Il Fornaio + IMAF Chef's Cup

It was one of those nights when I wish I understood the Italian language beyond a few standard words. 

Earlier this summer, the IMAF Chef's Cup competition began in Italy with 12 Michelin starred chefs. Cooking demonstrations took place in Rome, Florence, Parma, Milan, Perugia, Venice and Viareggio; chefs prepared dishes inspired by works of art.

The IMAF Chef's Cup concluded at Il Fornaio with the competition narrowed to two competitors and close friends: Chef Rosanna Marziale of Le Colonne Restaurant in Caserta and Chef Stefano Cerveni of Le due Colombe in Corte Franca.
Glasses of Franciacorta prossecco and pieces of grana padano greeted a group of eager (and hungry) guests. After the aperitif hour, Rossella Canevari, the IMAFestival director and writer, introduced the competition and chefs.
Judges included Amy Sherman (Cooking with Amy), Chef Anthony Fossani, (America’s Cup), Liam Mayclem (KPIX CBS’s Foodie Chap), Mauro Cirilli (sommelier of Press Club San Francisco), and Chef Maurizio Mazzon (Il Fornaio). This panel had the tough job of evaluating the chefs' dishes.

The two chefs presented their art-inspired recipes during individual cooking demonstrations; Viola Buitoni served as the official translator. After each demonstration, the chefs presented their dishes to the judges while guests enjoyed each dish.
Chef Stefano Cerveni of Le prepares his dish (bread soup with quail and black truffles) during his cooking demonstration.
Chef Rosanna Marziale demonstrates her first course of spaghetti and San Marzano tomatoes stuffed inside a ball of mozzarella.
A winner is declared: Chef Stefano Cerveni wins the final stage of the competition.

Buona Tavola!

(many thanks to the ladies of Issima Public Relations for the opportunity to attend the event)

M3 Brunch in Davis Square

Pickles, fried chicken, and chocolate bacon.

I spent a recent Sunday visiting a brand new restaurant in Davis Square (Somerville, MA) called M3. This Southern style spot gets it's name from the meat and three (vegetables or sides) plates popular on restaurant menus south of the Mason Dixon line.  Given my Tennessee roots, this brunch outing was of particular interest. There's a lot of culinary interest in down home cooking and Southern popular culture. How much would the menu deviate from authentic menu items and methods? What aspects would be hyped? Cutting to the chase: I would definitely return.

Two tables of Boston Brunchers were greeted with small plates of a watermelon, cucumber and fresh goat cheese salad. Refreshing, cool, and crisp, this salad was the lightweight among the rest of the brunch dishes. I would have eaten this course halfway through or at end of the meal, as a palate cleanser of sorts.
Next came a variety of pickles: green beans, carrots, onions, and broccoli. Crunchy, tangy, and sour vegetables were a nice foil to the Scotch eggs - quail eggs wrapped in sausage covered in bread crumbs and deep fried.

A chicken biscuit covered in gravy can be found on the "vittles" section of the menu. We learned that the chicken nugget is made at M3; this juicy piece of meat shouldn't be modified, exceptional only to be made better with gravy and a homemade biscuit. The light coating of gravy nappes the sandwich ever so slightly.

One dish that needs a touch of seasoning is the fried chicken and waffles. The chicken breading needed some salt and pepper. I'm not sure if the intention of the breading was a sweet application to match with the sweet waffle and fruit, but without the salt and pepper, the breading tasted like funnel cake batter. The pieces of chicken were golden brown and delicious. I happily tore apart the meat with my hands.

Next on the list of carb-heavy brunch dishes was a plate of blueberry and lemon ricotta pancakes.  Because of the seating arrangements at the table, fellow blogger Erin and I got to split a plate of these cakes. Caught between feeling stuffed and "just have one bite", we took a few bites and agreed it was a solid breakfast stand-by.

Last but not least, we wondered what would end the meal. Plates of French toast and chocolate dipped bacon appeared on the tables. The thick pieces of toast were coated in cinnamon bran, dipped in an egg wash, and cooked on a griddle. Apple butter syrup, fresh berries, and big pieces of chocolate covered bacon topped the toast. It's breakfast and dessert on one plate. I tasted the bacon and could taste more chocolate than salty pork. Not for me, but I would imagine its a popular dish for the enthusiastic bacon lovers of the world.
And what is brunch without beverages: I was triple-fisting with a Mickey Mouse mug of coffee, a mini Bloody Mary (pickles, M3 tomato mix, and aquavit), and a mimosa (Prosecco, pomegranate, orange juice, and a cube of pickled watermelon).

M3's dinner menu offers frog legs, fried green tomatoes, shrimp and grits, and catfish. Main entrees include three sides; the sides that sound most appealing to me are peach cornbread and the pimento cheese fries.

Y'all come back now.
*Thank you to M3 for providing the food and drinks at no charge to the Boston Brunchers.*

San Francisco Sights

wine flight before redeye flight to Boston

I definitely left my stomach in San Francisco; everything from wine to pizza to salted caramel ice cream to crudo to a mortadella hot dog. And, there are many places I didn't get to on my list.

 salted caramel + strawberry balsamic: Bi-Rite Creamery in the Mission

menu + refreshing hibiscus drink: Nopalito

Omnivore Books: tiny shop full of cookbooks, old and new

Boccalone in the Ferry Building: Chris Constantino's shop devoted to tasty pig parts

Tasting menu + wine pairings: Commonwealth in the Mission

Pot and Pantry: store sells gently used high end kitchen gear and offers recreational food classes

Marin County/San Rafael Farmers Market: 3rd largest market in California

B Street Newton Brunch

In March I visited B Street Newton with Renee and Lara. The best thing we ate was B Street's turkey chili as noted in Renee's review. Because it was featured on the winter menu, I crossed my fingers in hopes that it would be featured on the recent Boston Brunchers tasting menu.
Alas, the chili was absent from the menu, but that meant trying many other items.  Eight brunchers were treated to a variety of summer menu tastes. Rose sangria (lots of fruit, but the rose was not punched up enough) and bloody Mary's (slightly spicy) kicked off the brunch. 

First courses were shared and included a potato flatbread pizza with fried eggs and bacon; hanger steak and scrambled egg quesadilla; feta and spinach phyllo tart; challah French toast with apples. All of these courses were well prepared, tasted delicious, but did not leave me overly impressed.   
Feeling like we could stopped eating after the first courses, I split the hangover burger with Liz from Eating Places; similar to other restaurant menus, the burger came on a grilled English muffin with bacon and a fried egg and roasted potato wedges on the side. We slid the egg off the burger due to previous first courses involving eggs. Might just be a personal preference, but I think the fried egg and bacon combo on everything has run its course. 
As a surprise to the group, the pastry chef made several seasonal fruit desserts. The strawberry rhubarb crumble with ice cream was a hit at the table. Sweet and sour flavors prove how this combination is a favorite. 
B Street Newton prefers to adjust it's menu with the season. Having an ever-changing menu keeps customers interested and curious about what is coming next.  

neighborhood destination, I would recommend dining at B Street if in the Newton area; its convenient to the Green D line (Newton Centre stop).

The brunch was provided free of charge, and the opinions are my own. Thanks to Boston Brunchers and B Street Newton's owner and staff for the meal.

Breakfast Sandwich with Avocado

The breakfast sandwich is a hot item these days. Cafes, restaurants, and food trucks have one on their menus and each claims to be the best. While I have my favorites (here's looking at you Cutty's, Clover, and Area Four), I like the lazy freedom of making one at home whenever I want.

This sandwich comes together fast, so be prepared. Get your coffee, tea, OJ, or Diet Coke (hey, no judgement) ready, toast the bread, slice the cheese and avocado. While the eggs cook, don't leave the kitchen to check your email or send a tweet (except to say you are making a breakfast sandwich at home) because the eggs will overcook faster than you can say "Instagram isn't working! How will I capture this gastronomic moment?"

Breakfast Sandwich

inspired/adapted by Deb/Smitten Kitchen
yield: 1

1 sliced Brioche roll, English muffin, or 2 pieces of bread
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 egg
Black pepper and Kosher salt
1 tsp water
thin slices of avocado and white cheddar cheese
dashes of hot sauce (optional)

Get your breakfast drink of choice in progress.

Heat your broiler or toaster. Place the pieces of bread under the broiler (or in the toaster) until lightly toasted. Watch the bread carefully to avoid burning.

Heat a 9 inch nonstick skillet on medium low heat. Break the egg into a small dish and using a fork, beat the egg with the water and season with a pinch of salt and several grinds of black pepper.

Melt butter in the pan. Pour in the egg and roll it around so the egg covers the pan like a crepe. The egg will cook in about 60-90 seconds; the edge will be firm when prodded with a fork or small spatula.

Fold the "side" of the egg nearest to you (similar to folding a letter). Repeat this action on the three remaining egg "sides"; you should end up with something resembling a square.

Leave the folded egg square in the skillet to cook for another 30 seconds, then slide onto one piece of bread. Add slices of avocado and cheese. Before topping with the other piece of bread, add a few dashes of hot sauce.

Eat immediately.

Lunch at Ducali with Cookbook Author Crescent Dragonwagon

I recently joined a small group of Boston Bruncher bloggers to have lunch and conversation with the noted and published author Crescent Dragonwagon.  The setting was Ducali, a casual Italian restaurant in the North End. Crescent's publisher, Workman, graciously sent each blogger a copy of her latest cookbook, Bean by Bean.  The book is divided into chapters by season and includes everything from appetizers to desserts (yes, beans can be used in sweet preparations).  She gives helpful hints for bean storage, soaking, and the always interesting historical background of bean varieties.  Conversation with Crescent and her husband, David (an accomplished writer and photographer) ranged from her thoughts on creative writing to starting a writer's colony in Arkansas to her favorite beans,

Bean by Bean was a book four years in the making.  Crescent is no stranger to the lengthy writing process as she has published 50 books in her career.  She has a children's book called All the Awake Animals coming out in the Fall of 2012.  To Crescent, "the best part of writing is the writing". She encouraged writers (especially young writers) to write across genres, Another key takeaway was to find your voice in every story.  Crescent leads creative writing workshops that encourages writers to do just that.

All of the bloggers commented on Crescent's warmth, perspective, and humor. She can be reached via Twitter as @cdragonwagon

All this talk about the cookbook and writing was served up alongside pizzas and salad.

Our first course was carciofi (broiled artichoke) served with homemade garlic aioli.

The baby spinach salad with goat cheese and dried cranberries was enjoyed by all, as evidenced by these almost clean plates.

We tried three pizzas, all vegetarian.

Spinaci fresh mozzarella, garlic and spinach, topped with black pepper and Romano cheese.

The rugola, a mozzarella topped with arugula, drizzled with truffle oil and topped with shaved Parmesan cheese. The chunks of cheese were salty and irresistible especially with the drops of truffle oil.

Grilled eggplant, mushroom, zucchini and mozzarella topped with fresh goat cheese.

Ducali (@ducali on Twitter) is located along the northern border of the North End out of the fray of Hanover Street.  The restaurant's name comes from the nickname of a soccer team in Parma.
Blogger's note: Lunch was provided free of charge by Ducali and the cookbook was also provided by Workman Publishing.

Ceia Kitchen & Bar: Boston Brunchers visit Newburyport

Spending a Monday morning at brunch isn't a typical occurrence, but when a holiday falls on a Monday, making brunch plans is a nice option.  Boston Brunchers organized a day time road trip to Ceia Kitchen and Bar in Newburyport, MA.  Ceia opened in the summer of 2011 and has received high praise from local and national media. 

Located in this charming Northshore town, Ceia garnered the attention of the Boston Globe and earned a mention on the newspaper's list of "best new restaurants of 2011".  Wine Spectator also named Ceia in its issue featuring the "2011 best restaurant wine lists in the world".  With a list featuring 120 bottles, the owner, Nancy Batista-Caswell, knows the importance of training her staff on the finer points of wine service.  Nancy recently spoke about her management practices in the January 2012 issue of Restaurant Management Magazine.

The word Ceia means “supper” in Portuguese, and the restaurant's menu reflects flavors from Spain, Italy, and Portugal. The brunch menu featured four courses with a cocktail with the first course and dessert wine to conclude. 
St. Germain 75
Oyster escabeche
Cold smoked asparagus with mache and mozzarella
Poached eggs, linguica and potato hash with Bernaise
Raspberry and Coconut Pain Perdu with a late harvest Sauvignon Blanc from Casablanca, Chile

Thank you to Nancy and her team for opening the restaurant early for the group.  This enjoyable meal was provided to Boston Brunchers free of charge by Ceia; writing a review was not a requirement to attend.

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Local Uncorked Wine Dinner-Local 149

Thanks to a gracious invitation from Boston Food Bloggers and Local 149, I joined three other Boston food bloggers at Local 149's first "local uncorked" wine dinner.  Wines were paired by Ruby Wines, Inc, a local distributor.

As the web site says, the restaurant is a neighborhood joint located in the Citypoint section of South Boston.  Known for pickling, smoking and curing their ingredients and sourcing from local farms, the event proved to be a delicious winter dinner.  The pairings were smart matches that highlighted the dominate elements of the food and wine.  The pairings that seemed to work the best were the Chenin Blanc and winter salad (smoky aromas worked well with the bleu cheese and roasted beets) and the Sancerre and codfishwich sandwich (acidity that cut through the fried fish and cheddar cheese).  All of the tables feature chalkboard tabletops and a small dish of colorful pieces of chalk.  It was easy to keep track of what wine belonged to which glass!

Nice tableside chats throughout the evening were made by the bar manager, Chris, and Chef Leah Dubois.  It is always a treat to speak with the team managing the restaurant and hearing their influences behind the menu. 

The evening's menu:

Graham Beck Demi-Sec Punch (lime grapefruit, Gin, elderflower, and rooibos chai)

Local and regional selection of unreleased cheeses and meats

2009 Graham Beck Chenin Blanc (South Africa)

Winter salad with roasted and pickled beets, smooth blue and caramel corn

2008 Lucien Crochet Sancerre (Loire Valley)

Smoked codfishwich with porter cheddar

2008 or 2009 Owen Roe "Sinister Hand" (grenache/syrah/mourvedre/counoise) (Washington State)

Burgundy braised beef short ribs manchego pomme puree, apricot jam and crystallized pistachios

Ferreira Porto, Vintage 2000

Westfield Farms Chocolate Goat Cheese Cake

Portland of the East Coast

Portland, ME is an easy day trip from Boston.  Portland offers a casual vibe with plenty of restaurants, cafes, shops, and seagulls.

Here is a list of recommended places to eat, see, and shop; all of this was accomplished (plus strolling) in five hours

Portland Lobster Company
Bard Coffee
Coffee by Design
Stonewall Kitchen
Rabelais (culinary bookstore)
LeRoux Kitchen
Monument Square Farmer's Market

Boston Brunchers First Birthday Party at Island Creek Oyster Bar

Its been quite a long time since I have attended a one year old's birthday party; its been even longer since attending TWO first birthdays on the same day.  Such occasion celebrated the first birthdays for Island Creek Oyster Bar and Boston Brunchers. Forty bloggers, brunch enthusiasts, and food folks convened to catch up, meet new friends, and snap pictures of delicious food.  Its always enjoyable to meet the faces that pair with the blogs and Twitter handles.

Oysters await their shucking.
A "regular" bloody mary.
Cocktails before noon. This is brunch.
ICOB's house-made pasteries.

My brunch pick: bagel, smoked salmon, chive cream cheese, pea greens

Special thanks to Renee Hirschberg, founder of Boston Brunchers, for planning the event and converging social media with brunch. And a big thanks to the sponsors for their generosity, especially Island Creek Oyster Bar for hosting.  I look forward to visiting Dorado Tacos & Cemitas to use my winning door prize gift certificate.  Here's a peek into a previous Boston Bruncher's meal at Dorado in February.