Blue Ginger

Bread: Three varieties of bread came with a small side of butter. The flat cracker sesame bread and potato-like bread didn’t need any butter as they had their own unique flavor, but I did spread a little on the slice of plain white.
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Menu: The structure of the menu is simple, offering Appetizers and Entrees. There’s also a note at the bottom of the page about the Chef’s Tasting Menu, but I didn’t inquire as I had a hard enough time with the options in front of me. The prices are definitely steeper than I’m used to but I knew this going into dinner, as Chef Ming Tsai is one of the best in MA, is nationally known, and has appeared on The Food Network numerous times. This is the kind of meal you don’t mind paying $40+ for because you know you won’t be disappointed, and it will probably be one of  the best versions of whatever it is you’re ordering. That being said, I was torn between 3 dishes and opted for one of the signature dishes which has been on the menu for over 10 years.

Food/Presentation:
Tempura Sole-Avocado Roulade with Black Garlic Aioli and Ponzu Vegetables
I wasn’t sure what to expect with this appetizer, but our server did a great job of describing how it was prepared. Three sushi roll-like pieces topped the vegetables and were surrounded by small dollops of black garlic aioli. The typical “rice” section of this roll was actually the sole which encompassed the avocado and carrots. The outside may have been deep fried but it didn’t make the dish heavy or greasy. Definitely a great way to start the meal!

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Garlic-Black Pepper Lobster with Lemongrass Fried Rice: Pea Tendril Salad with Tamari-Ginger Vinaigrette
For my entree I was deciding between this and the other signature dish which a friend recommended, the Sake-Miso Marinated Sablefish (a.k.a. Butterfish). I think either choice would have been a good one, but I’m really glad I chose the lobster. The shell of the body was stuffed with spinach and rice, and the plate was covered with big pieces of lobster tail, more rice, a few mushrooms, tomatoes, and incredible flavor! A fantastic lobster dish without the typical mess and work that comes with de-shelling.
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Peanut Butter Creameuax: chocolate sorbet, pomegranate jelly, black sesame cocoa shortbread
The dessert menu looked to good to pass up, so my cousin & I split this take on PB&J (one of my favorite combinations). The chocolate sorbet had a strong flavor, the jelly was amazing, and the peanut butter component had a smooth mousse consistency. Great way to end the meal!
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Restroom: The women’s room has 2 private stalls with wooden shutter doors (my favorite), a nice granite countertop, and warm and comfortable hues. I wouldn’t mind basing my home bathroom off of this design!

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Service: Our server was well informed and shared with us the signature and popular dishes as we had never been to Blue Ginger before. When deciding on appetizers he made a helpful suggestion; we were thinking of ordering the Tempura Sole-Avocado Roulade and the Shiitake-Leek Springrolls but he pointed out that they were somewhat of a similar appetizer, so we went with the Caesar instead. We were taking our time with the first course and he was great about not rushing us. When our entrees were ready and we still had some salad left on the plate he asked if we wanted to delay the second course until we were done with the first. We said it was fine to bring the entrees over, but it was nice of him to ask and make sure we were ready!

Overall: Blue Ginger is Ming Tsai’s first restaurant, opening in 1998 and serving East meets West cuisine. A recent 2008 renovation added private dining rooms as well as a modern lounge featuring an Asian style tapas menu. The casual and chic dining room is set up with free standing tables and banquettes. Based on the high prices I thought the dining area would be a bit stuffy but I was happy to see it was more of a comfortable atmosphere. The service was great and the food was really excellent, just be prepared to spend! Appetizers run from $10-$17 and entrees range from $22 for a tofu dish to $41 for lobster or the signature sabelfish, most plates being $30+. Blue Ginger has an impressive beer, wine, and cocktail menu as well. I went with the Polly-Tini: Ketel One, lychee puree, and pink grapefruit. The menu of course has Asian influences but offers standard items like scallops, halibut, beef, lamb etc. I highly recommend whether you’re in the Wellesley area or not, Blue Ginger is a must try.
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The Perfect Bite: Lobster, fried rice, and all the goodies!
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http://www.ming.com/blue-ginger.htm
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Toro

Bread: Small slices of white bread, with no accompaniment. At first I was upset, but after ordering the tuna tartare realized it can be utilized for future dishes!
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Menu: Pinchos, which are snack size; Tapas Frias, more bar snacks but slightly larger than the Pinchos; Jamones y Charcuteria, cheese & meats; For Two, larger dishes like fish plates and paella; Tapas Calientes, hot tapas, app size for 1 or 2 to share.
This was my first time at Toro and I didn’t know where to start! I’ve had tapas before but there were so many options, including some exotic dishes like Uni (sea urchin),  tuna belly, veal sweetbreads, smoked beef tongue, roasted bone marrow, and so on. They offer some veggie selections as well as more mainstream bites like mini burgers, tuna tartare, short ribs etc., but I was determined to be adventurous and try at lease one item that scared me.

Food/Presentation:
Atun Tartare – coconut milk, lime, mint, cilantro, and grilled toast
This tuna tartare was a great size for the two of us. The tuna was diced up small and it had a great refreshing flavor. The mint was a nice touch! They only supplied 4 pieces of grilled bread but we hadn’t touched the ‘bread basket’ so I quickly dove into that. It was also great just on the fork!
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Uni Bocadillo – pressed uni sandwich with miso butter and pickled mustard seeds
I announced on Instagram earlier in the day that I was excited to try Toro for the first time and my friend, The Rooftop Gourmet, commented that he highly suggested the Uni sandwich. I knew uni was something creepy and it was confirmed by our waitress that it is in fact sea urchin. She also recommended the dish so Shannon and I went for it! It was definitely rich as she said, and the miso butter had a strong flavor. I don’t know that I would ever try uni on it’s own, but if you’re looking to try something adventurous I would suggest this Uni Bocadillo. It reminded me of pâté, in the sense that it was a very different, strong & rich flavor.
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Panza de Cerdo – crispy pork belly with roasted pumpkin, chestnuts, chantenay carrots and kimchi vegetables
Typically when I’m eating any kind of meat I avoid the fatty pieces, but in ordering pork belly we essentially ordered fat! The top layer was perfectly crispy and crunchy which countered the chewy fatty belly. The roasted pumpkin puree was the most flavorful pumpkin anything I think I’ve ever had. This wasn’t the easiest dish to share since it was tough to cut the fatty parts in half, but we were eventually able to shred it apart and enjoy!
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Empanada de Pollo y Papas – housemade chicken & potato empanada with tomatillo salsa y alioli
I love empanadas but am always hesitant to order them in restaurants. I’m not trying to be ‘too cool for school’, but on my honeymoon in Costa Rica my husband and I went on an ATV excursion and as part of the tour you stop at this shack-like bar at the top of a mountain. Inside were 2 women serving up the most fresh and authentic Costa Rican cuisine you can get. At the suggestion of our tour guide we ordered 1 bean empanada and 1 cheese empanada. The food was simple but so incredible. Ever since, no other empanada has compared. Toro‘s version was great though and I wouldn’t discourage anyone from ordering it!

Toro's Empanadas

Toro’s Empanadas

Costa Rica mountain top

Costa Rica mountain top

Rancho Shadday

Rancho Shadday

The owners, making the best bean & cheese expands I'll ever have

The owners, making the simplest/best bean & cheese empanadas I’ll ever have


Restroom
: Deep red walls, warm lighting, bull-fighting posters… the private-room uni-sex restrooms had themed decor which I alway love. Extra points for the Xlerator hand dryer!
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restroom wall

restroom wall

Service: Our waitress was informative and helped me pick out a dry white wine when I didn’t recognize any on the list. She made great suggestions, like the uni sandwich. All of our food came out in a steady series with good timing, which is always a challenge at tapas restaurants; you don’t want all of the dishes at once but you also don’t want to have a long wait in between receiving the plates. Toro did a great job with this.

Overall: Shannon and I had a really great time at Toro! It’s lively and incredibly busy on a Saturday night, and ever other night I hear. There are tables, high tops and bar seating. Because it is so popular and not that big of a restaurant you don’t have much personal space and the tables (at least the one we were at) are small. None of this bothered me though; it’s a fun atmosphere, the food was awesome, and the service was on par. If you haven’t been I highly recommend it. They don’t take reservations and there’s often a long wait so be prepared!

The Perfect Bite: Cripsy pork belly with roasted pumpkin puree.

toro-restaurant.com
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Cinquecento

courtesy of Cinquecento

courtesy of Cinquecento

Cinquecento is the Aquitaine Group’s newest addition in the South End, replacing Rocca‘s old spot at 500 Harrison Avenue. The space has a whole new look with wooden floors and tables, brown hues, pillars of wine, dark leather booths, and creative lighting. Walking up the illuminated staircase to the space shuttle-like hostess stand we were already excited…

courtesy of Cinquecento

courtesy of Cinquecento

courtesy of Cinquecento

courtesy of Cinquecento


Bread
: Slices of soft, fresh Italian bread was brought to our table in a cloth wrapped basket. I dipped a piece in the EVOO that was poured at the table, and sprinkled a bit of salt from the small wooden bowl. Great bread, and would be perfect for mopping up pasta sauce!

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Menu: Antipasti, Zuppa e Insalate, Salumi, Paste, Pesce e Carne, Piatta del Giorno, Contorni. Each menu item is listed in Italian with English descriptions. There were a few apps I wanted to try and couldn’t decide between a pasta or fish for my entree. Luckily my friends wanted to split some starters so I was able to try a few items.

Food/Presentation:
Bruschetta con Burrata e Speck – Burrata, Speck & Pignoli-Currant Marmellata
This may be one of my biggest pet peeves… Based on the Bruschetta description any diner would assume this appetizer would come with a few pieces of bread. I can’t understand how any restaurant can justify selling 1 slice of bread (with toppings) for $6.75. Plates like this should be adjusted based on the number of people in the party. Or reduce the size of the bread/ingredients and give us 2 freakin’ slices on the plate at least! I love burrata, which is why I wanted to try this app, but overall I don’t think it’s worth it (especially if you’re not dining alone!).
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Ricotta Fresca – Warm Ricotta, Olive Oil, Grilled Bread
This was the best of the 2 apps we tried. The ricotta was warm and drizzled with EVOO, perfect for spreading on the grilled bread. The cheese/bread ratio was off but thankfully we had enough in the bread basket.
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Branzino con Scarola Brasata e Funghi – Sea Bass, Braised Escarole & Wild Mushrooms
I asked to replace the mushrooms with brussels sprouts, and the waitress was honest with me and said the amount of mushrooms in this dish is so small that I wouldn’t receive many brussels sprouts. Instead they gave me a full side of Brussels Sprouts & Pancetta for $2 (rather than the $5.75 it is listed for). The sea bass was great and the sauce it was soaking in was excellent, you could have dipped just about anything in there. The brussels sprouts were also a good choice, with tiny chunks of pancetta and seasoned with some lemon.
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Service: Our waitress was great but the timing at the beginning was a bit off. Our appetizer order was taken and the plates were delivered before the bread. We also had not ordered our entrees yet so we still had our menus which made for a cluttered table. Once the bread arrived I was even more overwhelmed but eventually our waitress came over and apologized for not being on top of things. Everything else was cleared and delivered in a timely manner so the slight misstep wasn’t a huge deal.

Restroom: The women’s room has 4 stalls with white titled walls and dark brown wooden doors. A white ceramic trough sink sits underneath 2 large mirrors. There’s also a full length mirror which I always appreciate.
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Overall: My girlfriends and I really enjoyed our evening at Cinquecento. We all started with the Minuetto cocktail (Grey Goose Vodka, Elderflower Liqueur, Grapefruit Cordial, Lemon & Prosecco) which was a hit. We split the 2 appetizers and agreed the Ricotta stole the show. Among my entree, the Veal & Prosciutto Saltimbocca, and the Sogliola al Cartoccio (Fluke in Parchment), the majority preferred the latter but everything I tasted was really good. I didn’t love the Grilled Calamari that Angela got with the Endive Salad as her entree, but that’s more of a texture issue for me then the taste of the actual dish.
Prices aren’t cheap but they’re also not too outrageous; Antipasti, Soups and Salads ranges from $6.50 – $13.50, while the Pastas and Entrees are between $14.25 – $28.50 with the Rib Eye taking the top dollar spot. We all agreed we need to return to try different dishes, my choice being the Gnocchi al Sugo di Cinghiale (Gnocchi with Wild Boar, Golden Raisins, Pignoli & Pecorino).

The Perfect Bite: Warm ricotta spread on grilled bread with a sprinkle of salt.

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http://www.cinquecentoboston.com

For more food photos from the evening visit my Facebook Page, Twitter feed, or follow me on Instagram (@theperfectbiteboston)!

Abby Lane

 I was excited to learn that Jason Santos was expanding throughout Boston with Abby Lane. I’ve been the sister restaurant Blue Inc. a few times and love their creative cocktails, seasonal fare, and bar bites. After viewing Abby Lane‘s online menu and seeing the options of pizzas, sandwiches, meat, and seafood, I knew it would be a great spot to take my parents and husband.  Located in the Theater District, it’s an easy walk from the Ritz-Carlton parking garage as well as the Boston Common lot, perfect for out of town (and in town) theater-goers.

Bread: White rolls were brought out in a metal basket with a small scoop of butter in a glass bowl. There’s no easy way to say that the bread was extremely disappointing. Somewhat dry, not particularly warm or doughy, something you’d expect from a fast food pizza joint. At Jason Santos’s Blue Inc. they serve amazing pretzel rolls with a mustard butter – to die for! Not sure how he missed the bread mark at Abby Lane. Luckily the food improved from here…
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Menu: Appetizers & Small Plates, Soups & Salads, Individual Pizzas, Burgers & Sandwiches, Main Entrees, On The Side. At first glance I was impressed with the options and variety, but as I studied further nothing really caught my eye as innovative or that intriguing. I usually like ordering 2 plates, whether it’s soup & salad, app & salad, app & ½ pasta etc. A few apps looked good but the salad selection is really generic: House, Wedge, Caesar, Greek. Nothing creative about it! There are some entrees I could have ordered (Pork Tenderloin, Salmon, Ahi Tuna) but as the pizza section was the most interesting I couldn’t resist.

Food/Presentation:
Pizza Sicilian – prosciutto, mission figs, goat cheese, fresh arugula
And even though the menu didn’t state it, my pizza came with caramelized onions, which didn’t mix well with the other ingredients but I like onions so wasn’t complaining. This pizza was a good individual size with 6 slices. Toppings were plentiful and they did not skimp on the figs whatsoever. Based on the taste and size of this pizza I definitely recommend this section of the menu; all of the options look great (Margherita, Buffalo, Bianco, Calamari!).
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Restroom: The ladies room has 5 stalls, white tiled walls, and a crisp & clean granite counter-top with 2 automatic sinks. A large wicker bin acted as a trash barrel.
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Service: The service was great; our waitress was friendly, informative, and attentive with refills. Only Matt ordered a first and second course, but each came out on time without overlapping.

Overall: Abby Lane is a nice addition to the Theater District with its Contemporary American cuisine, close proximity to multiple theaters, and casual & modern atmosphere. With 2 stories there is plenty of seating, each level complete with a bar, banquettes &  free-standing tables, and large windows for people watching on Tremont Street. Prices are reasonable with Apps & Small Plates topping out at $15, Pizzas at $12, and Sandwiches reaching $17 (thanks to the lobster roll). Entrees are $16 – $28 with the Grilled 8oz. Filet Mignon taking the top price.

The Perfect Bite: Pizza Sicilian with all of the toppings (minus the caramelized onion mistake).


www.abbylaneboston.com

courtesy of the Abby Lane website

courtesy of the Abby Lane website

For more photos & descriptions of what everyone in my party ate, visit my Facebook Page, follow me on Twitter and/or Instagram!
www.facebook.com/ThePerfectBiteBoston
www.twitter.com/PerfectBiteBos
Instagram – @theperfectbiteboston

The Paramount

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Bread: Five slices of soft focaccia type bread was brought for the 5 of us, served with a dipping sauce that we determined was a thinner type of hummus. Great way to start the meal.
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Menu: Appetizers, Salads, Beacon Hill Grill (burgers & sandwiches), Entrees (pastas, fried chicken, noodles, and tacos), Paramount Classics (fish, steaks, chicken), Side Dishes. Each section had plenty to choose from and I was eyeing a few dishes from each category. The Salmon Burger, Black Bean Burger, Sweet BBQ Pulled Pork Tacos… they’ll all have to wait for my next few visits. They also offered a few specials which included a soup, salad and a couple of entrees.

Food/Presentation:
BBQ Chicken Chopped Salad: black beans, sweet corn, tortilla strips, sliced avocado, jack cheese, tomatoes, ranch dressing
This salad is a perfect dinner size serving, with a mound of chopped BBQ chicken and plenty of toppings. I substituted the ranch dressing for lime-avocado vinaigrette which was a great move. Lots of flavor and a perfect combination of extras!
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Restroom: A one room/stall restroom with minimal space to decorate. The brick wall added a bit of character.
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Overall: This was my first time at The Paramount in Beacon Hill and I was pleasantly surprised. They have a great variety of menu items at decent prices, with entrees topping out at $20. The food is mainly American cuisine with a few Mexican influences of “made to order” guacamole and tacos, and Asian inspirations seen in teriyaki glazed items and the random Pad Thai entrée. There’s enough on the menu to please everyone’s palate and wallets. I’m dying to return for their cafeteria-style brunch. I hear it’s one of the best in the city!

The Perfect Bite: A giant forkful of BBQ chicken, avocado, corn, black beans, and tortilla strips dipped in the lime-avocado vinaigrette.

http://www.paramountboston.com

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For more photos & descriptions of what everyone in my party ate, visit my Facebook Page, follow me on Twitter, or find me on Instagram!
http://www.facebook.com/ThePerfectBiteBoston

 

Not Your Average Joe’s


On Monday November 12th I was invited to a VIP tasting at the Medford location of Not Your Average Joe’s where they were introducing their fall/winter menu. I’ve been to the Westborough location multiple times and have always had a great meal, so I was really looking forward to the evening. If you’re not familiar with the restaurant, Not Your Average Joe’s offers what I’d call upscale bar food. They use fresh ingredients and every menu item is made from scratch so you’re able to add or omit specific ingredients in order to adjust dishes to your liking. Joe’s prides themselves on quality food at a great price – you won’t ever see a menu item over $20! (however some specials which include prime items like lobster may stretch a tad over…)

Executive Chef of the Medford location, Gene Mendes, prepared the following dishes for us…

Poached Pear and Blue Cheese Flatbread
red wine poached pears, grilled hill blue cheese, candied pecans and craisins
This flatbread certainly has enough sweet components that balance out the strong and savory blue cheese. The pears were a good consistency (not too mushy) and there was a bit of each ingredient on every piece which is important. I sure did help myself to 2 pieces!

Short Rib Pretzel Bites
red wine braised short ribs over pretzel bread with spicy mustard and crispy onion strings
This appetizer – my favorite dish of the evening – was inspired by trips to NYC, most likely by the street vendors you see on every block. A small mound of short ribs was piled on the soft pretzel bread and topped with onion strings and a drizzle of spicy mustard. I adore all mustard – except yellow – and this one was really excellent; spicy without being over powering. I of course went back for round two…

Meat Lovers Pizza
mello’s spicy linguica, zoe’s cured salami and italian sausage, with tomato sauce and fresh mozzarella
I enjoy Italian meats in small doses so this pizza isn’t exactly up my alley but I enjoyed the small slice I tasted. It had a thin crust base with a doughy end, and small pieces of each meat throughout.

Poached Pear Spinach Salad
red wine poached pears, great hill blue cheese, candied pecans, craisins, baby spinach and crispy onion
strings with warm maple vinaigrette
This dish is the salad version of the flatbread mentioned above. Served with warm maple vinaigrette, this sweet salad is perfect for the winter months. These ingredients go great together but I could have done without the onion strings.

Pear Spinach Salad - full portion

Pear Spinach Salad – full portion

Pear Spinach Salad - tasting

Pear Spinach Salad – tasting


Farmer’s Market Chicken Carbonara

grilled chicken breast with fettuccine tossed in a light white wine cream sauce with country bacon, grilled fresh corn, grape tomatoes, asparagus, and grilled red onions
I typically don’t love Carbonara as it tends to be heavy, rich, and filling. This version however was light but still quite flavorful. I loved the vegetable addition of corn and asparagus!

Carbonara - full portion

Carbonara – full portion

Carbonara - tasting

Carbonara – tasting


Smokehouse Jambalaya

andouille sausage, tasso ham, mello’s spicy linguica, shredded chicken, shrimp, veggies and rice simmered in a cajun-spiced tomato broth (gluten free!)
I don’t know that I’ve ever had Jambalaya and I’m not sure I’d ever order it but this dish was pretty good. It’s hard to go wrong with rice, chicken and veggies, and there was just enough spice to give it a solid kick without being overly spicy.

Jambalaya - full portion

Jambalaya – full portion

Jambalaya - tasting

Jambalaya – tasting


Vietnamese Salmon
curry spices, rice noodles, sugar snap peas, fresh herbs, chopped peanuts in a lime-infused chili broth (gluten free!)
This Vietnamese inspired entrée displayed a generous portion of salmon atop a bowl of rice noodles surrounded by peanuts, snap peas, and plenty of dill. The noodles were slippery and required slurping (things got messy); the salmon was cooked well and I really loved the crunchy peanut component.

Salmon - full portion

Salmon – full portion

Salmon - tasting

Salmon – tasting

“Helping Hands: Monkey Helpers” Annual Benefit

On Saturday October 13th WGBH hosted the “Helpings Hands: Monkey Helpers” Food Festivale, sponsored by a dozen Boston restaurants including MistralSorellinaMooo, Teatro, and L’Andana. This non-profit organization raises and trains capuchin monkeys to provide daily in-home assistance to the mobility impaired. While it costs nearly $40,000 to train and prepare each monkey, they are placed with their recipients free of charge thanks to generous donors and annual fund-raising events. Throughout the process of establishing a healthy relationship between monkey and human, Helpings Hands provides participants with mentoring and supervision so they can monitor the monkey’s behavior, nutrition, and interaction with their human.

Saturday’s event began with a short film documenting 3 recipients and their stories. Home videos showed their daily lives and need for a Helping Hands monkey helper, while personal interviews with the filmmakers allowed viewers to see how the relationship and bond with their monkeys not only provides each human with assistance but also hope and companionship. It was truly uplifting and a great display of how the donations were changing and improving lives.

After the film guests were able to enjoy the evening with live music, a silent auction, raffle prizes, a Grey Goose bar, and treats & small bites from favorite Boston restaurants. Columbus Hospitality Group was represented in full force with each restaurant offering 5-star quality tastings.


L’Andana was among the first tables I stopped at and featured one of my favorite ingredients, fresh figs! Placed on a crostini with a soft cheese, this was a very popular table and my favorite of the evening.

Moving down the line, Mooo’s table featured an army Beef Sirloin Sliders with Mooo Sauce & caramelized onions on a homemade roll. A great representation of Mooo’s quality of beef served over on 15 Beacon Street.

My next visit was to Sorellina which had perfect bite sized Parfait of Hudson Valley foie gras on a toasted brioche and topped with a Concord grape. A small bite packed with major flavor!

Mistral by far offered the most rich and impressive plate: Duck Confit with Wild Mushroom Cous Cous “Risotto”, Parmesan & White Truffle Oil. Serving an almost full appetizer portion, I went back for seconds even though I was stuffed to the brim!

Teatro provided a sweeter option with Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta and fresh berries.

Other vendors included Rialto, Trade, Basho, Eastern Standard, Masa, The Catered Affair, Zocalo, Market, Green Mountain, Konditor Meister, Harpoon and Grey Goose. Uber also offered complimentary transportation to and from the event that evening, providing a convenient and safe way for guests to get home.

For more information about Helping Hands or ways to donate to the organization please visit their website: http://www.monkeyhelpers.org/