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

Strip T’s

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This past year I have been slowly hearing more and more great things about Strip T’s in Watertown. It all started in 1986 as a sirloin strip sandwich concept, which is where the somewhat provocative name came from. With its friendly staff, affordable prices and quality food, Strip T’s quickly become a favorite neighborhood sandwich shop. Years later the owner’s son Tim Maslow joined the business and expanded the restaurant’s offerings to include dinner as well as lunch. Both menus have a wide range of meal styles ranging from a Fried Cauliflower to a Lamb Shoulder Sandwich for lunch, and a classic Fish & Chips to a Glazed Veal Breast for dinner. The sides and condiments also really intrigue me: carrot jam, barley, hay yogurt, kimchi squash, fried japanese sweet potato wedges, their famous Moxie sauce, and the list goes on.
IMG_4319On this particular Saturday afternoon my husband and I arrived around 12:30 and as there were no available tables, we sat at the counter with a view of the dining area and bar. There were definitely a few sandwiches that sparked my interest but the one at the top of my list was the Fried Cauliflower with Provolone and Broccoli Rabe. The sandwich came open-faced, provolone melted onto the bread topped with cauliflower florets, chopped broccoli rabe and sliced peppers. In my first attempt to tackle this monster I lifted a 1/2 and took a bite, but that clearly resulted in vegetables falling everywhere. I eventually asked for a steak knife and cut each 1/2 into 3 small pieces, which made it much easier to handle. This may be a veggie sandwich but it’s hearty, flavorful and filling. The Fried Cauliflower is definitely one of the best sandwiches I’ve had, and will join my top 3 among the Roast Beef 1000 at Cutty’s, and the Tuna, Avocado, Cheddar Panini at Temptations.
IMG_4328Matt and I also ordered a side of the Fried Japanese Sweet Potato Wedges. I typically don’t care for steak fries / wedges, but these were not fries. The outside had a slight crisp but the inside was all soft and creamy sweet potato. Most were plump and thick but there were a few extra thin fried potato skin pieces that were just as tasty. Some sort of house aioli was served on the side.
IMG_4323On top of Matt’s roast beef sandwich he also ordered the Wicked Small Caesar, which is a lie in size but truth in it’s $3 price. This is different than a traditional Caesar salad with creamy anchovy dressing, but I tried a bite and liked the lighter approach.
IMG_4321Strip T’s also serves wine and beer, a variety of sodas, sparkling juices, and coffee / tea / espresso. I opted for a cappuccino as I had yet to consume my 1 cup of caffeine for the day.
IMG_4330I highly recommend Strip T’s for lunch, and I’m sure I’ll be saying the same thing about their dinner once I experience it. We left full and more than satisfied. I was really impressed with my sandwich and everything else I ate that afternoon. Matt’s Roast Beef Sandwich with Cucumber, Horseradish and Moxie sauce was no joke. Next up I think I’ll try the NYC’s Pho Real Sandwich with grilled chicken, thai basil, bean sprouts, and avocado.

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Alta Strada

 The last stop on my Chef Schlow list is Alta Strada in Wellesley MA. I tried Radius for Restaurant Week a few years ago, Via Matta is one of my favorite (expensive) Italian spots, Tico is perfect for cocktails & small plates, and my recent trip to Happy’s wasn’t bad (although I think it needs work). Out of all of Schlow’s concepts I think Alta Strada fits me perfectly.

Bread: A think slice of bread that could have served at least four people was brought to our table as EVOO was poured into a shallow dish. It tasted fresh and I would have eaten the entire piece but we had quite a bit of food on the table already. Our Antipasti were served first and we were then asked if we wanted bread, which I thought was smart b/c not everyone wants that much food.

Menu: The Antipasti Table (where you can select 1 for $6, 3 for $15, or 5 for $24 – all served at room temperature) Primi, Salads, Pizza, Pasta, Secondi. I was having a hard time deciding; I wanted to try some Antipasti, but a few of the Primi selections looked amazing (Lobster & Watermelon with English Cucumber, Basil & Citrus), and the fact that they offered ½ portions of pasta didn’t help! Not to mention the Famous Chopped Salad with Matteo’s Secret Dressing also sounded excellent.

Food/Presentation:
Roasted Cauliflower, Pine Nuts, Golden Raisins
I feel like people are quick to dismiss cauliflower, and sure it’s bland on its own, but it’s very rarely prepared that way. This Antipasto had a nutty flavor from the pine nuts and a sweet component from the golden raisins. Light & tasty. I’m looking forward to the leftovers 🙂

Homemade Ricotta with Crostini
A generous portion of ricotta was topped with red pepper flakes, black pepper & EVOO and served with 2 oil-brushed and toasted crostini. After the crostini was gone I spread the ricotta on the fresh bread which was even better! Really can’t go wrong with ricotta.

Spicy Green Beans with Prosciutto
I only had a few bites but these were as good as green beans can be. Nice and crispy, and plenty of small bits of prosciutto at the bottom.

Spicy Chitarra with Lobster, Shrimp, Tomato and Basil
It was between this ½ portion and the Famous Chopped Salad with its not-so-secret dressing of lemon and cayenne pepper, but I’m really glad I chose this dish. Chitarra pasta is typically cut with guitar-like chords creating long stringy pasta which held this thin spicy sauce well. This dish had a bit of a kick but wasn’t too spicy (perfect for me), and there were a few pieces each of the lobster and shrimp.

Bathroom: Both the men’s and women’s restroom were labeled with an “M” and “W” on a motorcycle headlight. I expected the inside to have more character but it was pretty plain with 2 stalls and one bold red wall.

Service: Gina was trying to decide between the Tagliatelle with Summer Corn, Mushrooms and Pancetta, and the Raviolis. She ordered the tagliatelle but the server also brought out a small portion of the Mushroom Filled Lune pasta dish for us to try! I’m generally not a mushroom fan but I can’t deny that some varieties have an amazing flavor. If you happen to like mushrooms you’d love this pasta dish.
Besides that lovely surprise, our server was really great. As we were 1st time diners he described the entire menu to us, explaining certain dishes and the names/types of the pasta offered. The manager checked in on us as well which you don’t always see.

Mushroom filled Lune

Mushroom filled Lune

Overall: So I’ve completed the Michael Schlow list and I can honestly now say that my overall favorite is Alta Strada! While Happy’s may be considered the most casual of the 5 restaurants, Alta Strada is the most comfortable, consistent, and the menu is right up my ally. The food is top notch with perfect portions, and the atmosphere is sophisticated casual and modern with an open dining room complete with brick walls, earth tones with pops of red and lime green, and chalk boards hung above a long bar. The typically 20 minute ride from Boston took me an hour with rush hour traffic but it was totally worth the drive.
And if you live/work in the area think about visiting the Alta Strada Market on the basement level which sells lunch items and to-go containers of almost everything they have on the menu!

courtesy of Alta Strada website

courtesy of Alta Strada website

The Perfect Bite: Chitarra pasta with a forkful of lobster meat.

http://www.altastradarestaurant.com

For more photos & descriptions of what everyone in my party ate, visit my Facebook Page: http://www.facebook.com/ThePerfectBiteBoston