Category Archives: Massachusetts

ArtBar: Great…Food

ArtBar, Cambridge, Mass.

“There are so many things that look really good,” said the man catty-cornered from me. His words perfectly matched my thought, one that was equally overwhelmed as I attempted to make a hungry decision. You can’t help not be while perusing the lunch menu at ArtBar, a fine little nook part of the Royal Sonesta Hotel in Cambridge, Mass.

An intimate ambience combined with the restaurant’s alluring menu make this place a worthy trip. The American cuisine is a collection of seasonal dishes featuring lots of ingredients native to New England. On this particular cold, cloudy day, I only wished there would have been warm sunshine welcoming me to the restaurant’s patio, where one can sit and dine by the adjacent Charles River. But, the weather was far from inviting a outside seat. So, naturally, I did what anyone would have: ordered piping hot soup. Brought forth was a small bowl of Butternut Squash bisque, each spoonful invading my palate with a silky smooth perfectly blended flavor. It was absolutely delicious, and a solid start to part one.

On to part two, a grilled chicken sandwich. Alright, I gotta be straight. Grilled chicken seems boring, like watching baseball or staring at a white wall at the doctor’s office. This particular grilled chicken sandwich, however, was out of the ordinary. There must have been a secret something in the dish well beyond it’s vibrant and delicious appearance.  A top tangled watercress rested a perfectly sliced vine-ripe tomato that cushioned what looked like the juiciest, most tender well-seasoned piece of poultry.

And it got even better. Plastered between two slices of toasted seven-grain bread was a creamy complement: Vermont goat cheese. It was the kind of sandwich you’d daydream about. The ingredients were perfectly balanced and hearty. Served with an oversized pickle and a house salad with drinkable balsamic dressing, I’d absolutely return to ArtBar just for this lunch delight.

Of course, I couldn’t leave without sipping a little something. Before an angelic-looking coffee cup was brought forth, I have to say, I was honestly really pumped. After all, what I’d consumed up to that point tasted pretty delectable. The coffee, I thought, must be out of this world.

Yes, well, there’s nothing like disappointment to smack you in the face. My thought was quickly deflated the moment a dark brew was place in front of me. That’s when I discovered a big disconnect between the coffee and ArtBar’s regional flavors. I didn’t like the brew. Burnt. Acidic. Too strong. I don’t know how else to describe. Who would have thought that such a cool, delicious restaurant would go the commercial coffee route, as opposed to serving something local, like Barismo. My coffee cup pointed to the obvious: an exit sign. Literally, it was reflected on top. Don’t believe me? Take a look.

To Ms. B.V. of Eat.Love.Food, ArtBar’s food is worth eating. The coffee, however, you’re better off pretending the menu doesn’t offer it. 


Wake Up at L’Aroma

L'Aroma, Boston, Mass.

A short while ago, my dear friend L.M. set off on an 18-hour drive down to swampland. U-Haul fully loaded and papa McD in tow, Ms. Lariss began the long labyrinth at the stroke of midnight. I imagine by now she has made her way to Orlando, her home for the next three years where she’ll practice her podiatry residency. If I’d embarked on the extended road trek with her, I would have rerouted us to Boston for some serious stimulant—and I know exactly the place to get the fix: L’Aroma. This spot will awaken you more than a double shot of espresso.

I discovered L’Aroma thanks to the energetic and stylish Ms. B.V., founder of Eat.Love.Food. B.V. knows all about Boston’s hidden gems. Naturally, when she shared her 10 picks for best coffee spots in Beantown, I took note. Number one on the list: L’Aroma, located in the Back Bay at 85 Newbury Street. This popular spot is 0.3 miles from Ombe Center, the Saturday sanctuary where I started my morning a couple weeks ago. I was the solo student in Rachael’s Yoga for Runners class, which I highly recommend whether or not you’re a diehard yogi. Absolutely beautiful studio and equally beautiful practice.

Anyway, post-Ombe, I met up with Ms. B.V. at her recommended locale. Upon entering the café, I immediately noticed a wildly strong fixation with tea. It was everywhere. Bags and bags of loose leave teas for purchase decorated the walls like fine art. I asked the owner about the obsession and he admitted that he prefers tea to coffee.

After hearing that, one might presume the coffee served wouldn’t be as important or tasteful. Wrong assumption. L’Aroma’s owner could have kept the former Starbuck’s franchise and served what I think is too strong, burnt-tasting coffee. Instead, he transformed the place into a cozy nugget that serves coffee from Caffè Umbria, a wholesale roaster based in Seattle.

Coffee is in Umbria’s blood with a lineage dating back to the 1940’s, when the founding Ornello Bizzarri built his roastery in Perugia, Italy. Caffè Umbria serves it’s coffee around the country including at the Bellagio Hotel and Culinary Institute of America in Napa.

Aside from the coffee, L’Aroma  offers an array of savory croissants, assorted quiches and stomach-satisfying salads and sandwiches. And, of course, an overwhelmingly long tea selection.

Ms. B.V. and I each ordered a coffee and took a seat among the caffeine-wired, Chatty-Cathy crowd, which seemed to be crawling with little kids. Yes, the place is pretty child-friendly, a perfect spot for moms to recharge with caffeine to have the energy to take care of said crazies. And aside from that, Umbria coffee is decent and pairs well with an oversized amaretti cookie, best when shared with a lovely friend.

Delicious Dessert and Coffee? Think No Further Than Thinking Cup

Thinking Cup, Boston, Mass.

Sugar makes everything taste better, so they say. But let me tell you, no amount of sugar will ever make a dessert taste even mildly decent when I’m the one orchestrating any and every baking attempt.

When it comes to baking, I might as well do it blindfolded and hungover. I think the problem resides in that I have a strong aversion to measuring and like to take a “substitute approach” for ingredients I don’t have. The average person would simply run to the store, but not this woman.

Take, for instance, butter. Typically, I’m a health nut and very rarely use butter, which means that usually I don’t have it. If I happen to be in a baking mood, for whatever sorry reason, I’ll sub butter for A.) Nothing or B.) Applesauce. But I usually don’t have applesauce either, in which case I’ll just use an apple.

I realize apples and butter are in no way remotely similar ingredients, but that’s me trying to be healthy. Wait, the mistakes are more laughable.

When a recipe calls for sugar, I’ll only use half the amount, and it will be the wrong kind of sugar (e.g., brown sugar instead of white). “You can’t do that,” says my good friend R.H., a natural born baker. “You have to follow the recipe. All of it,” she reiterates, as if I’ll be convinced. But that “Ah ha” moment never seems to occur.

And then there’s the time I thought I could make meringues…in a blender. “That will never work,” R.H. alarmed me. “The ingredients need air!” Trust me, even when I try to follower her direction, including measuring down to a t and using all ingredients, the end result is just the same: disaster.

No one, not even fido, should have to suffer a bite of my baking fiascos. I’m just not meant to bake. Thankfully, my cooking skills are entirely intuitive, and I rest assured I never make anyone sick.

Needless to say, I appreciate a good dessert when I’m not the one behind the efforts. If only I could perfect my all-time favorite: carrot cake. “That’s not really a dessert,” Desmond Howard told me. Well, it’s caloric, decadent, unhealthy and full of sugar. Sure sounds like glorious goodness.

So the point of all this…After I ran the Boston Marathon, all I wanted was a delicious piece of carrot cake and a beautiful cup of coffee. If I’m going to spend my calories, I’d rather it be for something decadent and not the typical runner fare, like a silly oversized bagel and a banana. No. 26.2 miles and 3,000 calories burned. Give me something good.

It wasn’t until my last day in Boston that my wish was granted at Thinking Cup. I like to call this place downtown Boston’s  Coffee Cupid, aiming to bring you one of the best coffee and dessert experiences you could ever ask for (take a peek inside).

Thinking Cup serves Stumptown Coffee. You know it’s my favorite, so no further explanation necessary. TC also promotes an eye-popping pastry menu of various made-in-house sweets. From beautiful tarts to mini cupcakes to the double C. And when I spotted said favorite, I knew I had to try it. I ended up taking the carrot cake back home with me, too full to taste test alongside the Ginger Vanilla Latte the wonderful and charismatic Phil made for me. My response was basically a smile that lasted so long it made my cheeks hurt. Unbelievably delicious. I couldn’t have had a better dessert. I’d also brought back a piece of zucchini bread for my coworker, D.K., as a small thanks for the streamline of music he provided throughout my training. His word-for-word response, “It was amazing. Half cinnamon-sugary, half zucchini-y….wholly delicious. I want the entire loaf!”

There you have it. If you’re ever in Boston and in the mood for something delicious, think no further than Thinking Cup.

Flour Bakery: Coffee Worth the Calories

Flour Bakery + Cafe, Boston, Mass.

Easter Sunday or not, I will happily spend all day in the kitchen and be perfectly content. Cooking is one of my greatest passions and always more meaningful when the end result is shared with others.

This a.m., my table welcomed a light brunch: butter lettuce salad with balsamic ginger glazed beets, goat cheese and lemon vinaigrette; gruyère, asparagus and tomato frittata; savory sweet potatoes with crème fraîche (my personal recipe, let me know if you want it); and completing the meal, a batch of French Pressed coffee from Flour Bakery + Cafe. I scooped the whole bean house blend last week at 1595 Washington St., a.k.a. the South End of Boston. And like a fine wine, I’ve been anxious to sip it. Coffee beans, however, don’t get better with age, so today’s taste test was much in order. I quickly sum it up as satisfying like last week’s café au lait.

If you’re a fan of the Food Network, particularly Bobby Flay, you may have seen the Throwdown episode featuring B.F. going head-to-head with Flour’s founder Joanne Chang for the title of Best Sticky Buns. The acclaimed bakery has been recognized with the “Best of Boston” award five times since 2002, and after my anticipated visit, I understand why.

April 23, 4 p.m. On this particular day I was ready to welcome my fourth cup of coffee—crazed consumption I’m not afraid to admit. After waiting in a packed line, my fine company, G.G., L.G. and I placed our orders. Attempting to be healthy, G.G. opted for a decaf coffee and a granola bar. Sure, oats, honey, walnuts and cranberry-apricot-apple jam sounds like a good combo—if on a hike and sporting Birkenstocks, but at a renown bakery, “healthy” should instantaneously be left at the door. Needless to say, my order was a little more dense: a café au lait and a ridiculously rich Oreo cookie sandwiched with sinfully creamy goodness.

Knowing I’d easily burn it off, my goal was to stockpile sugar reserves for the Boston Marathon—and I give myself an A+. I don’t even recall what L.G. ordered because by the time the caloric pick-me-ups arrived, I was too distracted by the white foam piled a top my coffee cup. It looked so smooth and pure, an organic creation too beautiful to even drink (yeah right though, I wouldn’t dare not drink it).

Though Flour is a happening spot thanks to it’s mouth-watering pastries, all prepared in-house, it should be a go-to for brew, too. Flour serves Fazenda Coffee, a specialty company based out of Needham, Mass. that roasts for retail and wholesale daily. My java judgement: the café au lait was more than palatable and the coffee was good enough to bring home.

To Miss B.V., you must go here for a taste test.

Barismo Snapshots

Barismo, Arlington, Mass.

Words are few, so I thought I’d leave you with photos instead. Click the image above to peek inside Barismo.

Pavement Perk Up

Pavement Coffeehouse, Boston

Meet Cedric* (pictured at right). The Norway-native is a grad student at MIT, and he loves numbers in a way that should be illegal.

Never before had I witnessed someone smile so much about math. But there Cedric sat, pen in left hand, wearing a slap-happy grin and confidently scribbling Algebraic Topology (I’m not quite sure what this is, but it looks confusing). The man was in the zone, and I’m convinced the half-empty medium latte he was nursing had absolutely nothing to do with his fierce focus—Cedric probably gets excited about equations while brushing his teeth.

I gathered these aforementioned details while sitting across from him sipping a latte at Pavement Coffeehouse in Boston. At least I can relate to his love for a quality cup of Joe.

The Boylston Street spot was one recommendation from Chris, the coffee connoisseur I met at Barismo. Pavement was situated just a half a mile from my hotel. Since the fam had left early that a.m., I decided to walk off my post-race soreness and do some Beantown fieldwork before jetting to the airport. I figured it would keep me safely occupied as opposed to getting another Marc Jacobs ring stuck on my middle finger (true story).

It took me a while to get to 1096 Boylston—and by a while, I mean 20 minutes. I guess I should have taken a cab, but 0.5 miles. Really? Mind you, I didn’t have such a tortoise pace during the marathon. In fact, I ran 15 minutes faster than last year…with a bloody foot. Point being, by the time I made it to the seemingly inviting entrance, I was ready to welcome some warmth.

The line to order moved quickly. These baristas meant business, and their stern expressions let me know it. When I placed my latte order, I received some change back along with a jaded look that said, “Another latte.” Kind of made me wish I would have requested a to-go cup, but it’d taken me so long to get to Pavement. I had to stay for at least a few minutes.

Really, the barista and the coffee equally make up any cafe experience. To the former, I’d say the barista who served mine was disengaged, and it was definitely disappointing. At least the coffee wasn’t. I drank my latte like a celebratory shot. The drink was made with Counter Culture’s Espresso Toscano—mildly sweet with notes of hazelnut, caramel and dark chocolate. Aside from absorbing some pretty decent caffeine, I also got a quick snippet of the coffeehouse: primarily students sporting a streamline of Mac Book Pros; beanies and black clothes; abstract art; not quite an intimate feel, rather a group-oriented ambience; and Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds competing with lots of chatter.

First impressions are lasting. With that said, go here if you want to taste a sweet latte, immerse yourself in a Berklee College of Music crowd, along with the Cedrics of the world.

*I don’t know Math Man’s real name, but he definitely looks like a Cedric.

Thinking Cup’s Creative Cup

Thinking Cup, Boston, Mass.

After four days in Boston and five coffee shops later, I finally found the one.

It’s rainy and cold today, which only adds to my lethargy after running marathon #7 yesterday. I really needed a pick-me-up more than ever, so earlier this afternoon I strolled into 165 Tremont Street, home to Thinking Cup Coffee. The moment I stepped inside, I sensed a welcoming environment and immediately caught sight of familiar brown packaged beans. That’s when I concluded I’d found my spot. Think Cup is downtown Boston’s first coffee shop that exclusively serves Stumptown Coffee. My Portland favorite, right in front of me.

Phil, the man responsible for my Vanilla Ginger Latte, made my day. After one sip of the exquisite drink, I’d forgotten how sore I feel and don’t even smell the potent Icy Hot patches perfuming my muscles. The creative cup was absolutely delightful as was the coffee spot itself. Take a peek inside.

More details to come…

What’s Brewing at Barismo

Barismo, Arlington, Mass.

It’s not everyday something wonderful leaves a never-ending smile on your face. Such was the case at Barismo, a small batch roaster located in Arlington, Massachusetts, just outside of Boston.

The trek to Barismo is hands down every sip worth it. My java journey started 40 minutes away on a subway crowded with prep boys decked out in Brooks Brothers suits that could have used a tailoring job. One snippet of their conversation warranted an immediate headphone visit to my ears. Thank goodness for the red line transfer, which directed me to Alewife, a stop I thought would inch me closer to destiny. How I eventually arrived at 169 Massachusetts Ave. involves some random details. I’ll just say it included a dog and a Mini Cooper…

When I stepped inside Barismo, I immediately noticed two absences: chatter and chairs. The place is standing room only because the roaster focuses primarily on wholesale. Regretfully, I arrived a minute too late and missed meeting the owner, Silas. No worries though, because his devoted baristas detailed all the goods (I’ll share in another post).  Two details from Saturday’s showdown:

Barismo’s coffee is on par with Portland standards. Each cup is carefully crafted by incredibly talented baristas who proudly serve it as if delivering a prized trophy. Don’t expect anything less than excellence.

The spot also attracts dedicated drinkers like Chris, a man who’s as committed to good coffee as yours truly. If you want to have a serious coffee conversation, Barismo is definitely the place to go. The baristas aren’t the only ones who know what they’re talking about. Chris was even kind enough to direct me to the few good coffee shops around Boston. (One more day left in the city. I’m not quite as mobile after finishing the Boston Marathon. Chris, tell me, if you can only recommend one, what would it be?)

Boston Coffee Worth Traveling For

I’m on a one-cup-a-day coffee kick and could use a serious refill. Why the empty cups? I really couldn’t tell you. It’s as if I’m subconsciously fasting. Not only does this seem like accidental punishment, it also makes me feel practically unconscious.

At the moment, I have no dietary restrictions, I sleep enough to survive, and my cupboard houses more bags of coffee beans than Kashi cereal. You’d think I’d be hydrating with my favorite brews left and right. Instead, I’m drinking coconut water.

I will definitely adjust the rut in a couple of days when I jet off to Boston to wildly run the streets. Marathon #7 is just around the corner, and so is Barismo, a small batch roaster located in Arlington, Mass. I read about this hot spot in The Atlantic. Gus Rancatore recognizes it as Coffee Worth Traveling For. Guess I’ll find out.

22 Days Until Beantown Beans

As a marathon runner, I just realized I have three particular traits reflective of a hamster on a wheel—insanity, energy and devotion.

Think about it: run, rehydrate, back at it; run, rehydrate, back at it. Where am I going, and what’s the point?

Really, I run miles and miles in prep to run miles and miles with 25,000 other people. Seems borderline insane, yet I repeatedly do it. I’ve adopted a unique strategy though. Before a long run, I drink four-ounces of coffee. Research suggests that amount is just enough to give you a performance boost. And the coffee custom has helped me survive mission possible six times over. So, when I hit the streets of Beantown in 22 days to run marathon #7, said routine will be in full effect. The question is, “What coffee will I drink?”

I rest assured knowing I have plenty of options, thanks to Eat.Love.Food, a cool site that details Boston’s hot spots and hidden gems. Eat.Love.Food recently spilled the beans about where to get the best coffee beans. Looking forward to a streamline of taste-tests.