couldn’t put my finger on, because it was the most delicious English Muffin I’ve ever tasted. I usually prefer to top it with some jam or butter, but this needed no add ons. Potatoes could have been crispier, but I really didn’t care since the eggs/muffin combo stole the show.
 
Bathroom: There’s something about using shutter doors on stalls that pleases me. And it’s always nice to see clean & bright tiled floors/walls. The paper towels were arranged in a wicker basket next to the sink.
 
Wait Staff: An old co-worker of mine came over to say hello and surprised me as the manager of the neighboring L’Espalier and was filling in at Sel de la Terre to help with busy Mother’s Day brunch. I learned that the chef delivers many ingredients fresh from his near by farm in the North Shore. Turns out my eggs came from straight from the hen! Our actual waiter was great and you could tell he had a love for the restaurant and it’s food.
 
Overall: The main reason I choose Sel del la Terre for brunch was because I was craving their Bloody Mary. It’s tough to find somewhere that makes them right, and while theirs could use a little more spice, it’s one of the best I’ve tried. The menu is creative and breaks the norm of typical French cuisine. Dinner is a little pricey for my blood, but it’s a great spot for lunch with their varying combos of 1/2 soup, 1/2 salad, 1/2 sandwich deals (and I hear the “SDLT Burger” with rosemary pomme frites is incredible).
 
The Perfect Bite: Poached Egg on top of the delicious English Muffin. No condiments needed.

www.seldelaterre.com

Cottonwood Cafe

six chile chili

six chile chili

222 Berkeley Street in Boston’s Back Bay is home to Cottonwood Cafe, a southwestern themed restaurant with award-winning margartias. By the pitcher or glass you can order your choice, frozen or on the rocks; or if you prefer sangria they make a traditional red or a mango & watermelon liqueur infused white. We were seated in a booth in the main dining room, surrounded by cactus light fixtures and strings of “Christmas” lights that decorated the wooden beams above us. This was my 2nd time at Cottonwood, but my first time for dinner.

Bread: When my mother asked for bread & the waitress said “let me see what I can find”, I wasn’t surprised. Being at a south-western restaurant I expected chips & salsa instead, but even those weren’t complimentary! We had to order a side of tortilla chips with our appetizers, and they weren’t much to brag about. The tri-colored chips were flakey & could have used a little more salt.

Menu: I was impressed by the amount of options and different types of food: the apps, soups, dinner salads, sandwiches, pizzas, entrees, & specials kept me busy for a while. I eventually settled on the cup of Six Chile Chili & the San Mateo Salad with chicken.

Presentation: The chili came in a small cup garnished with a few tortilla chips & topped with shredded cheddar cheese. I had to spoon out a little excess oil (I can be a tad picky), but other than that I really enjoyed the meat, peppers, & tomatoes. My salad could have been on the boring side with the generic sliced carrots, cherry tomatoes, & celery, but was saved by the dried cranberries, sunflower seeds, roasted almonds, & golden raisins. The citrus habanero dressing added just enough flavor without soaking the lettuce.

Bathroom: Clean with 2 stalls, it felt sort of like a generic public restroom. Separate from the sink was another counter & mirror, with a pretty vase that held some fresh flowers.

Wait Staff: We didn’t see much of our waitress, but she was nice & met our needs. The main course came out before our appetizer dishes were removed from the table which always causes for unneccessary shuffling of plates.

Overall: The menu had a lot of options for a restaurant with a specific theme. If I liked tequila I’m sure I would have really enjoyed their famous margaritas; instead I tried the white sangria, which really didn’t taste like sangria at all. The fruit was almost non-existent (one slice of orange & a maraschino cherry), and the watermelon liqueur really over powered the drink (which I thought was tasty, but it just didn’t resemble a traditional sangria). The prices were reasonable but I wouldn’t rush back.

The Perfect Bite: The tortilla chips made for the perfect spoon to go with my chili!