Foodie Photo Essay: Taste of Park Plaza

Last night a dozen restaurants and eateries all around Boston’s “city within a city” welcomed guests and supporters of The Greater Boston Food Bank to its Taste of Park Plaza. Guests strolled from one participating restaurant to another — sipping wine here, indulging in Italian desserts there, sipping specialty brews here, indulging in bacon-wrapped filet mignon there, and on and on for three-and-a-half decadent hours.

Proceeds from the event benefited the Food Bank, but an additional benefit for guests was the opportunity to visit each of the restaurants that rim Park Plaza in one fell swoop and to taste food and drink specialties of each. The photo essay here highlights some of those specialties.

Davio's served Philly cheese steak spring rolls paired with Stella Artois beer.

McCormick & Schmicks served chicken roulade (shown here) and fresh crab rangoon.

Maggiano's served an extensive buffet of pastas, desserts and cocktails including this Ultimate Cosmopolitan.

Seared tenderloin wrapped in bacon and served in a red wine reduction sauce was the specialty of the house at Fleming's.

A Ben & Jerry's ice cream truck scooped up servings of Boston Cream Pie and Cookies & Cream ice creams.

Miniature parfaits made with strawberries, rhubarb and cream -- along with three varieties of dessert wines -- were on offer at Finale Desserterie.

This vibrant raspberry was one of the petit waffle cones offered as a second course at Pairings, to follow their Niman Ranch Baby Back Ribs (pictured below).

Niman Ranch baby back ribs at Pairings.

Smith and Wollensky served up this truffled macaroni and cheese to go alongside their filet au poivre.

Rice Krispie treats (shown here) and fresh strawberries (below) were part of The Melting Pot's chocolate dessert fondue spread.

Fresh strawberries at The Melting Pot.

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High-low mix strikes edgy balance at Deep Ellum

Pretzels with beer cheese and hot mustard, one of the starters at Deep Ellum in Allston.

I went for the french fries.

“They’re legendary,” a friend of mine said, referring to the malt vinegar and fleur de sel version at Deep Ellum in Allston. I’d agree — referring not just to the taste but also to that high-low mix that characterizes so many of the dishes on the menu.

Deep Ellum manages to balance high and low — whether you’re talking about the items on the menu or the interior decor or the drinks list — and that balancing act conveys a sense of edginess that appeals to a wide swath of customers.

Deep Ellum is a brunch joint and a late-night bar. (Kitchen hours are 11am to midnight, plus Sunday brunch starting at 10am.)

In the morning, you can go with a breakfast burrito or duck confit hash.

Late at night, stop in for a cocktail — or go with Veuve Clicquot or a sparkling white wine from a single-serve can.

Deep Ellum’s menu is well-edited and carefully designed. (The only thing that’s really huge about it is their beer selection: 28 on draft, 80 bottled.) It’s not an all-things-to-all-people menu, but with dishes flavored intensely and variously, they leave the customer happily skirting Deep Ellum’s edge.

Cathy Huyghe writes the WGBH Foodie blog. Read new WGBH Foodie posts every weekday, in which Cathy explores myriad ways and places to experience good food and wine.

Wine and personality: Dr. Su Hua Newton at BOKX 109

The fish course of seared Petrale sole was served with Newton Vineyard's 2007 Unfiltered Chardonnay.

At first glance, Dr. Su Hua Newton seems an unlikely winery owner. She is a scientist by training. She wears a red blazer and black tights that just might be leather. She and her husband, Peter Newton, came to Napa way back in the day, when the valley’s landscape was more likely to be growing walnuts than grapes.

But then Newton begins to speak — as she did Friday night at the Newton Vineyard wine dinner at BOKX 109 Restaurant in Newton — and you realize the roles of winery owner, winemaker, and marketer suit her to a T.

That’s because she is intelligent and pragmatic (useful for one of the first-comers to the Napa wine scene). And because she is vivacious and charming (you’d have to be, to pull off some of the achievements Newton Vineyard has accomplished).

Plus, she is self-effacing and funny, and definitely not taking herself too seriously.

That last — an energy of self-deprecation and humor — helped open the door to the lively, even boisterous crowd that gathered in BOKX 109’s private dining room recently. Newton Vineyard’s reputation typically inspires a hushed reverence, thanks to wine critic Robert Parker’s 96-point rating of Newton’s wines, its inclusion in Parker’s ranking of the world’s 100 greatest wine estates, and premium price points per bottle. Newton Vineyard’s history, in other words, evokes an expectation of stuffiness.

Until Su Hua Newton is in the room.

That was the case on Friday. Maybe some of the guests came to the dinner anticipating a certain level of seriousness. What they got instead was communal seating around just a few tables in the room, exciting food (and I do not say that lightly), and the edge and the flair of BOKX 109, packaged with the unusual — even daring — flight of unfiltered wines from Su Hua Newton’s vineyards.

Maybe the next time these guests see Newton Vineyard on the wine store shelf, they’ll remember Dr. Newton’s sense of humor more than the unfiltered character of most of the wines. Maybe they’ll remember their conversation with fellow guests more distinctly than how well the Red Label Chardonnay paired with the oysters (outstanding though the food at BOKX 109 is).

Or maybe what they will remember is that Napa is full of personalities like Dr. Newton’s — personalities that flavor more than the wines.

Cathy Huyghe writes the WGBH Foodie blog. Read new WGBH Foodie posts every weekday, in which Cathy explores myriad ways and places to experience good food and wine.

Boston Bakes for Breast Cancer: Goodies for a cause

More than 150 Boston-area restaurants participate in the week-long Boston Bakes for Breast Cancer fundraiser, starting today.

The thing about fundraisers is that you have to give something — cash, normally — in order to get. And what you get is often intangible: a good feeling or the sense that you’ve done something worthwhile.

This week, the “get” is a little more tangible and a lot more tasty.

Starting today and going through Mother’s Day on Sunday, some 150-plus restaurants, bakeries, and cafés all over greater Boston will donate 100% of the proceeds from designated desserts to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

It’s called Boston Bakes for Breast Cancer, and in the past 10 years it’s raised almost $400,000 for the cause.

I suspect its success has a lot to do with the kind of desserts — very tangible, very tasty — that are on offer. The list is heavy on chocolate (souffles, bouchons, tortes), fresh fruits (raspberries, strawberries), cupcakes, cheesecakes, and even whoopie pies (one version crafted with pink filling, another served straight up with milk).

Comfort food galore.

Check out the full list of restaurants and zoom in on one in your neighborhood.

Then stop in. And enjoy the feeling that you’ve done something worthwhile — for breast cancer research, and for your belly, too.

Cathy Huyghe writes the WGBH Foodie blog. Read new WGBH Foodie posts every weekday, in which Cathy explores myriad ways and places to experience good food and wine.

Half-and-halfers: Your ticket to knowing new wines

When you're navigating the vast array of new wines available, it helps to anchor your experience to something familiar, then reach out to what's unexpected.

“But what is this like?”

Ever notice how often you ask yourself that when shopping for new wines?

Especially when it comes to taste, we fumble about for something related, something familiar on which to anchor our perceptions as we explore – either tentatively or at full speed ahead – uncharted territory.

Take Sonoma cab. I tried one recently from Chalk Hill, called Imagine — it was new for me — at Grafton Street in Cambridge. It was like cabs I know from Napa (an anchor to something familiar), except it wasn’t. It was also like reds I know from Sonoma (another anchor) except it wasn’t that, either. It was its own thing but it was close enough to things I know to make trying it an experience that was, at once, both comfortable and adventurous.

Take a southern Italian red called Nerello Mascalese. I tried one – a 2007 from a producer called Passopisciaro – at a Boston University event a few weeks back. I’d never heard of the grape nor the winery so, whether consciously or not, I immediately started groping for clues in this wine that would help me to put it into the perspective of other wines I know better. Its color, for instance, was a lovely, translucent ruby that reminded me (there’s that anchor again) of some pinot noirs. I was grasping, and this was just a toehold, but it was enough to move me forward.

Those toeholds serve however precariously in situations like these to balance the old and the new. Balancing old and new when it comes to learning may be familiar territory to philosophers or educational theorists, but when it comes to wine, it is the fairly new realm of something I’ve come to call the half-and-halfers: that is, wines that are half of something familiar (like one of the “universal” grape varieties such as chardonnay and merlot) and half of something indigenous (that is to say, something most of us have never even heard of before).

Anchoring yourself to the familiar makes it easier to branch out and try something new. And in the world of wine these days, something new is always just around the corner.

Cathy Huyghe writes the WGBH Foodie blog. Read new WGBH Foodie posts every weekday, in which Cathy explores myriad ways and places to experience good food and wine.

Dessert of the Week: Real-Kind Lemon Meringue Pie, at Hi-Rise Bread Company

Lemon meringue pie -- the seasonal variety -- at Hi-Rise Bread Company in Cambridge.

Lemon meringue pies, the real kind, are seasonal. That season started in February and — as lovers of real lemon meringue pie know — our favorite season is coming quickly to an end.

That’s what the people say at Hi-Rise Bread Company in Cambridge.

We’ll stop making them within the month, they say.

But why, you say.

We make all of our tarts and pies according to the season, they say.

Well, okay, that’s a pretty good reason. It just sounds odd because we don’t normally think of lemons as seasonal the way we think of fiddlehead ferns or huckleberries as seasonal.

I suspect the seasonality of the real-kind lemon meringue pies at Hi-Rise — the kind Julia Child herself (who lived not so far from Hi-Rise) praised for their essence of lemony-ness — also has to do with the melting factor of meringue. That is, in hot weather, meringue melts. So the making of the pies, and the lovely eating of them too, needs to be done when the temperature is cool.

Fair enough. For now. And only because The Time is still here.

It’s the finding-a-substitute part in about a month, when lemon meringue pie season is over, that things get sticky.

So let’s look ahead a bit. What are your favorite early-summer desserts? Drop us a line and let us know!

Cathy Huyghe writes the WGBH Foodie blog. Read new WGBH Foodie posts every weekday, in which Cathy explores myriad ways and places to experience good food and wine.

Wine dinner this Friday at BOKX 109; special discount for WGBH members

Unfiltered wines are all the rage — we’re living in a pared-back, honest era, people — but few wineries get unfiltered wines right.

Newton Vineyard, which wine critic Robert Parker calls one of the world’s greatest wine estates, is one of those few.

This Friday night offers a chance to taste Newton Vineyard’s work for yourself, when BOKX 109 American Prime restaurant hosts a wine dinner that includes three of their unfiltered wines — a chardonnay, a merlot, and a cabernet sauvignon. Better yet, WGBH members can get $10 off the price of the dinner (keep reading to find out how).

Here’s the plan:

Walk into the Newton Vineyard wine dinner and they’ll hand you a glass of the 2008 Red Label Chardonnay.

Retail price: $20/bottle.

While you’re getting settled, catch a server (or two, or three, it won’t be hard) and indulge in the passed apps of poached oyster shooters, lobster and ricotta cavatelli, and wing confit.

Once you’re seated, they’ll place your first unfiltered wine of the night in front of you — the 2007 chardonnay — to pair with the seared petrale sole with spring peas and morel cream.

Retail price for the wine: $45/bottle.

Then comes the second course with another unfiltered wine — the 2005 merlot — along with barbecued pork belly with Boston baked beans and sweet corn nage.

Retail price for the wine: $45/bottle.

Next up is Newton Vineyard’s iconic Bordeaux blend, called The Puzzle (2005) at $78/bottle retail. It’s matched up with Long Island duck served two ways — smoked breast and confit thigh — with melted leeks and lentil fondue in a red wine and shallot jus.

For dessert you’ll drift back to the unfiltered wines with the 2006 cab and a dark chocolate tart with drunken berries and toasted meringue.

Retail price for the wine: $40/bottle.

Is a $95-five course wine dinner worth the price? Well, here’s what you’d pay course by course (and this doesn’t even include the food):

$20

$45

$45

$78

$40

You do the math — then email your reservation to me at WGBH: cathy_huyghe@wgbh.org, and your WGBH membership gets you a $10 discount. See you there!

Details: Newton Vineyard Wine Dinner, hosted by Dr. Su Hua Newton. BOKX 109 American Prime restaurant, inside the Hotel Indigo, 399 Grove Street, Newton. Friday, April 30, at 6:30 p.m. Cost is $95 plus tax and gratuity; WGBH members get $10 off when you email Cathy Huyghe with your reservation.

Cathy Huyghe writes the WGBH Foodie blog. Read new WGBH Foodie posts every weekday, in which Cathy explores myriad ways and places to experience good food and wine.