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

Day 1: Tequila Rain & O'Leary's Pub


Hard to believe I'm still on Day 1 but I'll try my best to play catch-up on my Boston adventures. I caught up with my fellow seniors and we headed to Tequila Rain by Fenway for some free pool, dancing and food (greasy-but-good fare: egg rolls, nuggets, BBQ wings..). Unfortunately, the bowling line was out to Guam, but we still managed to make the best of it. I played pool for the first time (yes, I'm a virgin pool-player, get over it). After we couldn't stand the electronica and sticky, cocktail-stained dance floor anymore, we moved the party on over to O'Leary's Pub, a dive bar, for some drinks and conversation.

Family of Five (Guinness).

Guinness. That strong ale of choice that every true Irish is familiar with. It's also among the only beers I will drink (along with Presidentes and Sapporo). Hey, some like it dry. I did a little googling on Guinness and found out that it originated in Dublin. It's one of the most bestselling beer brands worldwide, and THE No. 1 beer in Ireland. Guinness is made with roasted barley, which contributes to its burnt flavor (Are we seeing a trend here? I enjoy oolong tea, barley tea and twig tea -- all rather, well, burnt). It's thick and heady because it is mixed with nitrogen (as opposed to carbon dioxide) when poured.

Bottoms up!

Unfortunately, the jazz band (complete with trumpeter) that was playing when we arrived quickly disbanded after their time slot was up. The lead singer welcomed us with a slurred greeting. The pub cleared out pretty early and we were one of two parties left. The bartender (bartendress?) explained how the authorities kick them out at 2 a.m. so they're resigned to close their doors then. Otherwise, they'd continue pumping tap into the wee hours. The barstools looked rather inviting and homely. I almost wanted to sidle up to the cherry black wood-flecked counter and chat with locals and Irish from Southie. On the TV monitor blinking above our heads, Japan was facing off Korea in the 2009 World Baseball Classic Game. I know next to nothing about major league baseball, but Japan won. Ganbarimas!

Tartan coats rock.

We stayed well past 1 a.m. dishing out the latest in our circle and reminiscing about our pasts and futures (doing what exactly, and with whom, who knows). Ah, to good times and good companions!

Tequila Rain: 3 out of 5 stars. It was free, so I can't complain much.
O'Leary's Pub: 4 out of 5 stars. Probably more if the band had continued playing...

Tequila Rain
145 Ipswich St (at Lansdowne St)
Boston, MA 02215

O'Leary's Pub
1010 Beacon St
Brookline, MA 02446