Saturday, June 27, 2015

Quick hits...

Some quick hits from the current Connoisseurs Corner run…heard daily on CBSBoston Radio, 1030am WBZ:

Waiter, more everything!

1.  The Street in Chestnut Hill

There’s a new dining destination, and you don’t have to head to downtown Boston to find a wide variety of choices.  “The Street” in Chestnut Hill is really gaining traction.

On the site of the former General Cinema and Macy’s at Chesnut Hill, you can choose from Bernards for upscale Asian cuisine, Legal Seafood, which speaks for itself, Davios, The Cottage, Del Frisco’s Grill, and for the burger fan, the more casual Shake Shack.

With a Showcase Superlux theatre, the developer has really made it a destination outside of Boston, with plenty of free parking and with none of the traffic problems.  Why run into Boston, when you can walk the Street in Chesnut Hill?

2.  Oga’s

I have never been a fan of sushi.  I wouldn’t know sashimi from a shimmy, or sushi from a shag rug…but I can’t be the Critical Palate without an expansive palate, so over the past year, I’ve been introducing more sushi in to my diet, and I’ve discovered a fabulous place.  Oga’s in Natick is a giant fish in a big ocean.

I tend to stay fairly mainstream with my fish choices.  The varieties of tuna and salmon, and veggies.  But Oga’s takes things to a new level…my kids really enjoy the miso soup and tuna sushi and sashimi, but the big winner for us is a special item on their appetizer menu-spicy tuna tostada.  It is described on their menu as Spicy tuna on a crisp tempura rice ‘tostada’ with nori topped with watercress, red onion, and red chili pepper.  I could eat this all day..

In addition, they served a variety of cooked food, as well as udon noodle soup and large custom sushi platters…do yourself a favor and try Oga’s in Natick…right on Route 9 West at the intersection of Route 27.

3.  El Recreo coffee

You people know I love my coffee, and I like it strong and rich (like my women…), and I’m pleased to talk about a great new coffee spot right on Centre Street in West Roxbury-El Recreo Estate Coffee.

We had the pleasure of having the owners, Miriam and Hector in studio, and this is not some ordinary coffee.  It is a company dedicated to bringing premium Nicaraguan coffee to the States while practicing social and environmental stewardship.  It’s a single origin coffee from a family farm in Nicaragua that’s Rainforest Alliance certified and you can find it at Market Basket and other local shops. But these just aren’t coffee growers,  roasters and brewers…they are teachers, inviting other farmers to the coffee plantation to teach them growing methods, while providing schooling and health care to them and their children while on the farm.  For the owners, it’s all about giving back to their community, while bringing delicious coffee that you can feel good about drinking.  I really encourage the listeners to stop in at El Recreo at 1876 Centre Street in West Roxbury, or visit them at

Monday, May 11, 2015

Love Shack

Five Guys, Smashburger, Tasty Burger, Mr. Bartley’s…the list of great burger joints goes on and on, even if some are national chains.  But with all the hype, it took me about a year to get to Shake Shack; I thought it was going to be like when “Cold Stone Creamery” came to town, claiming that they invented the “mix-in”.  Or “Quiznos” for that matter, claiming they invented the “toasted sub”.  Uh, ever hear of “Famous Pizza”?  It really galls me when these out-of-towners come on in, invading our territory, claiming that they’ve developed/perfected things we’ve been doing here in Massachusetts since the Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock!

Well, I took my sweet time getting to Shake Shack in Chestnut Hill, and I have to ask myself: Self, what took you so long?  Finally, a place that lived up to its own hype, at least as far as the burgers are concerned.

Like Five Guys and other burger joints, the choices are limited.  Check out the menu here.  Burgers, hot dogs, fries and shakes…really the core of the burger joints menus.  While some places offer a million toppings piled on, Shake Shack has a limited number of choices, but extremely well-executed.  Burgers are served fresh and hot, with extremely colorful fresh lettuce and tomato.  Added bonus:  crinkle cut fries.  Sure, I like the natural cut, skin on, Idaho russets served at Five Guys, but the crinkle cut fry harkens me back to a simpler time, filled with fried goodness, and no cholesterol issues. 

There are four locations in Massachusetts:  Harvard Square, Chestnut Hill, Newbury Street and Dedham.  I’ve been to Chestnut Hill, and past both Harvard Square and Dedham, and the places always seem to be busy.  With an interesting mix of industrial steel and wood interior, it’s comfortable, but crowded.  With a lot of seating, it still seems to be packed, no matter when I go.  Apparently, people are shaking it down to the Shack.

Because this is not the healthiest way to eat, I suggest you reserve your visit for when you really need the burger fix.  Once in a while, everyone (except Mrs. Palate and Sister Palate) needs a burger.  Do yourself a favor and give Shake Shack a try.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

More Connoisseurs’ corner! Because there's alway room for...

Continuing my posts from Connoisseurs’ are some topics...discuss!


I always heard that breakfast is the most important meal of the day.  Lately, I’ve seen an upswing in the breakfast restaurants.  From the Route 9 Diner in Hadley, the Rox Diner in West Roxbury and Newtonville to the Deluxe Depot Diner in Framingham (and other locations in Watertown and Newton) and Stephen Anthony’s in Marlboro…breakfast is back.

I grew up working with my dad in his diner, so we have affection for a big breakfast.  To me, nothing beats two eggs any style, corned beef hash, home fries (extra crispy), buttered wheat toast and hot, strong coffee.

Places like the Route 9, Rox and Deluxe Depot execute homemade corned beef hash, while Stephen Anthony’s in Marlboro goes for the hot coffee carafe on the table for constant self-refilling.  Service at all of these places is just what you need first thing in the morning-professional, personable and prompt.  I walked away from all these places satiated, and ready to start my day, with a full stomach and juiced on diner coffee.


Who among us doesn’t like a hot cup of coffee in the morning to start our day?  I enjoy a cup, or two, each day, and even though my mother has been chastising me about my coffee intake, I am happy to report that there may be some benefits from drinking coffee. 

The 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee has submitted the Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (Advisory Report) to the Secretaries of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in February 2015. The purpose of the Advisory Report is to inform the Federal government of current scientific evidence on topics related to diet, nutrition, and health.  This helps determine the USDA’s new food guidelines for Americans. 

As the Washington Post reported here, not only can people stop worrying about whether drinking coffee is bad for them, according to the panel, they might even want to consider drinking more.  The panel cited minimal health risks associated with drinking between three and five cups per day. It also said that consuming as many as five cups of coffee each day is tied to several health benefits (!!!), including a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.  BENEFITS!!!!
So, for you three and five cup a day coffee drinkers, don’t worry about caffeine so much.  Now if only they could come out with a study that says burgers and onion rings are good for you…

Coffee brewing methods
I know it’s not exactly a food topic, but my day wouldn’t start off right if I didn’t have a hot cup of coffee.  While America may run on Dunkin’, I prefer a different brew.
As I have written and spoke about in the past, I prefer a strong brew, and my preferred purveyor is Starbucks.  Starbucks surely offers a respite from the hustle and bustle, but for me, it’s still about the coffee.  Lately, I’ve been paying attention to my coffee a little more, especially over the weekends, at least as it comes to brewing.
Allegedly, K-cup pod brewing has overtaken the current home-brewing market.  With convenience and variety, from cup to cup, who wouldn’t enjoy that?  But, for a quality, personalized brewing experience, nothing beats a French press or a vacuum syphon brew of your favorite beans.

Both French press and syphon brewing methods are what are referred to as “full immersion”; in each case, the coffee grounds are steeped in water for period of time, as opposed to having the water pass through grounds quickly.  With each method, you retain some of the coffee’s unctuousness; the oily sweetness and mouth feel, letting you savor some of the more complex flavors of the coffee.  Sure they are more labor intensive, but the results are worth it.
Most people are familiar with French Press style brewing, but vacuum syphon brewing is somewhat unknown.  For more information, and a lesson on how to syphon coffee, click here.
Take that Juan Valdez!
For a little coffee talk, click here.

Now, go home and start brewing.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Connoisseurs’ Corner, even more cheesy

I love a good cheese…the cheesier the better.

As we’ve discussed, we’re lucky to have great cheese availability.  Not only can you get decent cheese at Whole Foods and even Trader Joe’s, there’s a terrific cheese monger in Concord, aptly named “THE CHEESE SHOP OF CONCORD”.  With its selection of hundreds of domestic and imported cheeses, you’ll never fall into a cheese rut. In fact, its cheese-mongers have compiled a handy guide to sampling new versions of some of your favorite cheeses during 2015:

If you like Gorgonzola:
Try locally-made West West Blue. Veteran cheese-maker Peter Dixon makes this two-curd, gorgonzola-style raw cow's milk cheese at Parish Hill Creamery in Westminster West, VT. Firm and crumbly in texture, with a rich full flavor and a spicy, tangy finish.

If you like Gruyère:
Try Switzerland’s exclusive Gruyère Alpage. Produced according to a tradition dating back to the year 1115, this raw cow's milk cheese is cooked over an open fire at a minimum altitude of 2,900 feet, from the summertime milk of a single herd.  A true example of artisan cheese making and ancient tradition, where nature and humans are a team. 

If you like Cheddar:
Try the Cheese Shop Glory Cheddar, a raw cow's milk cheese made by Cabot and aged at the Jasper Hill Cellars in Vermont especially for The Cheese Shop of Concord. Distinctive for its rich, milky flavor and smooth, creamy texture, this medium-bodied cheddar is a crowd-pleaser.
The Cheese Shop of Concord
29 Walden Street
Concord, Massachusetts
(978) 369-5778 /

Goat cheese…

Because February and March are when female goats give birth, and because goats produce far more milk than their offspring require, the excess milk is turned into cheese. Most experts and enthusiasts agree that fresh goat cheese (chevre) tastes markedly better in the spring than at others times of the year.

Be on the lookout for fresh goat cheese produced by Massachusetts Cheese Guild’s members. Here are some examples, sold in better specialty shops and grocers, at farmers markets, and at the farms’ own stands. Locations can be found on the Massachusetts Cheese Guild website at

Chevre from Crystal Brook Farms, Sterling
Less than 3 days elapse between milking the goat and the finished cheese.  Talk about fresh!

Chevre from Valley View Farm, Topsfield
Also fresh artisanal goat feta, a camembert style, and goat Tomme. Sold primarily on the North Shore, but who wouldn’t want to seek out cheese made from the milk of does named Maple, Caramel Truffle and Milkshake? 

Capri brand chevre from Westfield Farms, Westfield
Available everywhere in 10 flavors including plain, Hickory Smoked, Wasabi and Chocolate

Thanks to Chris Lyons for this great information.

Hold on to your hats...even more on their way.