If you love fish, August is your month. Last night at Rendezvous in Central Square, which was very crowded and lively, I ate halibut ceviche with ripe avocado while my companions dined on spicy bluefish cakes, then came the entrees: grilled fresh tuna Nicoise and striped bass in a broth flavored with olive pistou. What food! Owner Steve Johnson is offering a prix-fixe menu for $36, which is a big bargain for this quality.
On the phone today, Johnson told me that since he isn't participating in restaurant week, he wanted to offer a comparable menu. He thinks he's so busy in the middle of the summer because of a Boston magazine award and a spread in the September issue of Bon Appetit.
But standing at the door last night, he looked tan and rested. He's been fishing, he said. In fact, he had caught his own bluefish, cleaned it, and it formed the basis of his delectable bluefish cakes.
A friend just had to tell me about her lunch at Restaurant L, in Louis Boston, where chef Pino Maffeo has garnered great national and local kudos. Unfortunately, it wasn't a happy tale.
On this weekday lunch, the fried calamari wasn't crisp; the melon (in the glory of melon season) wasn't ripe, and salad greens were limp and actually brown. The waiter took the calamari off the bill, but as anyone who loves fine food knows, that never compensates for the disappointment.
If the kitchen can't put out the same deliciousness time after time, meal after meal, food lovers won't come back. Consistency ensures regulars.
The "Joy of Cooking," with 500 new recipes, is being reissued this fall. Apparently, "The All New Joy of Cooking," which came out in 1997, sold over 1,600,000 copies (two were to me: one for my home kitchen and one for my desk at work). This newest version promises sections on crock pot cooking, recipes with canned broth, tuna casserole with real cream of mushroom soup (the last version used a bechamel sauce!), and drinks with alcohol. The 1997 gem, which had none of this, has never been missing anything I've ever looked up.
Scribner's is spending $500,000 on marketing and the promotion material I received includes these recipes: chicken and sweet potato fricassee, turkey cassoulet, spicy seafood stew, vegetarian chili, and hearty meat ragu. You have to wonder if they're doing another version because the world needs a new Joy or their bottom line does.
Today I talked to Michael Leviton of Lumiere in West Newton about Restaurant Week, for this segment on NECN's "The Globe at Home" show. Michael threw together a gorgeous Middle Eastern salad (above) and scooped some tangy and smooth fromage blanc sorbet onto a blueberry crisp. The best part: Producer Laura Campbell and I got to eat it.
It doesn't take many years of writing about restaurants to understand how precarious the business is. Restaurant A is replaced by Restaurant B within two years or so, and then by Restaurant C the next year. And on and on.
So the news that the Union Oyster House was celebrating its 180th birthday today is amazing. The restaurant, which opened in 1826 when the United States was age 50, is the oldest continuously serving eatery in America. Sitting at the time-worn wooden counter watching the rapid-fire shuckers at work, you can almost feel the history rolling past.
Joe Milano and his family, who own the Union Oyster House, threw a party today -- a birthday cake for the public and a concert featuring the Lettermen (no, they're not quite that old). Those of us who didn't make the festivities will just have to go and slurp some oysters to cheer on a restaurant that beat the odds.
Just in time to prove that the SNL sketch I posted yesterday about "Taco Town" isn't that far from the truth, today I got an email from Uno Chicago Grill (the former Pizzeria Uno) about the unveiling of their latest "fusion": a bacon cheeseburger pizza. Hamburger, bacon, cheese, and tomatoes on a pizza are one thing, but ketchup and mustard and pickles? I'll pass.
About a dozen years ago, I bought my first home, the little house I live in now. It felt so grand and when I walked along the street, I knew I was smiling. One day soon after moving in, my son and I were out and about and ran into a lively neighbor named Rosella Kurkjian. Mrs. Kurkjian passed away last week. At the time, I didn't know her, but I knew that she was the mother of a Globe reporter. She insisted we come inside.
At her kitchen table, she fed us. Cheoreg, Armenian sweet rolls, were still warm on the counter. She insisted we taste her homemade yogurt. She wrapped up food for us to take home. "Stop by and say hello," she instructed us, and to my son, "I always bake. Ring the doorbell when you come home from school."
He did! And I stopped often to say hello; her greeting was always so warm. Certainly there are women all over Boston neighborhoods who are like Mrs. Kurkjian. But I had never met one. I drive by her house and it seems sad that the lights are out.
A friend dropped off a little present today, a plastic container of rusty brown objects. The label, in Spanish, advertises that the contents are chapurrines, and there is a helpful little row of green grasshoppers along the attractive lettering to help you understand what's inside. It doesn't take translation to figure out what we have here -- grasshoppers dehydrated and ready for eating. Traditional to Oaxaca, the label indicates. Salt and lime have been added, it reads.
Well, these come via Jim Fahey, the chef of Forest Cafe in Cambridge who recently returned from Mexico. He gave them to the friend who passed them on to me. The hoppers are a delicacy, I'm sure, but eating them?? I'll have to ponder that long and hard.
Friday night, when I dashed home to make brownies and a chocolate chip cake for Saturday's family reunion, I looked at the clock, did the math (I'm hopeless at this except when it comes to baking), and redid the baking plans. Instead, I made congo bars from my mother's longtime co-worker Millie Corbett (I can make them with my eyes closed), something like these. As soon as they came out of the oven, in went a yogurt pound cake. I pulled that out of the oven near midnight.
The next day was easy, and did go according to plan. Before we left home, we browned a couple dozen tortillas stuffed with Jack cheese for quesadillas, then reheated them at the reunion. We flattened chickens for the grill and dropped them into zipper bags with oil and salt and pepper, then put together a huge salad of chopped tomatoes, cukes, green pepper, and scallions. I even had time to fit in an early morning Body Pump class.
Our hosts, my generous and fun-loving brother and sister-in-law, set out a tent, fired the grill, threw dozens of flotation devises in the pool, and made steak tips, tons of hot dogs for the kids, all kinds of snacks, and a handsome fruit salad. We left before dark, but the out-of-towners stayed late, for burgers on the grill, then an evening of card games.
My southern sister Teri is visiting my Maine sister Rebekah this week, and I knew when I went up over the weekend that one of the first things I had to ask her about would be coconut cake. When I interviewed novelist Julia Glass recently about the role that food (and baking particularly) plays in her books, she confessed that even though coconut cake plays a central part in her new one, "The Whole World Over," she hasn't found a good recipe for one. So we asked readers to send them in to the message board, but by and large those so far haven't met my definition of this very Southern confection.
Knowing that Teri makes it often at holidays, I put the question to her. She didn't miss a beat. "Well, I don't have my recipe on me, but it's a 1-2-3-4 cake in four layers filled with lemon curd and covered in seven-minute frosting and coconut." Exactly, I said -- and what is a 1-2-3-4 cake again?
It's a buttery, fluffy sponge cake; seven-minute frosting is a sweet soft meringue. We found the recipe for both, plus lemon curd, in "The Joy of Cooking," made it to cap off a lobster dinner, and it was a hit. It would've been even better if we had made the curd a day or even two earlier so it would have set thicker, providing more structure for the cake, but its tartness nicely cut the sweetness. When we ate leftovers on day 2, I spooned on extra curd.
If you don't have "Joy," this version is pretty close, although we didn't use coconut milk (or buttermilk) in the batter. For the cake layers themselves, Paula Deen's recipe is classic.