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.
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.

Mooo… offered tiny but hearty Beef Sirloin Sliders with Mooo Sauce and Caramelized Onions on House Made Rolls.
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!
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.
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.
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 🙂
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.
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.
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.
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.
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



My favorite time of year is here… Restaurant Week! This program allows for customers to enjoy a 3-course meal for $33.12 at all participating restaurants. Some also feature a 2-course lunch for $15.12 and/or a 3-course lunch for $20.12. I tend to make reservations at restaurants that are known for their expensive menus, that way I can really get my money’s worth!  To explore the Boston area restaurant’s participating in Restaurant Week, you can find the full list here:


My first of 4 RW dinners was last night at Bambara in Hotel Marlowe in Cambridge.

Bread: Four rustic rolls were served with softened salted butter. The couple we dined with arrived before us and received the bread before we sat; my roll was a little hard and not warm, but perhaps it was when it was served? It was still good and I of course ate the entire thing.

Menu: It seemed as though Bambara was offering their full menu for Restaurant Week as there were many options for each course. For the 1st course you could choose between the Salad and Appetizer section which complicated my decision making, in a good way. See Bambara’s full Restaurant Week menu here:

Spicy Tuna Tartare: avocado puree, waffled potato crisps
A square of tuna came topped with a dollop of avocado puree and a bowl full of salty waffle chips. The “spicy” component came from the sliver of red (maybe sriracha) sauce in the center. The chips were unfortunately too thin to pick up the tuna on their own and kept breaking! Otherwise this was a great start to the meal.

Summer Vegetable Fricassee: heirloom tomatoes, Verrill Farm sweet corn, local mild chilies, roasted zucchini, baby leeks, crispy polenta, herbs
This dish was so scrumptious! The “crispy polenta” was actually warm and soft underneath all of the vegetables, almost like a potato cake. The corn was crisp and fresh, and leeks were so flavorful, and the sauce has a great consistency without being too creamy. Great veggie entrée!

Bread Pudding: caramelized bananas, creme anglaise, caramel
This was not your typical bread pudding. I was initially slightly disappointed at the sight of it, but after one bite I immediately changed my mind. The dessert was more of a pound cake/banana bread type, topped with sugary banana slices and drizzled with caramel. I wouldn’t call it bread pudding, but whatever it was, it was delicious.

Bathroom: This restroom wasn’t part of Bambara, as the restaurant is in the Hotel Marlowe in Cambridge. The restroom is in the hotel’s lobby and therefore did not reflect the character or style of Bambara. However I did love the shutter stall doors and automatic soap dispenser and sinks.

Service: Our server was present when he needed to be and helped my friend choose the Salmon which was the “Catch of the Week” over the Pan Roasted Cod. Our water glasses were filled regularly and he checked on us throughout the meal. 

Overall: Restaurant Week wise, I recommend Bambara based on the wide variety of options and excellent quality of food. The portions were appropriate for a 3-course meal; some may say the desserts were small but after a full app & entrée I was delighted by the medium slice of banana “bread pudding” and multiple-bite sized Caramel Date Cake. Another plus, we parked in the Cambridge Side Galleria for $3.99! You won’t find that pricing in a Boston lot/garage.

The Perfect Bite: Soft polenta, crisp corn, baby leek… and any other veggie I can fit on the fork!

For more photos & descriptions of what everyone in my party ate, visit my Facebook Page: