[by naveen]

I would be a terrible restaurant critic: I'm terribly swayed in my perceptions by my dining companions, the atmosphere of the venue, the anticipation leading up to the actual meal, and so on. For instance, my dining companions on this expedition were two post-docs in my lab. I had heard for weeks about their kitchen adventures ("I made the most amazing curry last night.."), so I knew they had good taste in food. The restaurant was located in Charlestown, a nice neighborhood that I had yet to visit, and, as I describe below, I really liked the vibe of the place. To prep for the evening, I read the introduction to Todd English's cookbook, which contained an interview about his cooking philosophy.

Service/atmosphere: I loved the subdued lighting, the techno music with the heavy bass (even in the restroom), and our friendly server who I could easily imagine as being Bill Nye's brother (maybe it was the bow-tie). We had a table next to the open kitchen, which was fascinating to me. I could have spent hours just watching the ongoing culinary ballet. I suspect that it would be hard for the antics described in Kitchen Confidential to occur in such a setting.

Bread: The bread here was outstanding and served with a duo of tapenades (made me think of this post by Mark Bittman) and a small sampling of olives (of course).

Sweet pea angnolotti: Fontina fondue, favas, peas, pea tendrils: What is the proper way to eat pea tendrils in a fancy restaurant? This was just as perplexing to me as the lack of bread plates at Rialto (classic Italian style). I need ettiquette training.

Zatar flatbread hummus: Mediterranean salads, hummus, feta cheese: This was served diagonally on a spectacularly large square plate with a cross-wise zig-zag of saffron-infused sauce. It reminded me of the mezze sampler at Sofra Bakery and the bread was reminiscent of really good naan. There were portobella mushrooms, roasted red peppers, a cucumber-yogurt salad, and watercress arranged on an elegant line. I was happy.

Lemon chiffon and passionfruit mousse: coconut nougat, passion & papaya sauces, whipped kiwi cream: That's what the menu said, but the dessert itself had a few variations. First were the lemon-infused dollops of curd with chunks of freshly-made marshmellows. How do they do that? I foresee future culinary experimentation. One of my dining companions said that the whipped kiwi cream was like the marshmellow, but without the cross-linking. The main part of the dessert was served in a pyramid that was like a light cheesecake with more intesnse citrus flavors in place of dairy. I feel inspired to learn more about the art of pastry, possibly from this book by Johnny Iuzzini.

After all that I've raved about the plating of the food, why didn't I take any photos? I recently watched this video by Bourdain and David Chang about picture taking in restaurants.

When people ask me "what did you think of [a restaurant]?" I never know what to say, which is yet another reason why I would be a terrible restaurant critic. Is the food good? I don't know if the flatbread that I got is "better" or "worse" than in a much less expensive Middle Eatern eatery. For me, going out to eat is just as much about the anticipation and preparation, the immersion in the atmosphere of the venue, and the ensuing culinary inspiration. I can barely wait to get back to the kitchen, read more cookbooks, and continue to expand my culinary horizons.

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