Thursday, June 15, 2006

East Side Bar & Grille - Future Favorite Spot of East Cambridge Residents

A new neighborhood bar/restaurant, East Side Bar & Grille, just opened in East Cambridge and its mission is to serve the neighborhood with great food, a nice but non-pretentious atmosphere, fantastic cocktails and a nice beer selection.

I think Proprietor Christopher Kosinski is on to something. One step through the door and I felt like this is the kind of place that's going to have a good following of "regulars." There's a welcoming bar to the right and some nice high round tables and chairs to the left if you want a little more elbow room when you dine in the bar area. The bar is light wood as opposed to the dark Irish pub-like dark wood you typically encounter in a bar. It's nice. Lightens up the space. It's a great place to while away the afternoon or evening watching the Sox game. The restaurant is in the back. It's painted "Tuscan Red" according to Chris. He actually knew the Benjamin Moore paint color. Impressive. Chris himself is a reason for people to come back. He's a local. Born and bred in East Cambridge. And really committed to providing the community with a great place to hang out. He worked for the city for many years so people know him well. He has pictures on the wall of the restaurant of him with different celebs he rubbed elbows with at the DNC (Democratic National Convention), one of which is Cambridge's own Ben Affleck. Apparently Chris went to high school with Ben and refuses to see any of his movies due to jealousy. Bitter with a sense of humor. Important qualities for running a successful restaurant.

In terms of the menu, there's a wide array of options from open-faced sandwiches to salads and pastas. You'll find a lot of classics such as artichoke dip and chicken wings too. Something for everyone. I ordered the Steak Bomb minus the sausage (I even have my limits). When's the last time you saw a Steak Bomb on a menu that wasn't in a greasy pizza take-out joint or ate one that didn't sit like a bomb in your stomach? Perhaps never? Well you're in for a treat then. The East Side Bar & Grille's Open-Faced Steak Bomb is, well, d'bomb. The meat is marinated for 24 hours. It is so tender. Might be the best steak tips I have ever had. The onions and peppers are grilled to perfection — not too soft, not too crunchy. My lunch companion had the dinner version of the Steak Tips which she also was very fond of. Her lunch came with a salad. Good deal.

The margaritas are top notch. And while the beer wasn't flowing from the taps yet (it was only day 4 of the restaurant being open), Chris assured me that they will have a nice selection.

I look forward to returning to the East Side Bar & Grille, sampling some of the other menu items, and taking in a Sox game now and again. We need more of these great places in our neighborhoods.

East Side Bar & Grille
561 Cambridge Street, East Cambridge (mid-way between Inman Square and the Cambridgeside Galleria), Cambridge, MA
617.661.EAST (3278)

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Cha Fahn - A Dining Oasis in Jamaica Plain

One step off busy Centre Street in Jamaica Plain into tranquil Cha Fahn and you immediately begin to feel your shoulders relax, your mind stop racing and your cares fade away. Cha Fahn is a lovely tea house. The design combines both traditional furnishings with modern accents and artwork. They have the most amazing chairs I have ever seen or sat in. The backs of these chairs must be seven feet tall (see photo below). You'll find countless teas from China, Japan and England. Hot and iced. Black, white, green and herbal. And some amazing bubble tea flavors - taro root anyone? In addition to the wonderful teas, Cha Fahn offers fine food with complex layered flavors, artfully presented.

The tea menu was so immense I started to glaze over. Luckily my sister had been there twice before and helped me focus. While she and my other sister opted for the hot anti-oxidant packed Rooibos Green Tea, I was intrigued by the Taro Pearl Green Tea, an absolutely delicious cold bubble tea. The tapioca in the bottom were Taiwanese black pearls (tapioca made with yams). Sound weird? It's not - at all. So good.

The lunch menu had so many options we were interested in, including many items that featured tea as an ingredient. So in true Lynne style, we ordered a bit of everything starting with Lapsang Souchong Black Bean Soup. Frankly, I would have been happy if that's all we had. Perfectly seasoned, surprisingly light and a little lemony.

Next, Pork & Shrimp Su Mei arrived at the table. Very homemade tasting and nicely garnished with a pea on top of each serving. Many Tea Sandwiches are on the menu and can be purchased in sampler sizes of 3 ($9), 4 ($12) or 5 ($15). You actually get two of each so if you plan on ordering other things, the order of 3 will be enough. Each sandwich is served open-faced on a French baguette slice which enables you to see all the pretty, colorful ingredients. We ordered the way-above-average Egg Salad with Red Onion; Shrimp with Cucumber and Curry Spread; and Goat Cheese with Apricot Preserves, Ginger and Mint. I think I liked the latter the best because the flavor combination was such a pleasant surprise. I immediately thought I should serve something like this at my next cocktail party. What a great array of flavors.
What I consider to be the piece de resistance arrived next. Pan-roasted Beef and Noodles in a Broth of Soy Citrus, Chinese Herbs and Pu-erh Tea (pictured at the top of the page). The beef was clearly slow-cooked and just fell apart. Amazing. Unlike other beef stews, this soup was light and left you feeling pleasantly full not overstuffed.

My sister insisted we leave room for dessert. We all know there's always room for that. We sampled (who am I kidding, ate) Ginger Spice Tea Cake and a special, a Berry Almond Tart. The Ginger cake was the winner hands down. There are chunks of spicy candied ginger in almost every bite. If you love ginger, you must try this cake.

I can't think of a better place to go to decompress, dine and catch up with friends and family. Next time you need to chill out, head out to Cha Fahn. Make it a long lunch or leisurely dinner. You deserve it.

Cha Fahn, 763 Centre Street, Jamaica Plain, MA, 617.983.3575
Lunch & Afternoon Tea: Tuesday - Sunday starting at 11:30am
Dinner: Tuesday - Sunday starting at 5pm

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Rice Pudding-loved round the world

Click image for a closer look.

Rice. Milk. Sugar. These are staples of kitchens around the world. And the main ingredients of one of the most popular desserts in the world - Rice Pudding. Most of us probably grew up eating some form of rice pudding for dessert, usually a result of leftover rice from last night's dinner. It's cheap. It's easy. It's economical. And it's delicious.

Not to toot my own ethnicity's horn or anything but the Portuguese make a mean rice pudding (try Atasca's version) as do the Spanish and Venezuelans. Some versions are more creamy, others have lemon zest, still others are spiked with rum. Serve it warm or chilled, with or without cinnamon on top. They're all good. Perfect comfort food. Here's one of the many millions of recipes out there. It's a good one. What's yours?



• 5 cups whole milk
• 2/3 cup white rice
• 1/2 cup sugar
• 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise or 1 tsp vanilla extract
• 1 tsp orange zest
• 2 tsp dark rum
• Cinnamon for sprinkling on top
• Fresh fruit to top off rice pudding (blueberries, raspberries, whatever you like - this is optional)

How to:

1. Pour the milk and rice into a saucepan with a heavy bottom.
2. Scrape in the seeds from the vanilla bean and add the bean. Or, add the vanilla extract.
3. Bring the mixture to a boil (stir often to ensure rice doesn't stick to the bottom or burn).
4. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer until the rice is tender, stirring often, about 20 minutes.
5. Mix in the sugar, rum and orange zest. Discard the vanilla bean.
6. Cook until the mixture thickens, about 5 minutes longer.
7. Spoon the rice pudding into a casserole dish or individual ramekins.
8. Sprinkle cinnamon on top.
9. Refrigerate for several hours. Or, if you are going to serve within a couple of hours and would prefer the rice pudding warm or at room temperature, just let cool a bit on the counter.
10. Before serving, top the rice pudding with some fresh blueberries or raspberries (optional).

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Overripe Bananas? Make Yummy Muffins.

How many times have you tossed out bananas because you didn't quite get to them before they turned brown and tasted, well, funky? Next time that happens to you, toss the bananas into muffin batter instead of into the trash. Overripe bananas make the most delicious muffins. Throw in some walnuts, top each muffin off with a raspberry and you have a real treat for breakfast. Muffins are incredibly easy to make. You can make the batter in minutes and they only take between 15-20 minutes to bake. Feel free to go bananas and add blueberries, blackberries, and/or any kind of nuts you want. You can't go wrong. Here's my recipe if you want to try. Enjoy.

Raspberry Banana Nut Muffins

• 2 large overripe bananas
• 3/4 cup sugar
• 1 tsp baking soda
• 1 tsp baking powder
• 1/2 tsp salt
• 1-1/2 cup flour
• 1/3 cup melted butter
• A dozen or so raspberries
• 1/4 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

How to:
1. Mash the bananas with a wooden spoon.
2. Mix in the sugar and slightly beaten egg.
3. Add the melted butter. Blend.
4. Add all the dry ingredients and stir until well mixed. Fold in walnuts.
5. Put liners in a muffin tin and fill each liner 3/4 of the way up.
6. Plop one raspberry on top of each muffin (you can fold them into the batter but I like having the one on top for esthetics and so they don't get squashed). Having that burst of raspberry flavor in the muffin is really great. I wouldn't leave it out.
7. Bake for 15- 20 minutes (when top of cupcakes are brown, muffins are done).