Saturday, May 10, 2008

 

For those Keeping Track

For those keeping track of such things, I've switched my bloggings over to http://www.growcookeat.com/

See you there!

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Thursday, April 27, 2006

 

Springtime at the Summer Shack

When Frank left the Summer Shack, the eponymous sports bar became part of the Restaurant. Vinny has taken over and created a convivial atmosphere, as regulars come in to enjoy fresh oysters and a pint of beer. He greets every guest by name and always knows what they’re drinking. He also chatted with me, no doubt the next time I return, I will be a regular welcomed with a friendly “hello.”

The Summer Shack is not a restaurant I typically dine at alone, but on this night, as I cozied up to the bar to eat a clam roll and watch the Red Sox game, I felt quite at home. I was pleased to discover that the spinach salad had returned to the menu – fresh baby spinach with Maine shrimp, hard boiled egg, radish and bacon. It is the perfectly, balanced meal. And with the doughy, soft rolls, dinner is complete. Of course, a trip to the Summer Shack is not complete without some fried seafood or a lobster roll. So I ordered the clam roll. The bellies are full and sweet, the strips are just slightly chewy, and with a squeeze of lemon they are still crispy and balanced with flavor. The bread is superfluous, though it is perfectly toasted with a slight glisten of butter.

A few stools down were two gentlemen enjoying several dozen raw oysters, a selection from the bountiful offerings: Wellfleet (harvested by Pat Woodbury of Pat’s Clams fame), Malpeque and Kumomotos (a small intensely flavored oyster, briny and sweet). They were discussing production for the next few episodes of This Old House for PBS. They seemed engaged in conversation and work, but also adventurous eaters that might enjoy a Random App of Kindness. To them, I sent the Crispy Pan Fried Skate with Soba Noodle Salad. I had wanted this dish for myself, but with no one to share with, and the yen for fried clams, I decided to send to the gentlemen instead. Vinny was so good; he announced when he delivered the dish “You have just received a Random App of Kindness.” The recipients queried if it had come from the kitchen, but when the realized it came from a diner, they just enjoyed and did not ask more questions.

I would have been curious to learn more about their work, but they seemed busy and not wanting intrusion. So I let them enjoy their gift while I continued to watch the game.

As I continue to send Random Apps with New friends, the debate has surfaced as to whether the sender should acknowledge the gift. Some say no, as this takes away from the randomness and the spirit of giving. Others say yes, it’s a lovely way to connect with strangers and meet new people in a non-threatening way. What do you think?

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

 

Guest Random App at Match

Michael sends us the latest tale of Random-Apping… from a dining adventure we shared together last night

The Sonsie set has moved it down the block, populating Match, the successful reinvention of the funky space formerly known as the Blue Cat Café. The restaurant’s centerpiece is a dramatic fire “feature” in the wall of the main dining room, whose border of mosaics dapples the light, reflecting off the onyx walls. The tables are white, the placemats leather, and at the bar I could imagine a certain doe-eyed celebutante, sipping her fruity-tini and extending her 15 minutes of fame by dropping the ultimate compliment, “That’s hot…”

And what if you’re a mere reader, not a feature, of Us magazine? Well, Match has plenty to offer us too. Julia and I spent a very enjoyable evening eating, gossiping, and indulging her favorite act of supper sociology, the random app. of kindness. Match is the ideal setting for all three activities with a menu that equally balances cocktails on one page and appetizer-appropriate dishes on the other. While the menu does offer heartier fare such as a 10 oz filet, roast chicken, and pasta, its focus is its small plates, perfect for sharing, natch…

Spoiled for choices, we picked from their appetizer, mini-burger and side sections, over looking the main courses. The extremely attentive staff first served up the ginger glazed chicken satay. The chicken was cooked perfectly, delicious and moist, an impressive achievement. While the glaze was decidedly spiked with fresh ginger, it overwhelmed the unusually delicate and airy peanut sauce. Still, not bad, we both agreed.

Round two brought our trio of burgers on brioche- lobster, lamb, and sausage, accompanied by smoky asparagus swaddled in creamy procsiutto and a stack of thick cut onion rings. What do you do with such choice? Start with the lobster of course! Creamy on the inside, crisp on the outside, the lobster burger could have been mistaken for a crab cake, but who doesn’t like crab cakes? I wanted to super-size another. The sausage burger, a miniaturized version of the hangover-curing pepper and onion sausage sub, was probably too cute for its own good. How such a small burger could be so heavy was a mystery, but the crisp onion chow topping had the right flavor. And the lamb burger? To use such an un-interesting adjective as “interesting” to describe it is probably a cop-out, but hey, its flavor was interesting. Gamey and complimented by its Persian feta topping, a mini-burger was just the right size.

The asparagus was a carnivore’s delight; beautiful, perfectly cooked and, we imagined, grilled inches from the burgers and steaks given their aggressive smoky flavor. The procsiutto wrapping them was a decent foil, tender, lean and not too salty. Falling short, though, were the thick onion rings, served with BBQ sauce. Both Julia and I would have preferred a thinner, lighter version.

So moments after we had settled in to our dinner, we scanned the room to find that night’s random app recipients. The dining room was built for couples in mind, so we chose an attractive young two-some, who, we imagined were on their first date, surprising them with the mushroom pizza. Never having done this before, I joined Julia on her side of the table so we could discreetly watch the scene play out. When their unexpected pizza arrived, they looked a bit confused, but when the waiter explained, they gamely tucked in, high-five-ing each other for being so lucky. Not a crumb was left, so it looks like the thin crust pie was a winner. After dinner, they stopped by to offer enthusiastic thanks and promised to “pay it forward” the next time they went out to eat. Julia and I imagined our random app was a harbinger of unexpected good things in their future.

Monday, April 03, 2006

 

East Coast Thrill

My friend Maya was eager to try giving a random app of kindness. After all the stories, the experience sounded like more fun than she was willing to pass on. So we trotted over to East Coast Grill for an evening of lively conversation, delightful food and a little bit of kindness. East Coast Grill creates the perfect mix of casual dining and special occasion – with a menu ranging from BBQ to fabulously fresh fish.

We sat down at 6:30; an older couple sitting next to us, was already enjoying appetizers. They were celebrating her birthday. They dine at their at least 3 times a year… for her birthday, for his and for their anniversary. In fact they just celebrated 45 years! We talked about the restaurant, the food business and their children.

A few minutes later, a mother daughter couple sat down several tables over. We decided that they should receive a random app. We sent the #1 Tuna with Tostones and Avocado that we were already enjoying: perfectly creamy avocados tossed with cubes of super-fresh, raw tuna, seasoned with chilies salt and lime. The tostones, crispy twice fried plantains were perfect for scooping up.

The waiter brought over their dish and they nodded and said thanks. No curiosity, no amusement. They returned to their conversation and laughter. Maya couldn’t resist finding out how the story ended so she walked over to their table. The daughter was visiting the mother from Ireland. Apparently, in Ireland people send free appetizers all the time, so it did not seem unusual to them.

We continued our meal with a Greek salad: a brighter version of the classic dish, with roasted grapes and savory pita crisps. The grilled Bluefish was served with Roasted Sweet Potatoes and wilted Kale, a piquant sauce drizzled around the edge.

As we were leaving, the birthday couple was enjoying key lime pie and a chocolate torte… compliments from the restaurant in celebration of life and giving. I guess it was just that sort of night.

Monday, March 27, 2006

 

Receive a Random App while giving Kindness

Now in its 19th year, Taste of the Nation is the ultimate Random App of Kindness. The concept is simple: bring together the finest wineries and local restaurants for one night and hold a gala tasting. For the cost of a meal out, you can sample random appetizers from 50 local restaurants and sip wine from around the globe. Taste of the Nation is the preeminent culinary fundraiser supporting the fight to end hunger. One hundred percent of ticket sales go directly towards ending hunger locally and globally.

The event supports one of Julia's favorite charities, Share Our Strength, and it's coming to Boston on April 6, and to many other cities throughout the year. Even if you can't attend, you can always donate or volunteer for Share or Strength or other hunger-fighting organizations in your area. Perhaps we'll see you there.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

 

A Thought Experiment

Brasserie Poste, the latest in the trendy D.C. dining scene, takes its name from the landmark building that houses it: the old General Post Office Building. With grand columns, marble floors and high ceiling, the main bar is dramatic, but a smaller dining room in the back offers a cozier ambiance.

I arrived several minutes earlier, which was good since the cab dropped my off by the side entrance. Through a regal doorway, into a courtyard that would provide extra seating in the warmer months, I approached a door. Peering in, I saw three women sitting at a table right inside the door. It seemed this could not be the main door, yet walking around I saw no other options. So I entered, and apologized for the draft I created. Immediately, one woman noticed my shoes: Luc Berjen, sold in Boston at my favorite shoe store, Cuoio. She had bought the same pair in London. And so the conversation began. They cleared off a seat and suggested I join them for a drink. Of course, I obliged since it was clear we already had so much in common. My new friends epitomized the diversity of Washington: a black, divorced woman approaching her 60th birthday, a single white woman, probably in her mid-thirties and a married, child-free woman in her mid-50s, married to an Indian man. They know each other through work, as research librarians for AARP. And as it turns out, they also know the one librarian I know. Many stories later, my dining companions arrive and I left my new friends. I had hoped to send them a Random App of Kindness, but by the time I had a chance to sneak away to read a menu they had gone.

I would have sent them the Hamachi with Grapefruit. Thin slices of perfectly fresh yellowtail topped with sweet grapefruit and cilantro sprouts. The soup of the day was Jerusalem Artichoke with American Caviar. Our server, with cherub cheeks that suggested he may still be in high school, did not know the difference between a Jerusalem artichoke and a plain artichoke and decided it was not important to clarify (a Jerusalem artichoke, also called sunchoke, has no genetic relation to the later. It is the root of the sunflower). The soup did not know the difference between cream and soup: it was thin and bland, and the caviar was not able to create enough sparkle. As my dining companion said, “it’s subtle.”

The Truffle Frite more than made up for the soup. So much so, that we ordered a second basket of the crispy fries perfectly seasoned with truffle oil and salt. The ketchup served on the side was superfluous. The Goat Cheese and Beet Salad was stylishly served with perfectly round slices of red and golden beets, nestled under crisp frisee. The goat cheese created the classic pairing. The Arugula salad was uncomplicated with roasted figs and parmesan.

The Poppy seed Tagliatelle was clearly homemade, but the chef forgot the poppy seeds and also to toss the pasta with sauce or olive oil. It clumped underneath the dry, but flavorful, red wine braised rabbit. The caramelized fennel that accompanied the dish was sweet and chewy, but almost seemed an afterthought. Overall the dish was good, but the execution needed refinement. The Crispy Striped Bass (also called Rockfish to native Washingtonians) was fresh and sweet with briny, crisp capers garnishing. The red wine poached egg created a bistro style dish.

Monday, March 06, 2006

 

Bordeaux to go


Well, not exactly, but I was pleased to note that last week the House and Senate overturned the Governor's veto on a bill that - among other things - allows restaurants to re-cork wine so that diners can take unfinished bottles home.

A word of warning to partial bottle drinkers: not every restaurant has yet acquired the necessary equipment for officially re-corking and sealing the bottle to prevent you getting busted for carrying an open container. Ask before you order that extra bottle for later!

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

 

"Serving up Kindness" in the Herald

Last week, we shared a fun evening - including a Random App, of course - with Mat Schafer of the Boston Herald, and he kindly wrote about it in today's Herald. See how all this kindness can be contagious?
Julia Shanks and David Karp are making the world happier, one plate at a time. Since October, the two friends have been surprising strangers at restaurants with the gift of a free appetizer. They chronicle these “Random Apps of Kindness” on their blog, www.randomappsofkindess.com.

Shanks is chef/owner of Interactive Cuisine, a company that offers corporate team-building through cooking lessons; Karp is a software marketer. When the two go out to dine, they peruse both the menu and their fellow patrons.

To read more, you'll have to buy a copy (or several copies) of the Herald. Or just visit the link above where you can subscribe to Mat's food and dining column via RSS. And while you're at it, make dining out more interactive, break out of your New England shell, and share a Random App of Kindness with a stranger!

 

Cubans at Charles B. and Chez H.

Bukowski’s Tavern, named after the famed writer, has two locations: the original, classic hole in the wall in Boston’s Back Bay, and the more expansive in Inman Square Cambridge. The later serves very good bar food to accompany its 99 bottles of beer on the wall.

Late at night on a cold Tuesday, the bar is rather quiet. With friends Marcus and Jamie, we cozied into a booth. The large selection of beers makes a decision difficult, but the knowledgeable server guided me to the perfect wheat beer with a touch of sweetness.

Between bites of a Cuban Sandwich and a hamburger, we discussed Bukowski’s “Women” and “Men” and new business ideas surrounding music. The Cuban was crispy and pressed with just enough meat and pickles. Probably the best “classic” version this side of the Mason Dixon Line. (Chez Henri’s thicker, heartier and more interesting version bears little resemblance to the classic dish). The fries, perhaps not made in-house, had odd shapes with the skin still on, suggesting homemade.

With the article about Random Apps in the Herald, I shared the story of its beginning. Marcus and Jamie decided it was a fantastic idea, so we continued the tradition. We scanned the room, looking for likely recipients. The crowd was thin, and the only options were a table of two men and a woman, or two women. With a glint in his eyes, Marcus suggested we send the app to the ladies. I nixed the idea, fearful he would use this kind gesture to win a date for Saturday night.

After further discussion, we decided that the random app should be anonymous as well. After much contemplation as to potential food allergies and preferences - are they vegetarian? Lactose intolerant? - we ordered a cheese quesadilla for them. Since we never identified ourselves, we’ll never know for sure if they liked it, but as we cautiously peered over our booth, we could see them nibbling away.

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Cuban Sandwiches (a la Chez Henri)

1 loaf French Baguette
½ cup mayonnaise
1-2 chipotle peppers (soaked in adobo), + 1 tsp. juice, chopped
½ cup diced red onion
2 tbs. fresh cilantro, chopped
1 lb. Pork butt (marinated overnight with juice of 1 orange, 1 lime and 2 cloves of garlic
¼ cup molasses
½ pound smoked ham
1 dill pickle, diced
¼ pound emmenthaler cheese (or gruyere or Swiss), sliced
1 tsp. oil.

1. Make chipotle aioli: Mix mayonnaise, chipotle, all but 2 tbs. red onion, and cilantro. Set aside.

2. Put pork in a roasting pan, and pour molasses on top. Roast pork butt at 325 for 2 hours.

3. Meanwhile, slice ham. Mix pickle with remaining red onion. Slice bread in half.

4. When pork is tender, remove from oven and slice.

5. To assemble: Slice bread in half, and spread mayonnaise on each side. Top with a few slices of pork, ham. Top with pickle mixture and cheese.

6. Put sandwich in a press and grill until the cheese is melted and the bread is crisp.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

 

Are you a Pumpkin Man?

Three nights later, I returned to Sibling Rivalry with my friend Dan, having another late night dinner. Sibling Rivalry has an eclectic mix of Asian, Latin and European Cuisines, the exact type of food I would cook if I had a restaurant. The name is inspired by the fact that two brothers - both chefs - own the restaurant together. The menu is divided into three columns, on the left Chef David and on the right Chef Bob. The middle is a list of common ingredients, each brother preparing a dish with it, creating a little “Sibling Rivalry.”

The dining room was full so we sat in the bar area, but not many people were eating: either they were winding down from an evening at the theatre, or getting a second wind for a night on the town. In fact, the gentleman next to us was drinking a “second wind,” a cocktail of vodka and espresso, or as he told us on his fourth drink, an “eighth wind.” We soon learned John and his friend Andrea were just relaxing after dinner at 28 Degrees. Nonetheless they perused the menu.

Dan and I were hungry, so we ordered the pumpkin ravioli that David, Leslie and I had previously sent as a Random App. The ravioli was toothsome with a dense pumpkin filling. The sauce, a warm vinaigrette of brown butter and lemon, was textured with toasted pumpkin seeds. The freshly grated parmesan balanced the plate with earthy saltiness. John and Andrea peered over at our dish and John declared, “I’m just not a pumpkin man.”

We needed more food, and I can never resist the Vietnamese Fried Squid with Green Mango and Carrots. We thought it would be nice to share with our new friends, but Dan decided we needed a full appetizer for ourselves. So we continued the Random App of Kindness tradition, and order two: one for us, and one for John and Andrea. We savored the crunchy rice flour crust, with tender squid, in a briny and spicy dipping sauce of nuac chom. The second plate arrived for our neighbors, but they refused it, “We did not order that.” The waiter insisted and they declined. Eventually, they relented when they realized they were the recipients of a random app. They were delighted to taste it, as they too had been eyeing that dish. Alas, they were still full from their dinner and could only eat a few bites. They returned the kindness with a random round of drinks. Thanks John and Andrea! We really enjoyed meeting you.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

 

Return to the Scene of the Crime

On a quiet Tuesday evening, I returned home from school, tired and hungry. I returned to Oleana, back to where I had begun Random Apps. I had not been back since that night, choosing instead to always dine at new places. Stephen again was working and I shared with him what he helped start, and he remembered: “Yeah, you were a pain in the ass that night!” What began as a way to redeem myself with Stephen had taken on a life of its own.

Since I had arrived to late in the evening, and in fact, I think I was the last person to sit down, I could not find a suitable recipient for a random app of kindness. I sat at the bar next to a Lebanese couple. They frequented Oleana as it is the best restaurant for true Middle Eastern and Mediterranean flavors. They were already half way through a five-course tasting, so I did not want to burden them with an extra carrot puree. As I waited for my fideos with spicy chickpeas, one of my favorite dishes with its creamy hints of orange and vanilla and a touch of chili, we chatted. They very graciously shared a taste of their food with me: a venison chop with ground venison kibbe, warmly spiced with cinnamon and lemon. In fact, it reminded me of a Turkish dish with Lamb: Adina Kebabi.

Adina Kebabi

1 lb. ground lamb
1 onion, finely chopped
½ cup chopped parsley
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp. lemon zest
½ tsp. cinnamon
1 tbs. mint
¼ tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
salt and pepper to taste

1. Gently mix all ingredients together. Form into a sausage shape around a skewer.
2. Grill over medium high flame, until golden brown and cooked through. Serve with Salad and Grilled Pita..

Salad

1 red onion, finely sliced
¼ cup flat parsley leaves
1 ½ tsp. sumac

1. Mix everything together.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

 

Mixed doubles at Toro

With temperatures dropping into the single digits, I am reluctant to go out for dinner. But David had had a long day and was eager for a little treat. The cozy room of Ken Oringer's newly opened Toro in Boston's South End seemed the perfect compromise, with a roaring fireplace and satisfying, yet innovative, tapas.

The dining room is small, just a dozen tables line the walls, and two communal "tables," really high bars in the middle. Another, more proper bar, offers more seating and drinking space. We walked in and the only spaces available were at the bars. So we perched across from two women already ensconced in mini-Kobe burgers and roasted brussel sprouts. The narrow table allowed us an intimate review of the menu. We were quite hungry so we started with the Pan con Tomate and Olive Oil (another menu with an eclectic mix of English and a foreign language -- in this case, Spanish). Crispy and rich with olive oil, but still light on the palate, just perfect to take the edge off while we perused the rest of the menu.

We consulted with our neighbors as to what to order, and decided to take their recommendation on to whom we should send the first official Random App of 2006. We departed a bit from our neighbors' choices and ordered the Lengua con Lentils as well as the Garbanzos with Chorizo. Smoked Duck Drumettes with Kumquat delighted our palates. But we took their recommendations to send the salt cod fritters, which they said was the best dish on the menu, to a table of three men and one woman. As the group had sauntered in, gregarious and laughing, they had the presence of locals dining at their favorite haunt.

The waiter brought over the dish, while David and I tried to watch without obviously staring. The waiter pointed at us and the group all turned to look, waving at us quizzically while we timidly waved back. Rafael, whose name we soon learned, walked over to introduce himself and thank us. He walked back to has table seemingly even more confused.

David and I returned to chatting with our table mates, who by this point were licking the chocolate dish from a spicy rendition of Churros y Chocolate (the name is forever embedded in my brain as the name of my Spanish I text book in high school). We discussed our favorite restaurants, as both Bonnie and Paula, our new friends, were both avid diners. Paula, a freelance architecture writer from New York has written about Boston Celebrity chefs and their homes. Bonnie produces her own line of jams which are also sold at Formaggio's Kitchen.

Since I couldn't eat the salt cod fritters myself, I decided to ask Rafael and his table how they enjoyed them. It turns out very much, and we also had a chance to clear the confusion. Rafael and his brother Ricardo thought, for sure, that one of them knew us, as they had never received a Random App. They were horribly embarrassed that they couldn't recall. After that issue was resolved we chatted a bit about Ricardo and Eliot's curtain business (which I would love to plug, but they did not give me their card), and Raphael's art (www.raphaeljaimesbranger.com). Mother Hercilia was visiting from Venezuela and was happily enjoying her sons' company and the Paella Valencia.

Pleasantly full after several small plates and some very nice and reasonably priced wine, we said farewell to the friendly staff and our new friends and emerged into the freezing Boston night. Who will get the next Random App, and where will it happen? Time will tell, but I welcome your suggestions.

Monday, January 02, 2006

 

Felice e Matto Anno Nuovo

So it falls to me to write up the second half of our New Year's double-apping, since Julia is off to Arizona and New Mexico for some top-secret talks about a cooking school.

When we last left off, we were watching the early fireworks over the Boston Common. Fireworks make me hungry, so we headed over to Via Matta for another glass of wine, another bite to eat, and as it turned out, another Random App.

Via Matta (doesn't that mean “Crazy Street”?) is a regional Italian restaurant by Michael “Radius” Schlow, whom we spotted briefly at the other end of the bar. There was a mixed crowd of revelers, many dressed up for even more exclusive events towards midnight. We settled at the bar and Patty cheerfully brought us glasses of Julia's usual Pinot Grigio and my not atypical Montalicino as we perused the menu and searched for likely App recipients.

The menu uses an entertaining mix of Italian and English words and grammar. I ordered “Tortelli with duck con zucca e rosmarino” because duck is one of my favorite things to eat, and because zucca is a word that, thanks to Roberto Begnini in Night on Earth, always makes me smile. It means pumpkin. Julia had a linguine with clams dish, and Patty kindly accommodated us with half orders of each. The pastas were both superb, but the tortelli was the clear winner – larger than expected chunks of duck with well-seasoned cubes of pumpkin complemented the tender dumplings in any language.

When the couple to our left paid their bill and headed for the door, I thought, whoever sits there next is getting a pleasant surprise tonight. When two fashionable women, mother and daughter, sat down, Julia looked at me and I looked back, and we called Patty over. It didn't take long to decide, they should get something sophisticated, something uncommon – the burrata, a sort of super fresh, almost premature mozzarella with cream, was the clear choice.

And it was well-received. Our grateful neighbors at the bar were actually neighbors of and regulars at Via Matta; they have the fortune of working nearby in fashionable shops and dropping in regularly. As you would expect at Via Matta, they were sophisticated travelers and had lived in Italy. We chatted about Random Apps and about the dangers of driving and skiing in Europe vs. New England.

That seemed like a fine finish to the year and we were about to leave when the kitchen sent out dessert, a delight called “Mascarporeos.” Brilliant in its simplicity and richness, the mascarporeo is a half-dozen dark chocolate biscuits and a demitasse cup full of a mascarpone cream mixture. This is what oreos hope to be reincarnated as, a sublime DIY sandwich cookie.

I hope we can all achieve this in the year ahead, to make something fresh and transcendent from what's around us. Happy new year.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

 

A New Year’s Eve Near Miss

Boston originated what is now a widespread phenomenon, “First Night” festivities on New Year's Eve. Shouldn't that be “Last Night?” No matter, from noon until midnight, across the city, there are film screenings, art shows, dance performances and music recitals. I took the #1 bus across the river into Boston to check it out.

After several hours of walking around and taking in some short films and ice sculptures, David and I needed a drink and a snack, so we ducked into Jer*Ne at the New Ritz Carlton, just across the street from the Boston Common.

The bar is cozy and warm with a great people-watching view both inside and outside. Byron the Manager ensured that we felt welcome and taken care of, fielding our many queries and requests as we parked ourselves for several hours.

After restoring ourselves with Crab Cakes and Champagne, we contemplated starting the New Year with a Random App of Kindness. The crab cake was large and dense with crabmeat, light on any filler. It sat atop an orange-saffron aioli, with a salad of spinach and orange segments. While we enjoyed it tremendously, we were not sure that it had universal appeal.

A gentleman sat down at a table in the window, set for 3 people. He ordered a round of drinks for himself and his companions that had yet to arrive. David and I began to peruse the menu… the shrimp and avocado quesadilla seemed the perfect Random App, who doesn't like quesadillas? The gentleman’s companions, two women, arrived before the drinks did. With barely a “hello,” they asked where the drinks were. We eavesdropped onto the ensuing banter; we knew they would be a fun group to send a random app.

We whispered to our friend Byron to send the shrimp quesadilla. He then passed the word onto their waitress (and, of course, a message to our waitress to put the dish on our bill), with the final request from us, that they should not know in advance. Somewhere in this game of “telephone,” the waitress understood that we did not want her to tell the diners ever who sent the random app. So when the waitress placed down the quesadilla, she said it was from a “Secret Santa.”

We watched with animated anticipation as to how they would react. A couple sitting at the next table also ordered the quesadilla, so we were feeling rather confident that we had made a good choice. One woman didn't touch it, the other examined it rather like a surgeon, peeling back the tortilla to peer at the filling. The gentleman announced that he was allergic to shrimp. Byron quickly swooped in, offering to exchange the quesadilla for something they could all enjoy, but the modest guests refused to look the gift app in the mouth.

This seemed a good opportunity to let Secret Santa remain secret, and let this random app fall through the cracks, but the wine had killed our poker faces, and they quickly realized that indeed it was us who sent the appetizer. We apologized for trying to kill them and they sent us a round of drinks. Our new friends work downtown together at Tello’s, a clothing store. The woman who did not want to eat was saving her appetite for the dinner her sons were preparing at home. God bless anybody who can get teenagers to cook for them!

David and I decided to order a quesadilla for ourselves – with chicken – to help wash down our next round of wine. The chicken was spicy from the melted pepper jack cheese. The quesadilla with thick and crunchy with a drizzle of sour cream on top and a fresh pico de gallo and guacamole on the side. A well executed, classic bar dish.

Some hours later, slightly high from the wine and the experience, we walked out into the chilly evening air. Snow had just begun to fall, and as we noticed the crowds swelling around the Boston Common, we realized we were just in time for the fireworks – a splendid display to cap off our evening.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

 

Taking the Show on the Road...

Miami Beach, and South Beach particularly, is the place to "see and be seen." The number of Hummers and Lamborghinis on the road suggest that there is no shortage of wealth. I wondered if the locals would appreciate a "random app."

With a few friends, I dined at Ice Box , a local eatery just off of Lincoln Road. I recounted the tales of my new "club" and suggested that, together, we send a random app of kindness. We decided that if someone came in to occupy the table next to us, we would send an appetizer. A few minutes later an elderly gentleman sat down, snow white hair, a rosy face, all dressed in black. As the waitress cleared away the second set of silverware and glassware, it became clear that he would be dining alone. Nonetheless, he ordered a full bottle of wine.

As I assessed the man, I reminded myself of the couple at Eastern Standard who did not appreciate the gesture. I had decided that some people prefer not to be intruded upon while dining out. I thought this man may fit into that category. But, my friend Nick reminded me that this was random, and I could not indiscriminately decide not to send it.

When the waitress came to take our order, I requested one order of the special spring rolls for me and one for gentleman over there. The spring rolls arrived and the server placed one in front of me and one in front of Nick. The waitress clearly did not understand our intent. We explained and she promptly placed the appetizer in front of the man, who by this point, was already cutting into a perfectly medium rare steak.

The four of us split the crispy vegetarian rolls, savoring the ponzu sauce and seaweed salad. We peered out of the corners of our eyes, we all knew he had too much food in front of him. He requested that the waitress bring the spring rolls to another gentleman who was dining alone. As we watched the transaction transpire, a table of four women clamored that they also wanted the random app. The second gentleman, already enjoying a tomato-basil soup with avocado croustini, thanked us and the white-haired man for the kindness.

The white-haired man poured his second glass of wine and called the waitress again. This time he wanted to send a glass of wine to the second man, as a way to thank him. Thank him? No matter, the second gentleman declined the wine. White-haired man then suggested our table should finish the wine, as he would not be able to. As we finished our meals, including a BBQ Salmon with Wilted Purple Kale and Roasted Sweet Potatoes, we spied him leave the restaurant, the bottle of wine empty and his cheeks a little more rosy.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

 

The crowning moment…

I had had a rough day at school, and needed to do something nice for myself. I started to drive to No. 9 Park (www.no9park.com) hoping that I would find David before I arrived. Alas, I never did, so I perched myself at the bar towards the end. My favorite bartender John was working that night. He has an incredible ability to remember his customers, make everyone feel special and create a convivial environment. An older gentleman walks in and immediately John offers, as if we were sitting 3 doors down in the famed Cheers bar, “Grey Goose Martini with extra olives?” Of course, he remembered exactly what the man wanted. He sat in the empty seat to my right and we immediately started chatting about the virtues of pre-dinner cocktails. Of course, John already knew that this man had a friend meeting him. So the person sitting to my left was displaced so that we could make room for the next guest. When he finally arrived, I introduced myself to him, and then to the man I had been chatting with. As it happens, I had been talking with the most famous car dealer in Boston, Herb Chambers.

I went back to my wine and the menu… ordering the Assiette of Baby Beets, toasted pistachios, Humboldt Fog chèvre followed by the lobster gnocchi with truffles. The gnocchi were so tender, and the lobster perfectly briny, that I decided to continue the tradition without David. I sent a random app to the kind soul who was displaced earlier so I could stay on my perch. Much was the appreciation that he sent in return a glass of champagne. As he was making his way to depart, he came over to chat with me. As it turns out, he is a Kennedy cousin. We had a delightful conversation that ended with an invitation to the Sunday brunch he was hosting with his girlfriend.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

 

A less ebullient experience…

By now, David and I were clear in our mission – In this world of anonymity… people walk around plugged into iPods and cell phone, our Random Apps of Kindness were a way to break the invisible shield around people... a way to connect with strangers with a kind gesture.

We went to Eastern Standard for dinner. I had been there on a (less than auspicious) blind date. The guy was a bit of a goon, so I took great delight when the waitress first spilled wine and then sauce on his lap. My crispy roast chicken was juicy with tender spaetzle. Mushrooms were tossed with foie gras. And despite the awful date, I still enjoyed the restaurant!

David and I sat along the banquet. An interesting assortment of people sitting around us. A young couple tucking into their second round of Cosmopolitans. A middle age couple enjoying a light supper after work. We wondered if we had to bestow a random app every time we dined out? We decided that we should. An older couple, probably in their late 60’s sat down a few tables from us. The woman ordered liver and onions, and the man ordered Steak Frites. It was not clear if they were adventurous or conservative eaters. We took the waitress’s advice and sent them bacala fritters – a traditional Portuguese Salt Cod, made into fritters with potatoes and onions. The couple nodded graciously and then went back to their meal. The intrusion on their space seemed to outweigh the treat. It was not clear that this gesture was selfless.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

 

The adventure continues…

David and I decided to make a club of it, creating the rules as we go along. On the night of my birthday along with my friend Leslie, we ate at Sibling Rivalry. We scanned the room for our next victim… There were only a few tables occupied within the near vicinity. An older couple, halfway through their dinner and a table of two couples, just starting dessert. We realized then that we need to find people that were just sitting down. Send our random app before they have ordered their meal. A few tables over, a party of 8 was just beginning to assemble. We thought about sending apps to that table, but with such a large group, we felt that the gesture of one appetizer would be lost, and we could not afford to send four.

As we savored our fried calamari with a Vietnamese salad of carrots and mango, a mother/daughter couple sat at the table right next us! Aha. Of the three appetizers we had ordered, the calamari was the clear favorite. However, David prodded, and I eventually agreed, that they would not be the type to enjoy fried foods. Se we agreed upon an appetizer of pumpkin ravioli with sage. He was right! They were so effusive in their appreciation.

As we were leaving, and they were just on their entrees, we had the opportunity to talk with them and hear their story. They were visiting from Santa Barbara… visiting the law schools that Daughter was applying to, including Hahvahrd. Mother found Bostonians to be quite rude… every cab driver… when she told them she wanted to go to the Four Seasons, the shoulder they got was colder than a January night. They were heartened by the first nice gesture since their arrival three days prior. They insisted that we visit them in Santa Barbara so they could repay the favor.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

 

Random Apps of Kindness

Last week, perched at a bar stool at Oleana Restaurant in Cambridge, sitting with my friend David, enjoying our Sweet Potato Kibbeh with Homemade Sujuk, Tomato & Brown Butter, I overheard the bartender offering menu suggestions to the couple sitting to our right. As I eat at Oleana often, I offered my opinion; I told them they must try the Hummus Wrapped in Basturma instead of the carrot puree that he recommended. Stephen didn’t appreciate my help. To make amends, we bought the dish, a carrot puree with ground Middle Eastern spices and nuts for the couple. And so began Random Apps of Kindness…

The recipients of our random app were rather suspicious. They thought, for sure, that I was a food critic. As we tried to explain that we were just trying to be nice, they decided we were slightly crazy, as no one ever sends a Random App of Kindness.

After another glass of wine, we were ready to try again. We spied two young women at the other end of the bar, already enjoying their meal. We called Stephen over and asked him to send them some more carrot puree. No, he explained, they were more the dessert types. So we sent them the Baked Alaska with Coconut Ice Cream & Passion Fruit Caramel. They were appreciative, probably confused by the random kindness, but not openly suspicious.

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