Saturday, March 31, 2012

Foodler Review

Have you ever had one of those weeks where you feel like you're racing against the clock? Time just doesn't seem to be on your side and it just feels impossible to get everything done. For a 20-something like me with a full-time job and lots of other hobbies keeping me busy, I've been feeling the time crunch lately (I don't know how people with kids do it!), and so when the folks at Foodler, a convenient online delivery and takeout service, offered me a credit in exchange for reviewing them, I was thrilled! I'd heard great things about the site and was psyched to place my first order. 

I'll admit, the reason why I had never opted to try third-party food delivery services in the past was because I just didn't understand the point of paying more for food that I could just as easily order from the restaurant directly. 

I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Foodler didn’t cost more, however! The cost of delivery depends on the restaurant and its distance from your address. I ordered a few california rolls from Fins Sushi and Grill, which is located nearby my address, so the delivery fee was the same as if I had ordered from them directly. I was also excited to find that Foodler offers delivery from restaurants that do not offer delivery services themselves, like Panera, or from restaurants where your address falls outside of their delivery area. 

The website was very user-friendly and is packed with tons of useful information. It can divide restaurant options by type, cost, rating, distance and delivery fee. It keeps track of the restaurants you have ordered from and makes suggestions based on your delivery history. It even offers rewards points and delivery scheduling options! I decided to place my sushi order around mid-afternoon for 7:15 p.m. that evening. The order was delivered right on time! It was great knowing that as soon as I got home from my post-work gym session, I would have some delicious sushi waiting for me. 

All in all, Foodler was simple, convenient, prompt and the food was fresh and delicious! The next time you feel like ordering in, definitely give Foodler a try!

*While I did receive a $15 complimentary credit from Foodler, these opinions are honest and entirely my own.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Restaurant Week in Boston

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Restaurant Week in Boston is like Christmas for foodies…  but better! I wasted no time making reservations this year and based on recommendations from other foodies and friends, I decided to check out two restaurants in Boston: Da Vinci’s in the South End and Pigalle in the Theater District. I was told that both would impress, and luckily, they did!*

Da Vinci’s

A group of friends and I kicked off the Restaurant Week tour at Da Vinci’s. Located where the Back Bay meets the South End, Da Vinci’s was easy to get to, and provided a delicious excuse to head into one of Boston’s best neighborhoods. We arrived a little early for our reservation but were seated right away. The interior was warm, welcoming and romantic, with its low lighting and candle-lit tables.

One great feature of Restaurant Week is that restaurants post their menus online in advance, so you can preview what you will have the opportunity to order. As soon as the reservation at Da Vinci’s was booked, I knew exactly what I was going to order.

Organic Green Salad

First up was an organic green salad tossed in a moscato vinaigrette (yum!) finished with red grapes, sliced almonds and shaved Parmigiano Reggiano (say that in your best Giada voice, ha!). This was a perfectly fresh and light starter salad. It was exactly what I hoped for, because I knew that the second course was going to be a heavy hitter.

Indian Fusion Masala Ravioli

The second course was a no-brainer. As soon as I saw it on the menu, I knew I was going to have to try the Indian Fusion Masala Ravioli. Let me just pause, and repeat that, so you can fully process what had me all sorts of excited – Indian Fusion Masala Ravioli. Doesn’t that just sound so flavorful and interesting? Chef Peppino, the head chef and co-owner of the restaurant, was born in India but received classical training in Italian cuisine, so this dish brought the inspirations from his diverse background into one impeccable plate. The ravioli was house made and stuffed with ricotta cheese, English peas and ginger, then coated in a subtly spicy tomato cream sauce. It was garnished with a curry leaf pistachio pesto. If that doesn’t scream flavor, I don’t know what does! Bravo, Chef Peppino!

Chocolate Mousse

For those who know me, I don’t have to tell you that no matter what, I am always the most excited about dessert. It doesn’t matter how full I am, I’m always up for dessert. It’s a passion. I definitely have some pretty high standards when it comes to sweets though, because in my opinion, all of those calories and extra gym sessions had better be worth it, if I’m going to indulge! So, when it came time for the “dolci” round, after the two glowing courses I had already experienced, I had high hopes for the chocolate mousse. Unfortunately, it just wasn’t all that I’d imagined. The reason I decided to order the chocolate mousse was because on the menu, it was described as being infused with Grand Marnier orange. I was disappointed to find that the orange flavor really didn’t come through. The mousse was fine, it just wasn’t as extraordinary as Chef Peppino’s other courses had been. Other’s at my table weren’t over-the-moon about their desserts either, so I’m thinking that the next time I had to Da Vinci’s for some delicious homemade pasta, I’ll make plans to head out to one of my favorite Boston desserteries afterwards.


My restaurant week adventure continued this week when my foodie/blogger friend, Sam, and I headed to Pigalle! Located in the Theater District, Pigalle provides a chic and cozy setting to enjoy unique Parisian fare with Mediterranean influences. We arrived on time for our reservation, but the restaurant was packed and the hostess wasn’t able to seat us until over a half hour after our scheduled reservation time. Usually in this situation, this would set the tone for a subpar dining experience, but pleasantly, at Pigalle, things were very different. Knowing we would be delayed, the owner led us to find seats at the bar and sent over complimentary sparkling wine to enjoy while we waited. Sam and I were relaxed as we enjoyed the atmosphere and ambiance. It hardly felt like waiting for our table – it was as though our Pigalle experience had already begun!

Asparagus Soup Shooter

When we were seated, we were pleasantly surprised yet again, when the owner sent over additional complimentary appetizers. The first was an asparagus soup shooter with roasted corn and bacon bits. I was a little nervous to try this soup presented in such an innovative fashion, but head chef Marc Orfaly certainly did not disappoint. The asparagus flavor was wholly recognizable but not overwhelming, and the corn and bacon bits complimented it perfectly.

House Made Horseradish Potato Puree Stuffed Gnocchi

We were then surprised yet again when the owner sent over an additional complimentary custom appetizer that we had briefly discussed as we waited at the bar to be seated. As we were waiting, I was perusing the menu (we didn’t know, but Pigalle changes their Restaurant Week menu regularly, so what I had planned to order after reviewing the menu online, was no longer available when we arrived – but don’t worry, our meal was superb, regardless) and noticed that one of the menu items was served with a house made horseradish potato puree stuffed gnocchi (omg!). I don’t know about you, but I thought that sounded pretty darn amazing. Unfortunately, I didn’t want to order the main course that it was served with, so while we were talking with the owner, I asked if I could switch out one of the sides served with my main course for the gnocchi. She smiled, and politely responded that deconstructing any of their meals would be like altering a Picasso (her husband is the head chef… aww…). She continued on to say that she would be happy to send over a side of the gnocchi so that I could enjoy my meal as it was designed to the fullest. So, in came the house made horseradish potato puree stuffed gnocchi, and boy, was I glad that we got to taste it! The gnocchi were perfectly golden brown and stuffed with a delicious and subtly spiced potato puree. The gnocchi sat in a shallow pool of punchy horseradish sauce that added the perfect kick of flavor to the potato puree. At this point, it was hard to believe that we had yet to even order our first course!

French Onion Soup

The first course that I actually ordered was the French onion soup. Pigalle’s focus on innovative interpretations of food was clear in this dish. The soup was infused with braised short ribs. Although I’m a fan of classic French onion soup, I really enjoyed Pigalle’s take on it, as well. I’m always up for livening up the ordinary and adding the short ribs to this soup provided an element of pleasant surprise that perfectly complimented the familiar cheese and onion flavors.

Crispy Confit Half Duckling

Next up, was the Crispy Confit Half Duckling. Full disclosure: eating duck is a pretty new thing for me these days. Pigalle’s duck was the second I’ve ever tried, but I’d heard good things about it there, so I decided it would be a safe place to take a risk. Luckily, I was right. As it is described, the duck was perfectly crispy on the outside, but when you cut into it, the meat was just the right amount of tender. The duck was served in a parsnip Dijon mustard puree with bacony Brussels sprouts and a dried cherry glaze. Like I said, I haven’t tried too much duck in my day, but after savoring this meal, I really can’t imagine a better way to serve it. The flavorful combination of the spicy mustard, smokey brussels sprouts and sweet dried cherry glaze added the perfect amount of color to the immaculate canvas the duck presented. Bravo, Chef Orfaly!

Orange Profiteroles

After this epic Pigalle experience, I was psyched for the dessert round to see what Chef Orfaly would come up with next. I opted for the orange profiteroles that were served with an orange and nutella infused ice cream. These certainly did not disappoint! The pastry of the profiteroles was perfectly flakey, but still moist, and after breaking the shell to find the ice cream center, I enjoyed a wonderfully dynamic bite of pastry, hazelnut and citrus flavor. This was a wonderful way to conclude a lovely meal.

Overall, I would consider Restaurant Week in Boston a success! Great locations, service, people and food. I can’t wait until next Restaurant Week!

*Note: unfortunately, I neglected to bring out my digital SLR camera to Restaurant Week this year, and the dim lighting in both restaurants wasn’t very conducive to shooting with my iPhone 4, so that is why this post is lacking in photo love. My apologies!

Mint Cocktail Class at Back Bay Social Club

 Last week, I was invited to attend a mint-themed cocktail class at the Back Bay Social Club. The 15 attendees embarked on a tasty adventure of “Mint Through the Ages,” learning to appreciate the technique and historical flavor behind four mint-inspired cocktails. Our expert instructor and the bar manager, Ginny Edwards, offered practical suggestions on how to create each cocktail at home, and also let us in on the secret behind enhancing the minty-goodness behind mint-based cocktails – did you know that hitting a fresh mint sprig against your wrist, before using it as a decorative garnish, will liven up the mint flavor? Give it a try! It’s a fun, easy way to kick up a cocktail’s flavor and impress friends at a dinner party!

What sets Back Bay Social Club’s mint cocktails apart from others’? Ginny is a big proponent of double straining. It imparts the mint flavor without allowing any residual pieces of fresh mint into the drink itself. This helps to avoid the awkward moment when one of your dinner party guests gets a piece of mint stuck in their teeth. Eek.

The first drink we sampled was the classic Mint Julep. Did you know that this cocktail dates back to as early as the late 1700’s? Today, it is known as the infamous drink of choice at the Kentucky Derby.

I had never tried most of the drinks on tap that evening before, so I was eager to test out my palette. Surprisingly, although I love all things sweet, the Mint Julep, in my opinion, was too sweet and the mint was too overwhelming for my liking. I only had a few sips of my sample and was hoping for something a bit more subtle in the next cocktail.

And subtly sweet, I got! Up next was the Mint Smash. Think: Whiskey Smash meets Mint Julep. Adding a bit of fresh lemon made all the difference by refuting the surge of sugary sweetness in the Mint Julep.  The Mint Smash was much more refreshing and would be perfect for a hot, summer afternoon.

And of course, you can’t hold a class on mint cocktails without a Mojito! Although the exact origin of this cocktail is still up for debate, it is almost certainly a Cuban derivative, likely from around 1920. The combination of white rum, fresh lime, simple syrup, soda and fresh mint was a perfect take on a classic summer favorite.

At this point in the class, I have to admit, I was feeling a little tipsy! I had headed right into the city from work, not leaving adequate time to eat a full dinner, and was hoping that the restaurant would have some complimentary apps available for the bloggers they invited. Unfortunately, I was out of luck. The Back Bay Social Club holds classes like this quarterly, so I’m hoping if I make it to the summer class, they’ll decide to provide some nosh!

Last, but certainly not least, we sampled the Pineapple Express, a Back Bay Social Club original. This was essentially a hybrid of the Mint Smash and the Mojito, as it featured the lemon, simple syrup and mint of the Smash, combined with the rum and soda of the Mojito. With the addition of the fresh pineapple and pineapple juice, I was in heaven! This brought all my favorite elements from the evening into one fruity, refreshing and delicious cocktail. Bravo!

Though I wasn’t a huge fan of the service, I learned a lot, and I’d happily head to another Back Bay Social Club cocktail class, as long as they promised us foodies some snacks next time. :)

*While I did receive this complimentary class from the Back Bay Social Club, these opinions are honest and entirely my own.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Boston Brunchers' Dinner at Maximo's

Have you ever experienced a restaurant where although you're dining out, it feels like home?

As promised in my last post, last week I had the privilege of heading out to dinner with the Boston Brunchers, an acclaimed food blogger group, at the award-winning Maximo's in Watertown, Mass, and as we enjoyed five diverse and delicious courses with the owners, the Zeller family, an overwhelming sense of welcoming comfort came over me. Maybe it was the fact that Betsy Zeller sat down to eat over easy conversation with us, or that her husband and head chef, Phil Zeller personally introduced and delivered each course to our table. Or, perhaps it was the fact that their charming and handsome toddler, Max (the restaurant is named after both him and his sister, Morgan -- think "Max and Mo's") made his way around the table to flirt with each diner as his doting grandparents kept a watchful eye and chatted with each blogger about the history of the restaurant and the complexity of the food.

I imagine it was the combination of all of these deeply personal elements that made my experience at Maximo's such a memorable one. But of course, there was also the food.

Roasted Tomato Bruschetta

We kicked off the meal with one of my personal favorite appetizers. Since I enjoy bruschetta so much, I'm known to order it pretty much anywhere I go if it's on the menu. I guess you could call me a bruschetta connoisseur, of sorts. So, as you can imagine, when it comes to bruschetta, I'm not always easily impressed. But the folks at Maximo's have truly mastered the art of great bruschetta. The crostini were toasted to perfection, providing a flawless canvas for the juicy, roasted tomatoes, onions and herbs. I think Maximo's is really on to something when it comes to roasting the tomatoes, as it really intensified the tomato flavor to balance out the garlic and onions. I gobbled up this course before I even had a chance to photograph it, if that gives you any idea of how much I enjoyed it. I probably would have been wholly satisfied after just that course, but next up was the Mediterranean Turkey Burger.

Mediterranean Turkey Burger

I have to admit that I was a little apprehensive about seeing a turkey burger on the menu. Typically, turkey burgers are thought of as the red headed step child of traditional burgers and often lack flavor, but Maximo's interpretation was quick to prove me wrong. The ground turkey was mixed with tabouleh, goat cheese and Maximo's "special spice blend," and these added ingredients took this turkey burger to a whole new level of flavorful deliciousness. Full disclosure: I'm somewhat obsessed with goat cheese, so in my mind, you really can't go wrong by adding it to almost anything! The turkey burger was served with a side of roasted potatoes which although were cooked well and had a great texture, I felt were a bit salty. I'm one of those people who is super sensitive to salt in any dish however, so this is likely just my own odd salt-aversion speaking.

Steak & Onion Salad

This was an awesome salad! You can imagine my excitement when I saw goat cheese reappear in this course, in addition to the turkey burger. The greens, char broiled hangar steak, grilled red onion, goat cheese, roasted tomatoes and chimichurri sauce played very well together on the plate, in terms of both aesthetic appeal and taste. After taking a steak cooking class shortly before this meal, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to apply my new educated critique to the hangar steak in this dish. Maximo's passed my taste test with flying colors as the meat was very tender and packed with flavor. I think this dish was the most fun to photograph since the ingredients and colors were so fresh and vibrant.

Slammin' BLT

At this point in the meal, I was already getting full from all of the delicious courses we had already experienced, but who could resist this utterly unique and delightful interpretation of the classic BLT? This BLT was truly "slammin'" as it featured a perfectly fried egg garnished with cheddar cheese and mayo. I liken biting into this sandwich to the first beautiful day of spring weather in New England. It's just too, too good and you can't wait for more.

The sandwich was served with a shot of roasted corn and black bean soup that perfectly complimented the array of flavors in the BLT. Clearly, Maximo's is keen on roasting vegetables and I'm all for it! This soup acted as a perfect dipping sauce for the sandwich, and I was in heaven.

Cilantro Lime Grilled Tuna

Before I make any comments on our final course at Maximo's, I have to tell you that generally, I'm not a huge fan of seafood. I'll eat clam chowder, crab cakes, some salmon dips, tuna fish and once in a while calamari, but for the most part, fish isn't really my thing. However, I've spent most of my life trying different kinds of fish in hopes of acquiring a taste for it because it's so good for you. So, when I saw tuna on the menu at Maximo's, I was a little nervous. Naturally, this was my least favorite course that evening, just because of my feelings on fish, but to be fair, I did eat a few pieces of the tuna because I was so pleased with how they were seasoned. The cilantro and lime pairing was a perfect diversion for my palette and allowed me to appreciate the tender preparation of the tuna, without being overcome by the fishy taste.

The tuna was served with sauteed kale and southwestern quinoa. I wasn't blown away by the kale. When it comes to wilted greens, I usually prefer a little extra kick of flavor, like lemon. These were a little bland for my taste. But I felt differently about the southwestern quinoa! I often took bites of this in tandem with the citrusy tuna and the two together created a wonderfully dynamic bite of punchy, cultured flavor.

During the meal, Betsy discussed how she is inspired by food similarly to how she is inspired by theater. She imagines the cooks and kitchen staff are the stage crew, the waiters are the actors, each course is an act and the diners are the audience. After experiencing a wonderful meal with a very gracious family and to boot, being sent home with a personally handwritten thank-you note, I'd say Maximo's deserves a standing ovation.

*While I did receive this complimentary meal from Maximo’s, these opinions are honest and entirely my own.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

A Whole Lot of Updates!

The past few months have been an exciting, busy and wild ride that have left little time for blogging, but don't let my lack of writing fool you. Although I haven't blogged in a while, it does not mean I haven't been baking. I just simply haven't had time to write* about all of my latest creations (*note: you can always follow me on Twitter @cldugan for live tweets and instagram updates on what I'm up to, where I'm eating and what's currently coming out of my oven)!

In the time that I sadly have been neglecting Chelsea's Choice over the past few months, my life has taken off in some crazy cool directions! In September, I moved into a new apartment in Boston with my awesome YouTube celeb roommate, Cassidy. You guys should totally go check out her YouTube channel (especially because there are some funny videos with me in them too, like our first #apartmentfail video or our Super Bowl XLVI announcement video, which is currently posted on the front page of her channel... but more on that later)! Fall brought exciting changes with a new post-grad address, a new job, new friends and a whole city of new fun foodie gems to find. I didn't waste any time taking advantage of my favorite seasonal baking flavors and experimented with tons of delicious recipes from September through November. To name a few*:
  • Gluten-free Apple Crisp
  • Apple Pie
  • Pumpkin Cheesecake
  • Pumpkin Butter
  • Apple Cider Doughnuts
  • Pumpkin Cinnamon Streusel Cake
  • Pumpkin Sangria
  • Pumpkin Ice Cream Doughnuts
  • Pumpkin Toffee Chip and Rolo Chunk Cookies
  • Mini Cream Cheese and Butterscotch Pumpkin Pies
  • Pumpkin Creme Brulee
*Email me at duganchelsea [at] gmail [dot] com if you're interested in trying any of these recipes!

December brought the holiday season, and Christmastime is one of my favorite times of the year. Spending the season amongst the hustle and bustle of the city brought a whole new level of excitement and inspiration to my baking and decorating this year. I hosted a few holiday parties at Cass and I's new apartment and used that as an excuse to go totally over the top with decorations. Christmas comes but once a year though, right? You have to make the most of it! There's just something about entertaining during the holiday season that brings a childlike joy and wonder to cooking and baking. I tried a whole slew of holiday recipes and had so much fun swapping ideas with my fellow foodie friends over festive holiday cocktails. This year, my family celebrated Christmas in southern Florida, and we had the best time trying out tons of restaurants (both old and new favorites) in the Naples area. Hint: the chocolate cake with mixed berry sauce at Vergina's on 5th Ave. in Naples is TO DIE FOR!

I kicked off 2012 by entering my photography work from my trip to Sicily last March into a company-wide art gallery in my office. Since I have a passion for both the art of photography and baking, I also created a special cupcake for the gallery opening to share with the office. My co-workers enjoyed a red velvet cupcake with cream cheese buttercream frosting adorned with the company logo. I received rave reviews! It was such an honor to be featured in my first art gallery.

I promised I'd get back to the topic of Cassidy and I's Super Bowl XLVI adventure, so here goes! Early in 2012, Cass entered a contest sponsored by Motorola to win a trip to the Super Bowl in Indianapolis and cover all the excitement for the Ochocinco News Network (Chad Ochocinco is the wide receiver for the New England Patriots)! Hundreds of people entered to win this amazing prize, but in February, we found out Cass was chosen as the winner (check out Cass' funny announcement video - I'm featured AND there's a dance montage!) and she SO kindly asked me to join her as her guest on this once-in-a-lifetime trip! So, we were off to Indy for a week-long Super Bowl adventure and were able to meet tons of pro athletes and celebrities! If you're interested in checking out some of Cass' interview footage from the week, head over to Motorola's Super Bowl YouTube playlist. I'm still working on finalizing my entire Super Bowl XLVI photography portfolio from the week, but check out the preview below! We had an absolutely amazing time and I could NEVER thank Cass enough for including me in such a special experience!

And now, we're all the way into March and the excitement ceases to diminish! Today, I took an awesome cooking class on meat at the Boston Center for Adult Education. We learned all about cuts, rubs, sauces and marinades and the best part, of course, was tasting the fruits of our labor. I was thoroughly impressed by the state-of-the-art facility and resources at the BCAE and our instructors (@theskinnybeet) did an amazing job at making the art of cooking steak seem approachable! For baking nerds looking to branch out (such as myself), this class was a perfect match. 

And, tomorrow, I am joining the @BostonBrunchers (who recently made headlines in the Boston Globe) for a delicious dinner at Maximo's in Watertown. I'm psyched to be part of such a renowned foodie group in Boston, and have been looking forward to tomorrow's dinner for weeks! Check out my live tweets from the event tomorrow night at @cldugan, and stay tuned here for a review in the next few days!

Happy Baking, friends!
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