Archive for the ‘Restaurant Reviews’ Category

I’ve decided that I like doing restaurant reviews. It’s a great way to practice writing while simultaneously expanding my palate. Not to mention the fabulous built in excuse:  Aw, darn, I’d better go out to eat again…  It’s for THE BLOG.

My latest dining adventure brought me to Bella Luna in Jamaica Plain. Better known as the restaurant arm of the Milky Way, the two establishments have settled in nicely to their new home alongside the Sam Adams Brewery.

If you’re familiar with JP, you already know that the only thing more renowned than the breakfast establishments there are the epic waits to get seated. Even on the harshest frozen winter day, or in the midst of a torrential downpour, you can always be sure to find a line of people standing in line on the sidewalk, coffee in hand, waiting for a coveted spot at one of the few JP restaurants serving breakfast on the weekend. Some would call it a loyal restaurant following; I call it foolhardy, myself.

The reigning JP breakfast champions are the Centre St. Cafe and Sorella’s, both of which I’ve been fortunate to have visited on several (sunny) occasions during the 2+ years I lived in JP. While both restaurants serve food that appeals to JP’s vegan, earth-friendly, buy-local sensibilities, they have very different vibes.  Centre St. is more deeply rooted in restaurant traditions, and serves dinner in addition to their popular weekend breakfasts.  Expect to see large portions of gourmet food featuring things like Vermont cheddar, hormone-free beef, and seasonal fresh veggies.

Sorrella’s, on the other hand, approaches breakfast from the diner side of the fence, with less formal waitstaff and tables, and frequent sightings of the cooks in their grease-stained aprons.  The food is served more casually as well, but is distinctly creative, with unusual offerings and multiple items to appeal to both vegetarians and carnivores alike.  A personal favorite of mine are any of the many french toast options made from quick breads such as pumpkin-raisin bread or cranberry walnut bread.  They also play with both Mediterranean and Mexican riffs on traditional breakfast items, and their menu is, well, huge.

So when I heard that Bella Luna had thrown its hat into the ring by serving a Saturday brunch, I was eager to check it out, but with no small sense of trepidation regarding the potential crowds. I got off the train at 11:30, a half hour after service began, and proceeded to power walk my way around the throngs of young hipsters emerging from the subway at the same tame. Surely they all were headed to Bella Luna for brunch as well — I must beat them there and get my name on the list!

Imagine my surprise upon arriving when I spotted by friend seated by herself in a little red booth in a near empty restaurant. Perhaps the new location wasn’t working out so well after all.

We started off with coffees — hers with Amaretto, and mine, to keep her company, with a side of Mimosa. (What? Mimosa not a side? Says you.) The menu was small but engaging; enough so that we just had to order a basket of blueberry fritters to buy us more time to decide on our main dishes.

Blueberry Fritters at Bella Luna

The fritters were the highlight of the meal for me personally. Gloriously deep-fried, the confectioner’s sugar-dusted outside was crunchy but not hard, with a pristine cake-like center. Dipped in pure maple syrup, they were a treat of complimentary textures and flavors. (Plus, one had “feet” formed from dripping dough, so I got to play with my food, too, which is always a nice bonus.)

The Footed Fritter

If Vegas had odds on things like “What Joanna LeRoy is most likely to order off a restaurant menu,” you’d find a strong correlation between certain ingredients and the likelihood of the plate ending up in front of me. Mushrooms, cheese, asparagus, sweet potatoes, pasta, rosemary, duck, blood oranges, apples, pistachios, or chocolate? Check. Capers, pine nuts, beets or refried beans? Not so much… Needless to say, the sweet potato, apple & bacon hash appeared in front of me shortly following the fritters.

The hash was sauteed with fresh thyme, onion & butter, and came hidden under 3 fried eggs and a side of wheatberry toast. The eggs and toast were standard, and the hash was sweet and tasty, if a bit overly greasy for my liking.  I’d love to try mixing it up with some bread crumbs and making a stuffing; the flavors would be awesome with chicken.

Having polished that off, I reached back into the basket to fish out the last blueberry fritter, when I had a revelation.  There, in the bottom of the basket, was a solitary blueberry that had escaped from any trace of batter — but not from the fryer.  Yes, a naked fried blueberry.  Now, I know that the last thing America needs is the introduction of another fried food, but think about it!  You go to a Maine county fair in August, and there among the vendors is an unassuming stand with a big sign reading FRIED BLUEBERRIES.  After forking over $3, you’re rewarded with a small paper cone of deep-fried blueberries, perhaps tossed lightly in a sweet lemon glaze… Imagine THAT on top of some fried dough!  But I digress.

Happily for Bella Luna, by the time we left at 12:45, the restaurant was now quite crowded. As I headed out the door, I overheard the hostess answer a new patron, “Party of five? That’ll be about 45 minutes.”  Ahh.  I was back in JP after all.

Bella Luna on Urbanspoon


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There’s a long-standing theory that I was a cat in a past life. I have a penchant for snuggling up in soft blankets in a patch of sunshine, I do (somewhat embarrassingly) enjoy my boyfriend’s lap and a good rub of the head, and I like to take “time outs,” where I simply curl up and rest with my eyes closed, half awake and half asleep. On the other hand, I’m pretty sure I don’t have nine lives.  I do, however, think I may have nine stomachs. One for each course of the meal I ate Friday night.

Yes, you heard right. I had a NINE course meal. The adventure began when my friend Marcy befriended a chef down in Providence, RI, and was invited to come down to check out his restaurant.  Knowing that I would probably throw a tantrum if this event occured without me, she wisely invited me to come along. We arrived at Zooma around 7:30 after a mildly fear-inducing ride through the center of a heavy rainstorm. I figure fear is good for the appetite, though — by the time we got out of the car, I was thankful to be alive and ready to indulge in some carnal pleasures. And indulge we did.

We were shown to the “Chef’s Table,” which was something akin to pulling up a bar stool to the edge of a kitchen island. Sitting side by side, we had a clear view into the kitchen and were able to meet the chefs preparing our food, as well as catch up with Chef Jeff Burgess, who was expediting orders to our left.

We started with a bottle of Crios Malbec from Argentina, and that was the last decision we made for the evening, aside from answering “Would you like another course?” with a resounding YES. And another. And another. Jeff put together a tasting menu that walked us slowly through their menu of regional Italian food. As a general rule, all of the food at Zooma is based on principles of simplicity, quality, and fresh, local ingredients. The exception that proves the rule being the buffalo mozzarella and pasta flour, which are imported from Italy, and San Marzano tomatoes during the off-season (otherwise, the tomatoes are actually grown on Zooma’s roof!)

So without further ado, our menu:

1st course:  tomatoes and buffalo mozzarella with olive oil, sea salt and vin cotto

2nd course:  grilled asparagus topped with an egg, shaved pecorino romano, sea salt, and olive oil

3rd course:  bucatini served al dente with ramps and garlic in olive oil

4th course:  handmade tagliatelle with fava beans in a light butter sauce

5th course:  artichoke raviolis with braised lamb sauteed with a hint of olive oil, marinara and a mirepoix medley

6th course:  pan-fried trout over an asian-inspired slaw of carrots, sauteed ramp bulbs and diced ramp tops, topped with a citrus-cilantro salad

7th course:  seared sea scallops with romesco and warm spinach

8th course:  rib eye steak with mashed potatoes and grilled zucchini

9th course:  passion fruit and peach gelatos from Ciao Bella

Really, it was all insanely good. The mozzarella was to die for — softer, creamier and more subtle than your standard supermarket fare. The asparagus, egg and pecorino dish was one of my absolute favorites. Simplicity at its best, the asparagus was young and fresh, no doubt first of the season, and grilled to perfection, keeping its verdant color intact.  It’s pretty much an ideal lunch for me, and I plan to mimic this one at home frequently.  The tagliatelle and fava beans was another favorite.  The butter sauce was incredibly light, especially considering that, well, it’s made of butter; a purposefully light hand when saucing the pasta helped. Handmade tagliatelle — enough said. But the FAVA BEANS. Oh my. I’m a convert. I need to learn more about them and start looking up recipes, because they are now my new favorite bean. They were like a more buttery, meaty version of edamame. Just delicious.

I do enjoy a good braise, and this one was appropriately tender to the point of falling apart. It reminded me that I do in fact like lamb, which I somehow had managed to forget in the years between now and my childhood, when a good rosemary leg of lamb was a staple at Easter dinners. Speaking of childhood, I had to start clapping my hands with glee when the trout came out, as that’s another beloved food that brings me back to the early 80s. Summers in Newfoundland during that time involved my frequently being woken by the smell of fresh trout, dredged in flour, crackling away in a cast iron pan on the stove, the tasty outcome of that morning’s fishing expedition.

I hit the wall about the time the sea scallops came out, but pushed on through to the rib eye course, which was where I first reluctantly had to have the plate taken away without eating everything on it. The lip-puckering passion fruit gelato was the perfect end to the evening, even if it did upstage the more delicate peach gelato.

A nice side note about Zooma is that, with the exception of Chef Jeff, most of the cooks are students at Johnson & Wales, the well-respected culinary school also in Providence. Maybe it’s the old Northeastern student in me, but I definitely like the whole work/study concept, and admire Zooma for supporting the school and Chef Jeff for helping them get a hands-on education. They all did themselves proud.

Now excuse me while I go resew the button that popped off the top of my pants on the ride home.

Trattoria Zooma on Urbanspoon

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