Sunday, July 31, 2011

Tomato Tart

So the inspiration for the tomato tart was two fold: a) I had beautiful tomatoes and b) I love cheese. For this reason, I began scouring the internet a few days ago, trying to find a fairly easy, pretty rustic, tomato tart. I found tarts on epicurious that seemed a little too rustic for me, basically tomato tart tartins, which I just thought wouldn't fit the bill... or include cheese. Then there were tarts that were a little too caprese salad, as in no melted cheese, and basically raw tomato and cheese on a tart shell: basically = soggy. But eventually I found a recipe by the Martha Stewart empire that seemed like it would fit the bill. Fairly easy, keeping it simple, and something that would speak to the tomatoes and some wonderful cheese. Disclosure: I am in no way a Martha Stewart fan. I'm kind of embarrassed that I'm using her recipe, and I was secretly psyched when she went to jail. Sorry, girl, I kind of was. That being said, you've done time now, and have street cred. Long live the Martha. 
So a little confession, I don't make that many tarts. In fact, I'm intimidated to the nines by making a pie crust of any kind. I started with Martha's tart crust recipe. Since I don't have a 10 inch tart pan, I think mine is about 8 inches (that's what he said), I decided to stand by the recipe's instructions, but just realize that I would have a little bit of dough left over. I also added my own tricks, which I find helps the crust stay pretty flaky. Instead of a 1/2 cup of ice water, I combined a 1/4 cup of ice water with a 1/4 cup of ice cold vodka. The vodka evaporates, leaves no flavor, and creates those lovely little air bubbles that make for a terrific  light crust. My other little trick to a pie dough is to make sure that the butter is basically frozen. Cold butter, and not overworking the butter into the dry ingredients is so key. In fact, while she recommends not overworking the butter for more than 30 seconds in the food processor, I actually take care to ensure that the bits of butter are closer to kidney bean size than little cottage cheese curds. Just a few tips. Other than that, despite some success with pie doughs, I remain very very intimidated by sugar, water, flour, and salt in any pastry form.
Now onto the actual tart recipe. I started with a single large brandywine yellow tomato, a garden variety, fully ripe red tomato, and an itty bitty heirloom yellow plum tomato. Instead of using fontina cheese, I went for the slightly gooey-er, more melty and buttery taleggio. 
One of the most pleasurable parts of this entire experience is the roasting the garlic part. I cut a bit of the head of the garlic off, added a tablespoon of good olive oil (Segreto - purchased at Salumeria Italiana in the North End of Boston), and wrapped the whole thing in tin foil. Forty-five minutes in the oven and the kitchen smelled of roasted garlic. I imagine that heaven smells of roasted garlic. When it's finished and cooled, it really is quite easy to squeeze your roasted garlic out of the papery pods. 
After rolling out the dough and placing it into my tart pan, just as she instructs, I spread the roasted garlic paste onto the bottom, layered with bits of the cheese, the sliced tomatoes, another layer of bits of cheese, and about a tablespoon drizzle of olive oil. I also cracked on some pepper, and a dash of kosher salt. And that was that. Bake up, my darling.
Turned out pretty good too. Take a look for yourself. Warm tart, delicious savory roasted tomatoes, gooey, rich melted taleggio cheese, and a flakey, buttery tart shell. I don't know if you can really do much better.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Lynn, MA wins all ethnic food throw downs: Tacos edition

Lynn, Lynn, City of Sin. You've heard it before, and if you haven't, you're probably not from around these parts. Even on the commuter rail, on my way home from work on a Friday night, the conductor will announce the stop as "Lynn, City of Sin." (Of course, this funny man of the railways also announces Salem Depot as "Salem, Home of the Witches.") But what you may not realize, that amid this city that many people avoid due to the bad rep, you will find the most incredible, authentic ethnic food: cheap, carefully prepared, and absolutely delicious.
This time, we're featuring tacos... and the best that I've found in Lynn are at Mexico Lindo on Market Street, right near the train station. For years, I've not understood why the hell people love tacos so much. Yeah, I get it, they're easy to make at home with those crappy hard shell kits. Tacos are a party. Tex Mex is a party. Ooooh! Guac served at the table! Smells like college with those two buck, watered-down margaritas. I am so over ALL of it.
Great tacos are prepared with corn tortillas. They're still flexible, but they have been toasted. They have incredible, homemade roasted salsas. There are few accoutrement: cilantro, previously mentioned salsa, fresh squeezed lime. You can keep your gloopy guacamole and completely unnecessary sour cream. Great tacos are all about a carefully prepared filling made from time tested family recipes. All of the above are true and then some when venturing out to Mexico Lindo.
The Red Salsa
The store front and interior are not why you come here. There's about six tables, and a long counter. There's a picture of Jesus on the wall, because if there's a second coming, he's coming here first. The tacos are just that good. The menu is simple. There are enchiladas, flautas, tostadas, tortas, burritos, and the tacos. When coming to Mexico Lindo, you order the taco plate. You might order an enchilada on the side or check out the specials board, but that's only if you're really hungry. Again, order the taco plate. Do it. Three tacos, beautiful, glowing orange, homemade Mexican rice (nothing like the Uncle Ben's crap that appears regularly at other restaurants boasting great Mexican food), and refried pinto beans. But now the difficult part, which tacos to order? I recommend putting aside any fears of the nasty bits that you may have, and go for the gold with at least one of the following: tripa (tripe - chitterlings cut), lengua (tongue), cabeza (head). After that, I whole-heartedly urge you also order the barbacoa, which is a special they have on Saturdays, and/or the al pastor, which is perfect.
Today, between the bigger half and myself we ordered two taco plates with the following of note: la tripa, la lengua, the al pastor, and la barbacoa. Bonus order: a chicken enchilada.
The Green Salsa
Act 1: Upon arriving at the restaurant, the gracious young lady at the counter will almost immediately bring over a little basket of tortilla chips, nothing special there. But what she brings over next is nothing short of extraordinary. Two different salsas, neither are chunky or gloopy. These are roasted and pureed, smooth, and thin salsas. They are meant to dress your chips, and later your tacos. The two salsas are remarkably different. One is a red salsa, smelling of roasted tomatoes and mild peppers, Mexican spices, and a touch of vinegar for tang. The second is a vibrant green, made with roasted tomatillos, and spicy peppers... possibly poblanos and jalapenos. There is diced onion, and the fresh zing of squeezed lime and shredded cilantro. The green is a bit more spicy than the red, but both are impeccable examples of vibrant roasted salsas, wonderful with the simple tortilla chips for munching prior to the meal, but also essential additions to each small taco when your meal actually arrives.
Act 2: The Tacos.
La Lengua
Lengua: If you see lengua on the menu at Mexico Lindo, this actually means that you're getting a taco made with beef tongue. When the taco arrives, it'll be on a plate of three tacos, but you'll immediately recognize the tongue taco, the meat sliced thin and then into bite-sized pieces, but unmistakable with the little visible taste buds on the end of a few pieces. Don't be alarmed, this meat is tender, it's flavorful in the same way that a nice piece of filet mignon might be. It's savory, and cooked low and slow for the full benefit of a nice clean taco filling. Topped with a little bit of diced raw onion, and cilantro, plus your spoonful of each salsa, the tongue taco is tender, beefy, and sublime.
La Tripa
Tripa: I've been to other taco restaurants where the tripe is a honeycomb cut that has been stewed in tomatoes and spices for hours. While this is delicious, the tripa at this restaurant is similar in style to Southern chitterlings... the small intestine, cleaned very very well, and fried up on a flat top grill with various spices, though the two most prominent seem to be pepper, and cumin. Because they have been cooked properly, these little tubes are chewy, but just enough so to give some real texture to the taco. It's very satisfying to chew on a tripa taco like this, each bite releasing a better essence of grilled meat: fatty, earthily spiced, and then ending with the tang of the green tomatillo salsa. I could easily eat more than one of these cute little tacos. Yes, they're cute.
The Al Pastor
Al pastor taco. This pork has been slow cooked, and traditionally the juice of a pineapple is allowed to drip down onto the meat as it cooks, assisting in the flavoring of each bite via the sweet, tangy acid of the fruit. Although I'm not sure if they actually do this at Mexico Lindo since a vertical tower of meat is not immediately detected (who knows, it could be hidden deep in the kitchen), the flavor is still there. At this restaurant, the meat has been chopped into smaller pieces, and tossed onto the flat top grill, giving the meat that lovely little char that only adds to the enjoyment and different textures of the taco. It's an incredible bite of pork, kissed with a light red color, deep with the flavor of cumin and paprika. A paragon of a traditional taco.
Center: The Barbacoa
Barbacoa: This is a special that the restaurant has on Saturdays, and can be roughly translated to barbecue. This is the Mexican answer to pulled pork. Pork butt has been slow roasted forever and ever, only to produce tender meat, pulled apart into little shredded strings, and piled high within the corn tortilla. This is one of my bigger half's favorite tacos, and again, a good choice if you're looking for an excellent version of a taco, but tend to shy away from the items I have described above. Rich, with the fat having rendered out through the cooking process, all you're left with is clean-tasting, delicious pulled pork within a perfect taco.

The Chicken Enchilada
BONUS ROUND! Enchilada! Each enchilada at Mexico Lindo is only $2.50, so pony up, asshole. They're small, made of the same corn tortillas as your taco, but wrapped tightly around slow cooked, pulled apart chicken, cooked similarly to the barbacoa pork. This little wrap is then simmered for five to ten minutes in a traditional Mexican red sauce, allowing the entire roll to soak in a delicious tomato and chili flavor. When the enchilada is ready, it does not come drenched in the sauce, or covered with melted cheese in something resembling a boat, or piled with guac and sour cream, and your grandma's kitchen sink. The simmered in sauce enchilada is placed on a plate, given a little pile of shredded iceberg lettuce, topped with no more than a teaspoon of sour cream, and sprinkled with a tiny bit of crumbled queso fresco. That's it. It's simple, and it's delicious. The flavor of the sauce is soaked throughout the enchilada, but each bite keeps it's own integrity and does not fall apart. The chicken is delicious, and thoroughly spiced, and the cheese and sour cream add their own notes of salty and creamy tang. It's amazing how something so homemade, and so honest, and so simple with such history, and Mexican national pride can be transformed into such restaurant chain crap over the years. This is the best enchilada I've ever had.
Taqueria Mexico Lindo
So remember, for traditional, authentic Mexican food, it's Mexico Lindo in Lynn. If you can't find it, it's probably because there's a sickly looking tree blocking the sign. So follow your nose instead, and order these tacos immediately.

Mexico Lindo
16 Market Street,
Lynn, MA 01901

Friday, July 29, 2011

Cauliflower is not boring!

Cauliflower is kind of a weird looking vegetable. Related to brussels sprouts, cabbage, and broccoli, it's the least vegetable looking thing, more resembling mold or bubbles sprouting from some kind of a green orb. It's something that was always available at Stop and Shop growing up, shrink wrapped and generally looking uninspired. But when you see it in the farmers market, it's actually pretty darn cool looking. There are even different varieties available now, varying from a creamsicle-hued orange, to a feminine looking purple, and then there are those wacky geometrically freaky Romanesco varieties. Even the classic white cauliflower looks downright adorable when hugged by those cabbage like leaves, cabbage patch kids like. 
And that's what we cooked up today. Sans shrink wrap, but complete with outer leaves, we decided to bake up the cauliflower florets two ways: simply buttered vs. curried. Snap off those green leaves, and slice off pretty even sized florets. After that the sky's the limit.
If you're just going straight buttered cauliflower, grab yourself about a tablespoon to two tablespoons of softened butter. I take bits of the butter and actually rub them into each floret, later sprinkling with salt and pepper. Throw this into a 375 degree oven for about 15 minutes until it gets lightly browned. You'll have a nice clean tasting cauliflower side dish: salty, buttery, and call me crazy, but the end result has a little bit of a cross between the texture of a broccoli stalk, and the flavor of a baked turnip.
If you're going a little further with spicing up the vegetable, you may want to try the curried version. Still butter up your cauliflower florets as above, and throw into the oven for about seven minutes or so. While in the oven, prep your curry dressing. You'll want to take about half a teaspoon of peppercorns, a pinch of yellow mustard seed, a pinch of coriander seeds and crush them up w/ mortar and pestle. Now, add a tablespoon of curry powder, a little salt, about two tablespoons of olive oil, a teaspoon of red wine vinegar, and a teaspoon of water. Whisk the whole thing up. Now, take your cauliflower out of the oven, and drizzle the dressing over the florets. Throw the veggies back into the oven for about another seven minutes, and when they've browned up a bit, you're ready to eat. Spicy, deep curry flavor, and tartness from the vinegar really kicks up the fairly pedestrian vegetable. I'm sorry cauliflower. I didn't really mean that. You're just as exotic as broccoli. 

Damn it. Somebody give me some kohlrabi before I fall asleep. 

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

What to do with callalou?

The other day at the farmers market, I picked up a Caribbean green known as callalou. Feeling inexperienced in the ways of all things Jamaican, I spent several days just sort of thinking about the possibilities, and finally decided to do with it what I might do with any other fairly sturdy green: I made a soup with various trash pantry items that I knew would suit it well. 
It's a little bit of an intimidating green, seen in a semi-organized pile of bunches at Kimball Fruit Farm's stand. I really didn't know what it was, except having seen Andrew Zimmern wax poetic about the vegetable and the dish so named for the vegetable about a year ago on Bizarre Foods. But the time had come after leaving it in the fridge for a few days to dive right in. So I took it out, and removed the woody stems as instructed by various recipes on the interweb. It's kind of a pretty green... looks like a weed. I like weeds, they mean it's summer. 
Next, in a large stew pot, I threw in some sliced chouriço, which for those who don't know, is pretty plentiful in Southern New England, and is basically Portugal's (especially the Azores') answer to chorizo. It's spicy, and fragrant with garlic, spices, and the pork sausage is a deep red color. A little splash of oil to help it along, and I sauteed the chouriço until the oil in the pan ran a nice deep red. Having grown up in Fall River, and sharing a love chouriço only matched by Emeril Lagasse (also from Fall River), my blood basically runs red with this delicious sausage. I fall down dead if I don't have any in the freezer. You get the idea. 
Time to throw in the callalou. There was a ton of it, and it filled the entire pot. Not to worry, the greens wilt quite a bit, just as much as you might expect an equal amount of kale to wilt. Stirring a couple times to get the flavor of the oil into the greens, I then proceeded to add about six cups of chicken broth, which my loving husband had made a few days ago from the remains of what had been an incredible roast chicken from Jen and Pete's Backyard Birds. 
Twenty minutes later, the greens were pretty darn wilted, and I'd taken another archaeological dig through my pantry. We had a can of whole stewed tomatoes, nothing too special there, but I thought it might match well with the chouriço, and squeezed the little buggers into the soup. What else? How about a single can of garbanzo beans. Sure, I like more protein, so I gave those a good rinse and threw them in there. Alright, almost there, but needs something else... what's in the fridge. Ooooh! Three golden zucchini that I had thought I might save for the grill, but they would be a pretty good compliment to this growing heartier by the minute soup. So I sliced those into thick rounds, and they too went into the pot. Two minutes later, and our last addition from "leftover/not sure what to do with it land," I found chicken that had been shredded from the roast chicken carcass and added them to the soup to warm up a bit. 
Of course, throughout I had tasted the liquid, adding cumin, all spice, pepper, salt, garlic powder, Johnny's Seasoning Salt, paprika, and a bit of chili flake for heat. Spicing and tasting throughout the cooking process is part of the joy of creating, says I.
This was a delicious hearty soup, and will provide delicious sustenance for the next few days.

And it all started with the question of what to do with callalou. 

1 bunch callalou
1 chouriço sausage
6 cups chicken stock
3 zucchini
1 can garbanzo beans
1 cup shredded chicken (if you have it, that's the name of the game)
Spices: salt, pepper, cumin, paprika, garlic salt, Johnny's, chili flake, all spice

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Refrigerator Pickled Beets

When I was a kid, up to a point we never had beets. I'm pretty sure that my dad had been subjected to canned beets for years, as are many children. But one year, someone, somewhere, not sure who, out of the blue gave my mother a recipe for refrigerator pickled beets. They're easy to make. We had them every Thanksgiving and I would scarf them up until my lips and fingers shone through with a vivid fuchsia. These pickled beets make a believer out of each a beet hater. Each bite is sour, and salty. They have an earthy spice to them due to the simple pickling mix. Most of all, there's something to be said about slicing into a piece of cold, slippery, unctuous piece of solid beet. I should start a club for beet lovers, those converted out of this particular recipe... and we'll be called the beetniks.
Start out with about three beautifully ripe beets. Don't cut off the stalks as they are also delicious when pickled. Give your beets a quick rinse, slice off the stalks, and remove the leaves. Now leave your actual beet bulb whole, but I like to cut my stalks into about two to three inch pieces as they're easier to eat. Also, there's no need to peel the bulb, as it'll come off easier after boiled. Place them in a pot, and fill until covered + 1" of water. Add liberal amounts of salt, kind of like you're salting pasta, and boil for about thirty to forty-five minutes.
When the beets are cooked (test them with a fork), remove them with a set of tongs to a cutting board. With a paper towel or something slightly thicker if you're a complete wuss, peel off the outer skin. Slice to about a 1/3" thick. Place everything into a Tupperware container, and add:
1/4 cup of white vinegar
1 teaspoon of salt
1/8 teaspoon of ground clove
A couple good grinds of pepper
After you've added all of the above to a container, you'll want to use some of the boiled beet water to round out the liquid until it covers the beets and the stalks in the container.
Now you're done. You've got two to three days in the fridge until they're properly pickled, and I think they're good for about a week after that. But they never last that long.
Beetniks rule!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Boston Bargains: 163 Vietnamese Sandwiches

Another installment of dirt cheap, edible chemistry... true love, in a way.
Banh mi seems to be the latest craze of the moment. There are amazing food trucks that have jumped at the opportunity to market and sell the sandwich. And I can't say that I blame them. These things are delicious beyond my wildest dreams, the money shot of every flavor, and if it's a true banh mi, you can bet that you won't have to shell out more than a Lincoln or a few Washingtons to get you full and excited.
So for today, I'm featuring the best of the Vietnamese sandwich joints that I've found in Chinatown. A list that's always in flux, but honestly, this place has been tried and true since the beginning for me: beating out Saigon, Lucy's, Mei Sum... That's right, it's 163 Vietnamese Sandwiches, right in the core of Chinatown.
I'd be hard pressed to say in a blind taste test which store's sandwich was made by 163. Except that I eat a lot of these damn things, and yeah, I'd know. There's something about their barbecue beef sandwich. I know, I know, serious foodies like the cold cuts with the pate. But quite frankly, a) I'm a contrarian by nature and b) with most places, I find that the run of the mill, cheap cold cuts are just not as good as when an establishment is cooking and flavoring something for themselves, and this is especially true in Chinatown. The barbecue beef itself in this sandwich is savory, it's rich, and a little goes a long way. Without a doubt, it's an MSG fest, but I really don't care. There's gotta be soy sauce, and all sorts of umami etceteras going on. And it's just plain delicious. On top of that is a little vinegared salad, if you will. Pickled carrots, onions, and maybe a spear of cucumber. Often when I've walked into this little store at 11:30, simply because I'm not a 12 pm wait in line kind of gal, there is a little lady at the back of the corridor where you order, prepping bunches of carrot for the pickled veggies.
So an order of the barbecue beef sandwich, and if I'm hungry (ALWAYS), then I'll also go in for a little container of shrimp fresh rolls and peanut sauce. A blink of an eye, and my food stuffs are ready. The lady at the counter calls, "Girl! Girl! Ok, ready!" and I take flight like a sparrow. I grab my little pink bag of delectables and run back to the office to eat.
The sandwich is delicious. The savory barbecue beef is a little chewy, obviously cut from economical pieces of meat, but the flavor is perfect. It's soy sauce salty, sweetened with sugar, and also has a tiny bit of a peppery burn at the back. It plays off of the pickled vegetables perfectly. These veggies are crunchy, and pop within the sandwich. With sweeter, Asian mayonnaise (maybe Kewpie) and a little fish sauce, you have a symphony of flavor within a fairly simple baguette. It's an incredible value at $3.25. As a note, if you're ever headed on the Bolt Bus to NYC, this is the perfect lunch to bring along.
Also take note of the simple spring rolls. The shrimp, noodle, and herb rolls are delicious, and equally as cheap as the sandwich. The peanut sauce is fantastic, and breaks up the freshness of the spring roll with a little bit of zing. I usually split these as a nice side dish with one of my coworkers who has the sand to go all in with me on a Chinatown lunch.
All and all, the banh mi craze is here to stay. It's a delicious, cheap sandwich with a balance of flavors from the bread to the pickled veggies, the sweet, savory meat, and a bit of tang from fish sauce and sweet mayo. Instead of grabbing whatever food truck may have capitalized on the craze, why not take a walk into Chinatown and go for the real deal. They'll be waiting for you at 163 Vietnamese Sandwiches.

163 Vietnamese Sandwiches
66 Harrison Ave
Boston, MA 02111

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Essex Seafood

I've just had a perfect day. It's summer in New England... a phenomenon that lasts long enough to make us forget about horrendous experiences like shoveling out cars, breaking down commuter rail trains, or not seeing a sidewalk for months at a time. With the optimal weather, one is pretty darn obligated to head to the nearest beach. And for us, that would be Crane Beach in Ipswich. 
So after a day of swimming, beach combing, throwing around a frisbee, and generally soaking in some vitamin D (you should see the epic burn on my bigger half's back!), we were famished. And just as one is obligated to head to the beach on a beautiful day, I firmly believe that after the sun and fun, one must replenish and relax at a favorite clam shack. For us, our favorite go to is one of many heavy hitters, but perhaps the least likely to be overrun with tourists and out of towners utterly confounded by the existence of a fried clam belly. This is the clam shack located off of 133 known as Essex Seafood.
While its location is not quite as nice as the on the marsh views had by Woodmans or J.T. Farnham's, there is outdoor seating, and any line tends to move quickly. You'll be able to order all of the clam shack greatest hits at the window from one of the friendly teenagers working there over the summer. There are lobster rolls, fried clams, clam rolls, steamers, chowder, baked scallops, fried scallops, calamari, native shrimp... you get the picture. After ordering, they'll give you a number, and you'll begin the waiting game... seconds seem like days as you anticipate the delicious seafood to come. But grab a beer, and head outside. Oh that's right, another reason why this place is awesome: BYOB, baby. 'Ganny in hand, life is so good.
After a few minutes of clutching our number, good ol' #79 was called, and we retreated inside to grab our tray of goodies. There are really three items that are a "must order", and one for us that gets an honorable mention. Today is a summary of those items at Essex Seafood.
1) The chowder. New England prides itself on its chowder. People are passionate about it. I find that in Boston, chowders are pretty darn thick, bordering on gloopy. As you head further north to Maine, the actual chowder broth is much thinner, and quite a bit more buttery. Down on the South Coast, MA and in Rhodie, things get a little kooky with clear chowder... and then there's that business of the red, which I don't think I can even classify as a chowder. At any rate, Essex Seafood has an excellent chowder. The broth is rich, and slightly thicker than the Maine variety of chowder, but will still slide silkily off of your spoon after being dipped into the soup. As with all chowders, there is a bounty of tender, never overcooked, chopped clam throughout the soup. There are tender potatoes that have soaked in the briny broth, but never too many potatoes. The ratio should be more clam to potato, and if you find the situation is otherwise, I'd be slightly suspicious that somebody was cheaping out on the clams. So, a single spoonful is a combination of a little potato for body, delicious fresh clam, and silky, sweet, creamy broth.  It's impeccable, and you should try it, because I know damn well, I'm not putting the proper poetry to Essex Seafood's chowder.
2) The lobster roll. I love lobster rolls. And for something so simple that should be very hard to screw up, there are a hell of a lot of people really jeopardizing the sweet meat of one of life's greatest luxuries. Lately, I've been seeing "BLT Lobster Roll" on menus across the country. I just read that some fool in California was adding avocado and friggin' jalapeno to a lobster roll. WTF?! Jalapenos? Really? REALLY?! Travesty, says I! Alright, I digress, so a proper lobster roll for purists is three elements: plump, cooked to perfection lobster meat (not just tail; must include knuckle, claw, legs, and body meat to show the resourcefulness of a seafood shack), a buttered and grilled split-top hot dog roll, and mayo. Salt and pepper, a little paprika for the top, a tiny bit of chopped celery, and maybe one leaf of iceberg lettuce to separate the lobster/mayo from the roll are acceptable things to add to the lobster roll, but none are really necessary if you've done everything correctly. And as you may have guessed, Essex Seafood offers a proper lobster roll: lobster meat, mayo, buttered and grilled New England hot dog bun. Every bite is sweet and meaty, lightly dressed with mayo, and complemented by the buttery roll. It's light and delicate, and yet delivered in the same vehicle as that of a Fenway frank. If Sophia Loren was eating a philly cheese steak the two might burst into flames only to leave behind a single lobster roll. Not sure why that makes sense, but it totally does. 
3) Fried clams. Ipswich clams are indeed a delicacy. Local clams are enjoyed here year round, and when stocks are low, the price goes up. But it's always worth it. They're small and sweet, enjoyed as steamers, or deep fried. At Essex Seafood, you can get your clams deep fried in lard, creating an extra crispy, light coating, that's perfect in bringing out the sweet succulence of each bite of clam. I'm kind of torn between whether I enjoy them more here, or at the Clam Box, but I've never been disappointed with a side of fried clams at this particular restaurant. They have tartar sauce too...but I'm not sure if it's necessary. I can just pop these one after another, enjoying the briny explosion of the belly with the crisp, light coating. Fried clams were meant to be enjoyed with the belly, never just as clam strips, which are often chewy and without the major payoff that comes from the little bites served in a little paper boat at various places on the North Shore. Remember, Ipswich clams, deep fried, whole belly, not strips. Shaken, not stirred... Bond, James Bond. Ipswich clams. Full circle. 
4) Clam cakes. Now, we order the clam cakes mainly because these are something that we grew up with down in Rhodie or in Fall River, MA. The clam cakes here are as close as you're going to get to the ones that we knew in childhood at Rocky Point, but not nearly as authentic as the real deal, deep fried orbs that you can get at Flo's in Portsmouth. (See entry Road Trip to Rhodie.) But they are still delicious. Light and fluffy on the inside with bits of clam, and minced onion (not normally added to my knowledge, but not taking away from the deliciousness of a clam cake), and the outer surface has been fried to a crisp golden brown. These are a little oily, and odd in that one order contains three clam cakes, when you usually order by the half dozen or dozen down on the South Coast. But, again, they are still delicious. Something that gets your fingertips a little oily, and each bite contains a little clam and a certain bready fritter savoriness. I think that anyone could enjoy these, and those that don't are probably harboring deep dark secrets that no clam cake will cure. 
So that's the rundown. Seafood shacks on the North Shore run deep with local pride. And honestly they're all good. But if you want one that still hasn't been on TV and touched by the bleach blond spikes of Guy Fieri, then you may want to head straight over to Essex Seafood. Sit outside, take down a memory of what it means to experience summer in New England, sip your 'Ganny like a good boy, and live the dream. Happy clammin'.

Essex Seafood
143 Eastern Avenue (Rt. 133)
Essex MA, 01929

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Sichuan Gourmet: Billerica, MA

For the past three years, there has been no dearth of travel shows featuring Szehuan/Szechwan/Sichuan cuisine. Hosts, such as Andrew Zimmern and Anthony Bourdain, coo and blubber over the numbing heat of dishes that have been given the Sichuan peppercorn treatment. Unfortunately, even in Boston's Chinatown, there isn't exactly a go to Sichuan restaurant. Most are Cantonese, or Taiwanese, and therefore not necessarily showing their strength in spicy food stuffs. However, outside of Boston, there is a restaurant which has become a bit of a local franchise that has gained some popularity among Chinese and those who simply crave the spicy high you might enjoy after eating some fine Sichuan delicacies. This is the Sichuan Gourmet restaurant family, with a restaurant each in Billerica, Framingham, Brookline, and Sharon.
Today, as is our usual routine, my bigger half asked what I'd like for lunch. Being a seriously hot day in New England, part of a heat wave that literally set records yesterday in Boston, I vied for something also hot and spicy, which seems counter intuitive, but hot food allegedly cools you down on a hot day... and it's also just plain awesome. Since he had enough time before having to head into work for the day, we decided to take the drive over to Billerica, which is a little far, but, let's face it, the peppercorn has come a'callin'. So after a good deal of stupid, accident begets rubber necking traffic on 93 South, we finally made it to the restaurant.
Now, this restaurant is something that you would absolutely drive by if you weren't in the know. A small strip mall with a laundry mat and a package store, there couldn't possibly be an authentic Sichuan restaurant here. But indeed there is. The inside is just as humble as the outside. There are maybe twenty tables, and little decor beyond a few Chinese lanterns hung from the ceiling. The music is of particular note, vying from Chinese string instrument tunes, to show tunes, to a few classical symphonies.
But if you've arrived at the right time (i.e., not at lunch or dinner rush), you'll be seated quickly, and there will be a pot of tea and a little bowl of pickled vegetables awaiting your arrival. The pickled vegetables actually serve as a good window into your spicy future. Carrots, cabbage, and the stalks of broccoli are pickled in a slightly spicy, vinegary broth. It's an excellent start to your meal, and makes you feel pretty welcome. Also, just to give a nod to the wait staff, everyone here is very warm and inviting. Servers keep your water glasses filled, and are careful to check that you're enjoying each dish.
So, since this smart couple is a big fan of the spicy and the spiciest, we ordered three dishes: to start, the spicy Sichuan cold noodles. Then as our two main courses, we picked out the Mala Lamb, and the Ma Po Tofu with pork.
1) The cold noodles: The least spicy of our dishes, we started with the Sichuan noodle offering. Cold, thin, vermicelli size noodles arrive in a bowl, topped with chopped spring onions, peanuts, and bean sprouts. The sauce is a mix of some sort of a spicy red oil, and then a salty soy style syrup. This dish is light, and will introduce your palate to the flavors that are signature of this restaurant. They're delightful, cool in temperature, and hot on flavor. As soon as they arrive, your server will instruct you to give them a good toss, so that each noodle is covered with the light sauce, and penetrated with heat. By the end of this dish, you may feel your eyes begin to water just a little bit, but the sweetness from the oil, and the salty heat can only leave any diner hungry for more.
2) The Mala Lamb. This was actually my favorite dish of the day... perhaps because we've never ordered it before. A plate of thin-sliced, stir fried lamb arrives at the table upon a bed of lettuce. The only sauce present on the platter has become one with the slices of lamb, the product of what must be an incredibly hot wok. Each slice is covered with a sauce that is sweet, and salty. It has caramelized on each bit of the lamb, and the heat arrives as you chew through a slight crunch from the sugared sauce, but the delightful soft, savory inner bit of each piece of meat. While spicy, sticky, and sweet, I'd also venture to say that the meat is actually quite lean, and we easily polished off the entire dish.
3) The Ma Po Tofu. Midway through the lamb-fest, the tofu dish arrived. When ordering this dish, unless you are a strict vegetarian, I advise you to ask for the Ma Po Tofu with pork. Silken tofu and ground pork will arrive, drowning in the silky, oily, numbingly hot sauce. Now, each time that I say numbingly hot, I don't mean that you won't be able to taste anything. You will, in fact, be able to taste all the distinct flavors. There's a little bit of a tomato (though I don't think it actually has tomatoes), umami quality to this dish. It's a spoon full of the tofu and pork, poured over a little bit of rice. It's salty, and it's porky, and then there's the smooth tofu, the spice and high from all those peppercorns. I am without words to properly describe how delicious ma po tofu can be, but this is all experienced in an "aha" moment for every first timer that arrives at Sichuan
Yeah, I know that I'll be destined to spend some quality time at the john later this evening. But it was so worth it. Unexpected greatness in suburbs is something to stand and recognize. A road trip to Sichuan Gourmet, despite any traffic you may experience, will always have a huge, spicy payoff.

Sichuan Gourmet
502 Boston Street
Billerica, MA 01821

Friday, July 22, 2011

A Cocktail Revival: Drink

I've had a lot of shitty cocktails. It's called college. It's called restaurant nonesuch with your crappy, all too pink Manhattan. This is not that cocktail bar.
Barbara Lynch, in an effort to do what she does best, and certainly revive the Fort Point neighborhood of Boston (which she had enjoyed much success with the openings of places such as Sportello and most recently Menton), she opened Drink. It's in a basement. It's one long bar and a back standing bar that houses lots of little beetles stuck on needles, just like your 8th grade science class. It's chic. It's a cougar bar. It's the home of cocktails that have long since been forgotten by the masses, but are part of the encyclopedia of fantastic historic beverages of the bartenders at Drink.
So, as you may tell, I'm a little inebriated. And I've had a fantastic evening with a girlfriend that I don't spend nearly enough time with. So I'll keep this short and sweet and go pass out like I damn well should.
To start the night, I ordered my favorite party starter. This is the Bone. I don't have a picture, because frankly I really needed a drink, and in the midst of a softly lit room with country songs eclectic enough that I don't recognize, the Bone is the perfect way to say goodbye to the work week and hello to the weekend. The bone is fairly simple. To my knowledge it is a mix of rye, fresh squeezed lime juice, simple syrup, and a good dose of Tabasco. Nothing kills the worries of a Friday with a list of stuff to do on Monday than a cocktail with a bit of Tabasco burn. It's sour, it's boozy, and it's the way to kick your way into a day off.
The Bohemian
Next, I ordered the Bohemian, which is my beverage companion's favorite cocktail. She orders it one after another at this bar, charming the boys like no other, and scoffing at lesser cocktails that come in champagne flutes. The Bohemian, I believe, is a bit of St. Germaine for floral notes, gin, Peychaud's bitters, and freshly squeezed grapefruit juice. If you enjoy light, citrusy, but all business gin beverages, this is your new go to. Our bartender excelled at this particular drink.
Singapore Sling
Finally, before calling it a night, I felt saucy enough to order a classic Tiki drink: The Singapore Sling! Pineapple, Benedictine, and yes... gin. It's delicious, and silly, and fruity, and a good way to end the night.
Note: While at Drink, we also partook of two delectable edibles. The first was a little iron cast pot of their french fries. These perfect, thick-cut cubes of potato are crispy on the outside, fluffy on the inside, and perfectly salted. A side of aioli, and if you so desire, you can also request a bit of ketchup. I haven't met a soul on this planet that wouldn't like these french fries. The perfect drinking food... but more sophisticated than your run of the mill fries. Second, my companion held a knife to my throat and demanded that we order the grilled cheese. Yeah right. The words "grilled" and "cheese" never meet any resistance from yours truly. You'll find that this thin sliced Italian bread, Gruyere melted fantasy won't last long when placed in front of anyone that moves. The sandwich, sliced into fingers for appetizer sized munchies, is presented elegantly, and topped with a sort of sweet cubed jelly substance...faintly tasting of lychees, but I could have been mistaken. I remind you, I had been a few cocktails in. Anyway, order it. It's savory with a sweet topping, and a nice crunch.
Happy Friday, everybody.

348 Congress Street
Boston, MA

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

North Shore Roast Beef: Sammy's

We all have a little bit of loyalty to a place where we first tried a local favorite. And so I also find myself again and again giving a little bit of love to the first place where I learned of the two way and the three way super beef. It's not as renowned as Nick's Famous Roast Beef in Beverly, which we've also recently covered here at Soused Blueberries, but Sammy's is my favorite. They're always quick, the service is the right mix of rowdy and warm, and you just gotta love a family place where a kid or two is running about, and the local high school softball team are all regulars.
You'll instantly recognize Sammy's as you drive down Washington Street in Salem, either on your way in or out of downtown. The sign on the roof is a favorite landmark of locals, one of my standby marks to watch out for when guiding friends from out of town on how to get to my little place in the middle of the city. There are about seven little tables, and a long counter, behind which you'll see the action happening.
Sammy's is not limited to the super beef, or junior beef if you're not all that hungry but need a little somethin' somethin at 1 AM on a Friday night/Saturday morning. You can also order different wraps, club sandwiches, fried clams, a steaktip dinner, a pizza, etc, etc. But let's be honest, the best thing here is the super beef sandwich. The roast beef that is prepared on premise is cooked to a perfect pink in the middle, a medium to medium rare. It's juicy, and in the past, having only had deli roast beef, one bite of Sammy's has put me off the former for all time. The thin-sliced beef, stacked quite thickly onto a tangy, soft onion roll is just perfect: a righteous chew, and that rich beefy satisfaction that can really only be achieved when you have a beef sans preservatives and plastic packaging. And as with other North Shore roast beef institutions, you can go with mayo, sauce, cheese or all of the above. I almost always stick with mayo and sauce. The sauce at Sammy's is a tangy, slightly spicy at the back end type of barbecue sauce. With the mayo, it provides a rich coating to complement the succulent beef and the chewy onion roll. It's really the perfect "order out" meal, beating out other kinds of takeout almost any day of the week. A fantastic sandwich.

P.S. - The onion rings are kind of like a beacon of light on a dark night, if you know what I mean.

Sammy's Roast Beef
17 Canal Street
Salem, MA 01970

Breakfast of Champions: The Clover Breakfast Sandwich

I feel a little bit like friggin' Goldilocks when it comes to the "perfect size," work week breakfast. Seriously, cereal is not gonna cut it. I'm also not a huge fan of paying four bucks for yogurt and granola with a few sliced strawberries shipped from somewhere I've never been before. Breakfast sandwiches from Dunks are simply too big, and not exactly nutritious (albeit delicious). But when I want my correct mix of satisfying, savory, fresh, and healthy, there is no quick breakfast like one that you can pick up from the Clover Food Truck.
Now I know that this isn't exactly Clover's big show. But it really does improve one's morning immensely. At least once per week, just to treat myself, I finish my walk to work by stopping at the food truck in Dewey Square. The cooks at the truck are furiously, but cheerfully preparing ingredients for the day's lunch hour, while also efficiently making their single batch coffee and iced coffees. There are pop overs coming hot out of the oven, and an option to purchase some yogurt and granola or oatmeal, both with the day's fresh fruit compote. But I always look to the young man or woman who is peeling eggs coming out of the hot water bath. With a smile, an employee will look up from whatever they are prepping, wish me a good morning, and ask what they can get me. And of course, I always order the breakfast sandwich. Three minutes later, someone will beckon my name from the truck, and my freshly made sandwich will emerge wrapped in tin foil. Nothing quickens the walk to the office more than the warm sandwich in hand, waiting for my first bite.
So what makes this sandwich so special? Well, first, I'll start with the eye rolling, eat your peas answer. Everything on the sandwich is fresh, there's actually very little fat involved, and therefore I'm convinced that this is the breakfast of champions. It's not too big, like a ham, egg and cheese on a bagel, but then again, this isn't a two biter either. The sandwich itself is prepared on the same whole wheat bread that is instantly recognizable by anyone who has had something from the food truck as basically the Clover signature pita. The bread is thin and chewy, and there is a nuttiness that adds to the overall flavor of the sandwich, much more so than say a throwaway slice of toasted wonder bread. Within the bread, you have four key components: egg, cheese, tomato, salt/pepper. Let's delve a little bit. Each egg is prepared in a circulating hot water bath. This allows for a whole bunch of eggs to be efficiently cooked at the same time, to an exact temperature. The egg is peeled, and placed into the bread with the other components, and only at the right moment,  smooshed a bit to reveal a warm, semi-soft yolk to sauce each delightful bite. The tomatoes add an umami, savory, and fresh fruity element to the sandwich, especially fantastic during the height of tomato season. The cheese that they use is a fine slice of good cheddar and it grows just a tad bit melty under the warmth of the semi-soft egg. Finally, salt and pepper are a welcome guest at any party, even one at half past eight in the AM. So just to summarize, each bite is filled with nutty, chewy whole wheat bread, a perfectly cooked soft yolk egg, the refreshing savoriness of a bit of ripe tomato, and then the unmistakable, creamy zing of a sharp slice of cheddar. A perfect balance, in my book.

Note: Occasionally the voices in my head do try to convince me that the sandwich is not a perfect balance, and could only benefit from the addition of a slice of bacon. But that's why they're voices. They're, like, wicked crazy and stuff.

Clover Food Truck
Dewey Square - Kitty-Corner to South Station
Boston, MA 02111
Opens for breakfast around 8:30 AM

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Tuesday Night Party of One: Fried Chicken Livers

It's Tuesday night. Boy, do Tuesdays really suck. You no longer have the weekend "umph" that got you through Monday, and now, you're not even halfway through the week. Tuesday nights are an "I quit", give me a can of Chef Boyardee, and get it over with kind of night.
But not tonight, my friends. You see, a miraculous thing has happened. Way back in March when we were all just hoping to get to St. Paddy's Day, my bigger half and I found that Jen and Pete's Backyard farms were now taking orders for chickens that would be dispatched in July. Jen and Pete's is a farm that's run out of Concord, MA, and they pride themselves on raising varieties of fowl and pork, sustainably. Happy animals are produced by allowing them plenty of room to roam, and releasing them to the outdoors when the New England winter has subsided sometime in May. Since they are allowed to live out happy lives with plenty of forage during the warmer weather, the farm boasts having some very tasty birds, and these chickens sell out very quickly, hence why I was on the hunt way back in March. At any rate, last Saturday, our Freedom Rangers (a slower growing bird with genetics from France that have a more evenly distributed ratio of dark to white meat compared to other typically seen chickens in your local grocery store) were slaughtered, and ready for pickup this past weekend. In addition to our beautiful birds, we also had a bonus stroke of luck and picked up about six chicken livers to do something with during this week, and man oh man, they are gorgeous.
So today, instead of turning to slop for my dinner, I decided on frying up some lovely, fresh, extra slippery chicken livers. 

The preparation is pretty simple:
1. Clean your chicken livers, trimming away any extra fat or sinewy bits that may have been missed. For my meal, I used three whole livers.
2. Now, soak them in a bit of milk for about five minutes. I also added a splash of dry white vermouth... not entirely sure why, but in my mind it helps to further quell a scent that offends some. (With chicken livers this fresh, however, I'm pretty sure you don't have to worry too much about the smell.) 
3. While soaking, prep a flour mixture of about a cup of flour, a teaspoon of salt, a half teaspoon of Johnny's Salt, a teaspoon of poultry spice, and then a few good shakes of black pepper. 
4. Heat up about two inches of oil in a sauce pan on medium heat.
5. By now your chicken livers should have enough soaking time. Dredge them with the flour mixture, shaking off any excess, and drop them into the oil. I turn about every minute, and cook for three to four minutes, depending on the size of the liver. It also helps if you have a splash guard, or some kind of viking shield, because frying stuff = spitting oil = ow! it burns! I'd say maybe I'm frying at too high a heat, but then again, there's usually only one or two little pops that really aim for my face. I'll never learn.
6. Remove your livers, drain on a paper towel for a few moments, and you're ready to eat.

So tonight, my most spectacular dinner featured these three fried chicken livers, baked corn on the cob, and some lovely slices of roasted potatoes with salt, pepper, and marjoram. Oh, and a fried sunny side up egg, because nothing is quite as decadent as crispy on the outside, rich, irony, creamy chicken liver, dunked in a little bit of succulent egg yolk... a perfect sauce. For those of you who don't really like liver, or aren't likely to try it, I say more fool you, and more for me, because they are quick to prepare, and absolutely delicious.

By the way, prior to cooking up my feast, I stopped by Salem Wine Imports, for their Tuesday evening tasting, and learned a pretty neat fact from the proprietor, Eric Olson. Having been of similar opinion in the past, he pointed out an article in Wine Spectator, which urged enthusiasts to give less tannin reds, like a Beaujolais, a quick bit of a chill before enjoying. Red wines like these can actually be stored at a cooler temperature, somewhere around the mid 50s, unlike their more tannin cousins, like a Bordeaux. As part of the tasting, we tried a Cote du Roussillon called Bila-Haut, and I thought this had a surprisingly crisp, still slightly sandy and acidic, but not quite as tannin-heavy taste as say a meaty Bordeaux. Since this was a pretty nice red with a few interesting notes that I could actually identify being a wine novice, I thought it might be a good match to the chicken livers, which are minerally and rich, and therefore may be better suited to a red than a wimpy summer white, and asked what he might think of pairing the Bila-Haut with some good ol' fried chicken livers. Being a terrific fan of such things himself, Eric sent me on my way with a bottle of the surprisingly affordable red, reminding me to shoot it into the freezer for about five to ten minutes before enjoying. I gotta say, the wine paired quite nicely with my kick-ass Tuesday dinner... and made it a little more classy too, classy broad that I am.

Pretty darn good for the worst night of the week, wouldn't you say?


Jen and Pete's Backyard Birds and Farmyard
159 Wheeler Road
Concord, MA 01742

Ingredient Rundown
1 cup whole milk
1 cup dry white vermouth (optional)
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon Johnny's Seasoning Salt
1 teaspoon poultry spice
Few good shakes of pepper
1-2 cups of vegetable oil (or enough so you have an inch or two at the bottom of the pan)
1 viking shield, to prevent oil from popping up and burning your face

Salem Wine Imports
32 Church Street
Salem, MA 01970

Potatoes - from Kimball Fruit Farm @ Dewey Square Farmers Market
Milk for soaking livers - Richardson's Milk from Middleton, MA
Native Corn - Milk and Honey Grocer in Salem, MA from a farm in Hadley, MA
Eggs - Maitland Farm in Salem, MA, again via Milk and Honey Grocer

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Boston Bargains: Wai Wai Restaurant

Wai Wai is an adventure. Wai Wai is fun to say. Wai Wai is no joke. It's kind of absurd the first time that you're brought here by someone who says that they know "a really great place." It's almost baffling if you're trying to find the joint on your own, and you stumble upon a small sign, just down the way from a hair dresser, and head down into a basement where it feels a little like you're about to get Shanghaied or put into a bathtub full of ice and your organs cut out and sold on the black market or something equally as grisly. And just to add to the fun of the entire experience, every time I walk in, and approach the small counter to order, all I can think is, "Man, this lady hates me so bad." Yeah, it's that kind of experience... but the payoff is huge, and frankly, the whole scary, murky, mean, dungeon thing in the end is kind of charming, like you're in on a big secret or part of a club that knows about  a codeword back room or something.
Now after you muster enough courage to head down the stairs and into the teeny restaurant, the first thing you'll see a counter, the right side a glass case where they hang the various roasted meats, as well as prep the plates, and the left where you order. Further to the left and back of the restaurant there are a handful of tables. But now it's time to walk up to the counter, and do what you came here to do.

The lady stands sternly looking down at her work, ignoring you until the last possible moment. After an, "ahem," she'll bark a "what you want?" And you, feeling a little less confident, but wanting to get the job done, will say "I'll have the duck/boneless chicken plate with vegetables and rice." She'll say, "to go," and you'll confirm "yes," because honestly all the fellas sitting around the room are kind of shocked to see you in here again anyway. Then you'll step back, either to make room for other warrior diners or simply to get out of harms way. 
The strong, silent-type gentleman behind the glass will now spring into action. Grabbing a Styrofoam box, and adding first a generous heap of white rice, and then your veggies of the day (mostly sauteed Chinese broccoli from what I can tell) to one side of the container.

Now comes the interesting part:

If you've ordered the duck, a roasted duck, the color of dark maple syrup, will come down from where it hangs above where he works. He'll chop off the bits not to be used in your plate, but puts them aside for use in a stock or soup. He'll carve out a good quarter of the duck, chopping straight through bone, a few organs, and skin to give you a generous portion of deliciously prepared fowl. Now, just a fair word of warning: the duck meat is a little hard to navigate within the plate since each chunk he has portioned out will include the tender, juicy, roasted meat, a bit of that fatty, savory skin, maybe a few bits of the minerally liver or heart if you're lucky, but also the proper section of bone that was attached to all of the above. So the duck plate may not be appropriate for you to say, bring into a meeting with a bunch of coworkers you just met. But if you can sit down at your desk and get your hands a little messy for a few minutes, the duck is rich and delicious, and certainly a treat during the work week.
If you're not up for the duck for whatever reason, you have a fantastic alternative: the boneless chicken. Just as with the duck, you're going to get vegetables and rice, however, the gentleman behind the counter will remove the bones from your succulent white chicken breast and slice it into glistening, savory bites that are easy to navigate and perhaps even meeting friendly. I believe that the chicken is prepared Hainanese style, which I think involves boiling the bird to produce a flavorful broth, and later dropping in an ice bath to get the skin to have a gelatinous texture. Just to clarify, I recommended the boneless chicken, mainly because it's easier to eat and the juicy texture of the meat is pretty incredible, but if you're feeling saucy, I will also encourage getting a chicken plate with bones as to experience that salty, cool, fatty-part-of-bacon-textured skin. Not for everyone... but I like it.
But we're not done yet, after the man has added your rice, veggies, and either chicken or duck, he'll ladle a generous scoop of a rich broth that must have been produced from many of the bits left over from the roasted birds and pork cooked at the restaurant. This broth is sloshed over your veggies, meat, and rice, and then as a final step, he'll go ahead and dollop a little spoonful of a sort of mysterious, neon-green, spring onion/onion sauce onto your meat. 
The box is then handed to the lady you first ordered from. If you're smart, you'll have your money ready to go immediately after you order. I don't know why, but I feel like whatever I order, it's always $6.25. As she's sealing up your container, quickly dive in with authority: "Can I have hot sauce?" Yes, there will be a pile of teeny little hot chili flake hot sauce containers in front of her behind the glass. With a stone cold stare, you'll either get your little hot sauce, or she'll look extra aggravated, "what?!" And then you'll just have to point down at the little containers, and say "hot sauce?" and she'll probably concede and throw it into the little plastic bag containing all your other stuff.
At this point you'll probably dash out of the basement restaurant faster than if they just doused you with gasoline and set your privates aflame. It's not their fault, and I'm gonna blame myself each and every time. They're probably really nice people, especially since they produce such incredible food. But man alive, do they scare the shit out of me every time I feel the calling of the Wai Wai monster. Just the same, delicious food... super cheap... freshly prepared... and just plain special.

Location & Detail Rundown:

26 Oxford Street
Boston, MA 02111
Recommendation: Duck or Boneless Chicken Plate with Vegetables
Note: I hear they have a pork plate too, but never quite get beyond the fowl offerings.