Monday, March 30, 2009

Day 6: Soba & Misono Wok

Hot soba.

Julia made me some yummy hot soba in a light broth for lunch. Even as a kid, I loved nori, the ocean-tinged salty crunch of seaweed.

Tuesday (3/24) I listened to my friend Katie and two other B.U. students as they shared their first-hand internship experience with Uganda in front of a crowd of sixty or so students and adults. They spoke about how their hearts broke for the Ugandan people. The event was called INJustice and included an interactive visual and video exhibit where you could see, read and hear about the plight of the child soldiers and the tragic lives of those in Uganda. After the awareness event, we headed to Misono Wok at Super 88 to quell our ravenous appetites.

My Tukbokki.

This is my tukbokki (rice cakes) with dumplings ($6.95). Usually when you see food drenched in red, it's code word for HOT HOT HOT. I was right.

My mouth felt like it was literally on fire as my tastebuds were sparked (electrified?) with each proceeding bite. I imagined myself a warrior heading into a brush fire forest. Not the best imagery, but it recalls another similar experience...the time I tried this stir-fried squid dish at Buk Kyung that was covered in red hot sauce. Ojinguh bokkeum.

After I ate my fill, I closed the lid and planned to take home the rest for later. Not four steps out of the eatery, I felt a sticky substance oozing through my gloves. Uh. YEAH. I thought, It can't be...but it was.

I assessed the damage. Worse than I expected: a viscose, oily red pepper sauce not only on my gloves but all over the front of my coat, hoodie, jeans and -- worst of all -- my white button-down shirt. Now the only reason I even wore that particular shirt that day is because I had run out of laundry. Talk about bad luck...

Despite my accidental run-in with hot sauce, I still savored every bite of that tukbokki. No hard feelings.

Rachel's Spicy Tuna.

Hannah's Kim Bap.

Dave's Kimchi Fried Rice.

Dave's heart was a flutter after consuming the kimchi fried rice. Sweat it out, my friend. Sweat it out. SO worth it.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars. I only wish I hadn't spilled hot sauce all over myself. Bleach, please come to my rescue.

Buk Kyung II
151 Brighton Av
Allston, MA 02134

Misono Wok
1095 Commonwealth Av
Boston, MA 02215

Day 5: Cafe Brazil

Eu entiendo Portuguese! Um poco... (I understand Portuguese! A little...)
Pronunciation: Ee-oo eng-TENG-do Por-too-GUESS! Oom po-co...

Hey, at least I could pronounce the dishes on the menu. That means the Brazilian Portuguese lessons are working...

Julia and I were hunkering for something new in the neighborhood. A few clicks on Boston MenuPages and we found ourselves at Cafe Brazil in Allston. Hannah and Rachel came along for the ride.

Mustard, honey glazed walls and mellow yellow decor created a fiesta atmosphere. A six foot long mirror created an illusion of more space. In the back, an island painting took up an entire wall, transporting diners to a warmer climate. An Asian family was celebrating a birthday when we arrived around 8 p.m. Friendly, gracious waiters took our orders.

Hard to see here, but the Xingu Black Beer advertised on our table beckoned us to "Explore the Heart of Darkness." Maybe next time, pal.

Julia ordered the Super PF do Peao, a plate of sauteed vegetables with rice, beans, pasta marinara and sausage. She treated us all, like the sugar daddy that she is. I'll have to return the favor next time.

Rachel got the Bife de Boi, thin slices of beef in a garlic mariinated, lightly sauteed with onions and served with fresh vegetables.

Not pictured: Peixe a Dore, fresh filet of fish in an egg batter, then simmered in a wine and garlic sauce, sauteed with seasonal vegetables (Hannah's); Rabada, slow-simmered oxtail with rice, beans, pasta and sausage (mine). The Rabada was one of the Specials of the day. It was heavy on the salt but the oxtail pieces nearly melted in my mouth. Divine. Honestly, though, I could live on rice and beans alone.

Most of the dishes are meant to be shared family-style.

Pudim, a rich baked custard pudding with caramel sauce ($2.95). The pudim had an airy, almost mousse-like consistency and was drizzled in caramel sauce for a sweeter touch. We also got the Torta de Abacaxi, or pineapple torta. Not bad, but nothing to write home about. It might've come straight from the freezer.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars. We ate here on a Monday night, so I wasn't exactly expecting a five-star dinner. Still, very good for its rice and beans.

Cafe Brazil
421 Cambridge St
Allston, MA 02134

Day 5: Pho Sure

Traipsing around town in new three-inch heels is no easy feat. After lugging my heavy shoes and a bulky folder of resumes to a rather uneventful Boston Career Fair, it was high time to warm up my stomach (and my mood) with a big ole bowl of pho.

Pho cures colds, hangovers and poor spirits. Something about the warm, spicy beef broth, crunchy bean sprouts and thick noodles plug up that empty pit inside. There it was -- Pho Pasteur, crammed full with students, families and co-workers on lunch break.

Half the waiters barked orders in Cantonese. I stifled a laugh. This is, after all, Chinatown.

A serve-yourself caddy allows you to grab your own chopsticks, spoon and hot sauce. I sat in a tight two-seater keeping the jade jeweled elephant above me company.

I ordered #13, a large meat bowl ($6.75). The dry pork was slightly off-putting, but I hungrily gnawed on the tender beef. Lots of meat! And a decent share of white rice noodles. Don't forget the lime and bean sprouts.



Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars. Pork could've been better, but the pho was worth it for the quick service and steaming hot bowl ready to be devoured.

Pho Pasteur
682 Washington St
Boston, MA 02111

Day 4: Diesel Cafe & Kickass Cupcakes

Photo by Dan4th.

My camera battery died halfway through Sunday (3/22), so you'll have to excuse the jacked photos. I met up with my friends Aya and Renee at Diesel Cafe in Somerville, off the red line Davis Square stop. I'd heard about the hipster vibe but that didn't daunt me.

Framed abstract paintings of faces in watercolors and acrylics lined the walls, along with geometric prints and images of foliage and flowers. The cafe is a lot more spacious when you step inside. Nine to ten booths stretched out into oblivion (or what seemed like it), but each one was occupied by focused folks speedtyping away on their laptops, their caffeine fix (ahem, "friend") next to them.

From my high stool, my peripheral vision took in two Asian chicks playing pool, a vintage Mobil regulator and a busted photo booth. An old man wearing a grey newsboy, royal blue cardigan and a plaid shirt stood guard in front of the photo booth, arms akimbo, right arm lightly resting on his cane and an unswerving gaze to the right (cash counter). That's when I noticed his chunky silver chain. Grandpa's a true G!

A bright red stop sign in French ("Arret") next to the "Employees Only" swinging door arrested my attention. Diesel Cafe was super crowded and bustling with noise, but a good kind of noise.

My grub.

The counter person served up my Vietnamese iced coffee and sausage, egg & cheese sandwich with a chipper tone and a wide smile. This is the best Viet iced coffee I've had in a cafe -- bar none. Though Renee found it "too smoky" for her liking, I downed the entire thing. Not too sweet like those boba drinks, with just the right strength to keep me awake but not in zombie mode.

A mix-up in my order resulted in me lugging back an extra Vietnamese coffee. If I had downed both of them, I would have been a jittery mess. One thing's for sure: Diesel doesn't shortchange you. The size small coffee is easily the equivalent of a Grande at Starbucks (take that!). Starbucks, incidentally, is right across the street. If you're not a coffee person, Diesel also sells croissants, muffins, bagels, sandwiches, non-caffeinated tea and chocolate.

The cafe wasn't as "lesbo" as the reviews hinted. I didn't get any chicks hitting on me this time, so I was a happy camper.

Aya chowing down.

So was Aya. That huge Italian thing of pastrami, ham, cheese and fixins' sure looked scrumptious. And required additional maneuvering in the chomping department. Some random bits of lettuce and honey mustard flew across the table. Whoops! Aya also bought some Taza Chocolate here and shared some with me. Renee, sadly, is allergic to chocolate, so she had to pass on this one.

Tazo Chocolate Mexicano is stone ground, organic and locally produced in Somerville. We sampled two flavors: Vanilla and Guajillo Chili. The chocolate was nutty and crunchy with sugar flecks (cane sugar) aplenty. Since I prefer dark chocolate, I liked the bitter undertone.

Photo by Nodame.

Before I parted ways with my buddies, we walked a couple blocks down to Kickass Cupcakes. A more fitting name for this bakery would be "Kicking to Stay Afloat" -- hardly kickass.

Photo by fromourruins.

I asked the counter lady what the special of the day was and she suggested the Mojito Cupcake ($2.75). I gladly obliged. The cupcake's cream cheese filling gave it a moist sheen. While I thought the frosting was overly sugared up (See those sugar crystals? Pumped it up three notches above the normal sweetness level), I would be content just chomping on the cake part. Although the rum factor initially drew me in, it was toned down in the actual cupcake. I didn't even taste a hint of rum. Disappointment.

OK, so I wasn't expecting J.P. Licks-like rum raisin ice cream, but still... The cake's texture was too crumbly and hollow. I've tasted more heartier cupcakes. Though the gimmicky store name was worth a shot, I probably wouldn't go again.

Diesel Cafe - 4.5 out of 5 stars. Kickass Vietnamese coffee, bombdiggity sandwiches and lots of people-watching character to boot. You do have to pounce on a table, though.

Kickass Cupcakes - 3 out of 5 stars. I'm being generous here: The cream cheese filling saved this otherwise too-sweet-I'm-parsing-my-lips cupcake from being a complete flop. I'm just glad I didn't spend more than $2.75 on this one.

Diesel Cafe
257 Elm St
Somerville, MA 02144

Kickass Cupcakes

378 Highland Ave
Somerville, MA 02144

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Day 3: North End -- GaGa for Gelato

Napoli Pastry Shop.

Come get your gelati! The glossy picture menu featuring 40-odd varieties of decadent desserts drew me into Napoli Pastry Shop.


Rachel and I got our double scoops on.

Rachel had the green apple and mint straciatella (left). I ordered the cafe (coffee) and fruity forest. Fruity forest tasted like Stride forest fruit gum -- the one with the yellow wrapping that they hand out for free on Comm Av at B.U. But the flavor would be more aptly described as "funky forest," much like the Japanese film of the same title. I imagined Ryo Kase with a bowl cut dancing the robot and spazzing into interpretive dance on the beach while holding red streamers.

Yeah. So it was like that, in my mouth. Explosion in the mouth! Watch the movie and you'll know what I'm talking about. Actually, just watch the trailer. Sitting through all 150 minutes of it might give you permanent brain damage. My sister wonders why I subject myself to these types of "weird" films. "Funky Forest" is a comical commentary on the mind-numbing reality of everyday life.

Luckily, the rich, strong flavor of the cafe gelato helped to cancel out whatever residual funkiness I encountered in the forest. The creamy, full-bodied cafe conjured hot cups of kona coffee. I'm still trying to decide whether I liked funky forest. The texture was a cross between playdough and those Chinese strawberry sucker candies with a slight stickiness at the end.

A four-tiered wooden shelf in the pastry shop displayed Italian cookies, coffee and nutella for sale. To quench your thirst, you could take your pick of the Italian sodas and fruit juices in the back. Surprisingly, Napoli didn't offer hazelnut gelato this time around.

Look -- it's the Joe and Rachel Show!

I'm not even sure what they're holding, but their wide eyes hypnotize you into wanting to try it. Whatever "it" is...

We moved on to Chinatown. I was craving boba, so Missy suggested Dong Khanh, but they're closed until April for renovation. Bummer. Instead, we settled on Bao Bao Bakery down the block, where we found "Cute Cake" (a spongy cupcake with whipped cream snowmen on top, $1.95 each) and green tea and sesame thins ($3.25). I bought a lychee boba made with actual lychee fruit ($3.50).

Puffed up much?

Blowfish. The edible version.

This has been a very mind-numbing day. My taste buds are confuzzled.

After today, I realized that some of us were meant for stand-up comedy (Joe). Others should stick to our industry of choice. Joe had Rachel and I doubled over in a giggly spell. We commented on how Missy was "the only adult" of the four of us, which is sad but rather true.

Napoli Pastry Shop: 4 out of 5 stars. It might've been different had I tried one of the "safer" flavors, but then I wouldn't have a fun story to tell, would I?

Bao Bao Bakery: 4 out of 5 stars. No complaints on the boba. I would stick to the drinks. The pastries might be more questionable.

Napoli Pastry Shop
120 Salem St
Boston, MA 02113

Dong Khanh
81 Harrison Ave
Boston, MA 02111

Bao Bao Bakery
77 Harrison Ave
Boston, MA 02111

Day 3: North End -- Earnest for Ernesto's


Tread down the cobblestone path from Maria's and you'll pass by Ernesto's Pizzeria. My friend Joe suggested the place, as it's known for its thick, meaty slices for just $3.75 each. One slice is equivalent to two New York-style slices (if you know what I'm talking about, that's huge).

There's retro appeal aplenty. On the walls you'll find black-and-white Frank Sinatra portraits, including my personal fave, Sinatra's mugshot. Green and red Christmas lights blink next to green, wine and white frescoes, which add an old-world flair to this pizza parlor.

Sausage slice.

Joe eyes the sausage slice in a face-off before he swoops in for the kill...

While we were waiting for our slices, Joe recounted the story of how he was hit on by a homeless guy on the T earlier that day. The homeless guy, who introduced himself as Tommy, took Joe's hand and kissed it, saying, "I lahhhve you."

Followed by: "Do you have blue eyes?"

Joe: "No...."

Tomato-basil slice.

The tomato-basil combination was a little too tomato-heavy, adding to the "droop" factor. When I bit into the slice, the watery tomatoes slid down onto my paper plate, creating a puddle of soup. Otherwise, the basil was right on the money. I personally prefer more cheese, but this was great for the lactose-intolerant or people who aren't too keen on dairy.

Chicken-bacon-onion slice.

Yes, that's all one slice. Almost resembles butt buddies, no? Missy ordered this one and we split it three ways. Love the bacon, could do without the grease. This was very oily, but for a non-onion fan, I have to say that the ingredients worked well together.

Two children, a girl and a boy around 2 or 3 years of age, sat behind us and kept me on my toes. The girl shouted to the boy: "Let's PLAY!!! Understand??" The little boy (bless his heart) bobbed his head noncommittally. The girl then proceeded to scream hysterically.

At the counter, Grandma raised her head in alarm and her eyes dilated into fierce mode as her retina zeroed in on the little girl. No auditory command was necessary to shut her up. Finally, Grandma came back with two plain slices. The girl munched on her pizza happily, and all was well with the world again.

Skull Candy.

As we were wandering the pebbly steps of the North End, we ran into a skull.

Well, let me explain.

Someone dropped their cell phone on the ground and the skull decal is what I saw first. I snapped this shot before Missy called the owner and tried to arrange a meet-up to give it back to her. We later dropped it off with the waitstaff at the restaurant she was last seen with it in. My friends joked that I was more excited about taking the picture than returning the phone. Ermm, typical photojournalist behavior.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars. I love cheese. I love big slices. Thus, I love Ernesto's.

69 Salem St
Boston, MA 02113

Day 3: North End -- Markets & Maria's

Saturday, 3/22, I took a day trip to the North End with my three food-loving friends.

I've raved about farmers' markets before. Fruits, vegetables, honey, jellies and jams -- everything bursting with color and the hearty aromas of the earth. What's not to love?

Something about this piece of architecture is both grand and comforting. Perhaps it's because the steel horizontal panels create the illusion of an indoor ceiling and thus, a living room area. I hope the couple sitting on the bench didn't think I was being creepers.


Mike's? Modern's? Forget those overpopulated destinations and keep walking until you get to Maria's Pastry Shop. Now this is what I'm talking about. Powdery sugar sprinkles. Crispy on the outside, moist on the inside (like curd, although I know that might sound like a weird reference). Sfogliatelle, or a clam-shaped layered pastry, has a stacked symmetry that resembles seashells by the seashore. Sally would want one of these...

Sfogliatelle is not lacking in the richness department. The buttery dough is drenched in shortening (or, for more authentic renderings, strutto, i.e. pork fat). The dough is then rolled up and cut into thin cylindrical discs. The center is typically filled with orange-flavored ricotta, but citron peel works just as well.

In case you were wondering, you pronounce this sfog-j'ah-TEL-e.


Amaretti is the Italian word for macaroon, which literally means "little bitter things." But I didn't find anything bitter about these. If anything, the sweet almond taste perked me up instantly. Macaroons have an elastic texture -- crunchy on the outside, soft inside. They were created during the Renaissance period in Venice, Italy. Usually, two cookies are squished together with jam, buttercream or ganache inside. Try them with ice cream or sherbet! Note the crinkles and fine sugar flecks.

Maria's Pastry Shop.

Remember, GO TO MARIA'S. You will not be disappointed. You might even get the lanky young blond guy with the Italian accent who sheepishly asked me not to tell his boss that he didn't know where the hot amaretti was stored. Don't worry, buddy, your secret's safe with me. And the readers of my blog.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars. For someone who's not especially fond of rich pastries or cannolis (yeah, I know...I'm "crazy"), Maria's left me wanting more. And I did help myself to seconds of the amaretti.

Maria's Pastry Shop
46 Cross St
Boston, MA 02113

And There Was Darkness for One Hour

Are you participating in Earth Hour? It's tonight from 8:30-9:30 p.m. All you have to do is shut off your lights. Yup, it's that simple.

This event started in Sydney two years ago and branched out as a worldwide effort to save energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by up to five percent. That's equivalent to removing 75,000 medium-sized cars from the road. Residences and corporate offices are expected to join in. Even the Empire State building and major New York landmarks (read: tourist traps) will be celebrating Earth Hour.

It requires almost no effort on your part, so why not get in on the game? Lights out, baby!

Friday, March 27, 2009

Day 2: Boston Restaurant Week: Om, Pt II

Haddock Carpaccio

Appetizer 2: Haddock Carpaccio with a bed of lettuce. The accompanying salad included tomato, cucumber, cilantro, pesto, mayo and two raw slivers of haddock with olive oil drizzled on top.

Baby Chicken (Me, Dave).

Entree 1: Baby Chicken with green beans and sticky rice. The roasted chicken was soft yet firm overall but dry in spots, probably because chicken breast is often dry to begin with. However, the medley of flavors in the green beans and toasted jasmine rice removed any lingering symptoms of parched mouth syndrome. The rice was slightly crispy with a sweet sheen on the surface, compliments of sugar and sesame oil. A sprig of cloves completed the look.

Braised Lamb Shank (Yun, Austin).

Entree 2: Braised Lamb Shank with spinach gnocchi and bok choy. The lamb was very tender, not too gamey. I love the texture of the spinach gnocchi. Must be all that ricotta cheese.

Pan Seared Salmon (Hannah).

Entree 3: I've read so many conflicting reviews about the salmon, but Hannah assured me that it was moist and tender. "Very herby," she said.

Wild Mushroom Paparadelle (Rachel)

Entree 4: Apparently, paparadelle is very large, broad fettucine. I didn't know that before today. A sign of freshness is the wide circumference ~ 3/4 to 1-inch thick. I'm guessing that's a good sign for the Wild Mushroom Paparadelle, which was also eight inches long. This creamy, cheesy dish hit the spot for me and managed to be rich without that heart-clogging feeling.

Desserts (not pictured): Brown butter carrot cake, Espresso chocolate cake. A dollop of vanilla bean ice cream sat astride the carrot cake. I was particularly impressed by the consistency, which was not too crumbly, nor too firm. Raisins added a sweet flavor to the "milky" carrot cake.

Yun gave me a really detailed description of the Espresso chocolate cake (her dessert). Here's what she had to say:

"Perfectly paired with bitter coffee. Light, minty, with the ginger ice cream. Due to the herb on top of the dark chocolate, it was a very refreshing taste. The texture was not cakey, very smooth and silky, almost mousse-like but a tad more firm. It was topped with sea salt to bring out the bitterness and the [high] quality of the cake. Silky texture due to the melted pieces of chocolate -- not chunks, well-blended with flour."

The texture? "Between a chocolate fudge and a mousse."

And there you have it! OM offers a regular pre-fixe menu of 3 courses for $35 even during non-restaurant week days.

4.5 out of 5 stars

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Day 2: Boston Restaurant Week: Om, Pt I

Black was the color of the evening. Although we're not usually so spiffy in suits, dresses and heels, we dressed up for Boston restaurant week. Kudos to the seniors who accompanied me to OM Restaurant and Lounge. OM exceeded my expectations. It was still daylight out when we arrived at 5:30 p.m. sharp. Yun (who turned out to be quite the culinary expert!) met us there after work. We ordered a bottle of white wine (Azienda Agricola Conti-Zecca Leverano 52-7 --> that's what the cork read). Yun and I drank off most of it.

Rachel and I were both uncomfortable in our three-inch heels treading precariously on uneven brick pavement and dusty sidewalks through Harvard Square, where OM is located. Across the street is Grendel's Den, a British-style pub crawl that satiates the craving for all things thick, gooey, viscous and comfort food-related. From Sunday through Thursday, the entire menu is half-price from 5-7:30 p.m. Get your happy hour on!

In an effort to maximize business sales, OM extended restaurant week to restaurant month through March 2009. OM also offers a two-course lunch for $15.08 and a 3-course lunch for $22.08.

Happy Family, minus Yun.

Immediate impressions: Warm lighting. Tiny cylindrical tea candles hung from the ceiling, along with a colorful tapestry in the shape of a wheel. Goddesses were painted in shades of teal/brick/beige/dusty blue. Service was friendly and efficient. Good thing we came early. I spotted only three other parties when we arrived -- middle-aged couples in both dressy and casual attire. No rude attitude from our waitress, which could easily have been the case since high-end restaurants tend to look down their noses on younger diners because they think we'll tip badly. (We didn't.) They didn't card us but toward the end of our meal I overheard our waitress and another waiter chatting behind us --

Male waiter: Are they legal?
Waitress: I don't know.
MW: I hope so (They both laugh).

Well, none of us got drunk, if that was the issue at stake (and yes, we're all legal, even if we're youthful-looking).

Ambiance: Intimate, Soothing, Tranquil, Hip, Artistic. The decor was evocative of a Southeast Asian country, complete with Bodhisattva statues, a Zen-like waterfall and, on the second floor, bronze statues and figurines placed in four narrow alcoves above a row of two-person tables. A wall of carved sculpture depicting soldiers riding an elephant stuck out in uneven grooves, casting a historical, globetrotting aura.

At the entrance, the front door was made of heavy wood intricately carved into a Tibetan(?) sculpture. Inside, on the first floor, waterfalls and neon lights converged. Rachel accidentally "zapped" the waterfall. Enter the lounge. Mod low-laying black tables with beige cushions made the ideal environment for sipping on a lavender blackberry mimosa or whatever the specialty of the day happened to be. The Maitre'd, host and waitstaff were all very courteous. Our waitress, a curly-haired strawberry blond in her late 20s/early 30s, beamed after she saw the tip we left for her.

The extensive wine list included red, white, merlot, champagne, Zinfandel, Riesling, Pinot Noir...upwards of $90. I'm glad we agreed on the $24 white wine. Wine for four bucks a glass? Not bad, with a dry relish. Our individual totals were $47, including tax and tip. I would gladly do restaurant week again.

On the house: Truffle oil popcorn.

I'm not very familiar with truffle oil, but this was a pleasant starter to our meal. Truffle oil is actually not made of truffles but is a synthetic product, one of many organic aromatic odorants, found in real truffles. The olive oil base adds moisture to an otherwise dry batch of popcorn. Although I wouldn't say truffle oil tastes anything like actual truffles, it was certainly delectable!

My Appetizer: Spring Vegetable Soup.

The portions were not too model-sized (Read: We didn't starve). Each course had several options. The creamy spring vegetable soup had an almost cheesy consistency, with a slight kick of herbs. It consisted of a pureed blend of broccoli, peas, carrots, and other vegetables.

More details on the food in the next entry...

OM Restaurant and Lounge
92 Winthrop St
Cambridge, MA 02138

Grendel's Den
89 Winthrop St
Cambridge, MA 02138

Day 2: 2nd Cup Cafe

After a night of mayhem, JKwon took me to 2nd Cup Cafe in Allston for brunch, a couple blocks down from her apartment. It's a Mediterranean cafe that sells a wide assortment of tea and coffee, ranging from mocchacinos and cafe au laits to Wu-Wei Green Gunpowder and Blue Flower MEM Exotic teas. You can also order silk infusions and espresso shots, if that's up your alley. Homemade simmered soups, such as Lentil and Split Pea and Brazilian Black Bean, made my mouth water. A kids' menu aptly titled "Happy Kids, Happy Moms" offers grilled cheese, PB&J and other childhood classics. I'll definitely come back for a second assessment!

I loved the bright mustard and sienna walls and the homey decor (green long-leafed floppy plants graced the seating area). The definition of hospitality was painted on one wall, and the bathroom was stocked with Trader Joe's Lavender & Chamomile hand soap (sounds like it would work as a calming tea, too).

JKwon ordered the reliable ham and egg sandwich and an Americano, which is basically "watered-down coffee," while I opted for the chicken curry roll-up (huge!) and a small chai latte. Mmm..the chai latte was a steamy, milky delight of frothiness, not too sweet but with a slightly bitter, bark edge at the end of a long sip.

Overheard: "Did you know that Starbucks uses syrup in their chai lattes?"

Actually, Starbucks (and a whole bunch of other coffee shops) use flavored syrups and premade mixes in their coffees and teas. Makes me think twice about visiting Starbucks out of convenience (AKA laziness). I'll suck it up and brew my own pot of Indian chai, thank you very much!

My curry chicken roll-up was comprised of an aromatic blend of herbs and spices -- key word was tangy, not spicy. Lettuce, cucumbers, diced apples and sunflower seeds drenched in a nutty dressing complemented the roll-up, adding the perfect mix of tart, zesty and crunch to every bite.

Hospitality: n. 1. The virtue which induces us to feed and lodge certain persons who are not in need of food and lodging. Sums up 2nd Cup Cafe's mission statement. They aim to serve, and they do it right. And with free Wi-Fi, it's easy to pull out your laptop and get work done while basking in the warm glow of the sun through the glass windows facing the front.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars. It's hard to find anything wrong about this place, except maybe for the tight placement of the tables and chairs, which was a tad snug. Also, my curry chicken roll-up was messy to eat, so I wouldn't suggest it for a date. Otherwise, energetic vibe, thoughtful interior design, friendly service, excellent food and drinks = happy Sarah!

2nd Cup Cafe
111 Brighton Ave
Allston, MA 02134