Island Creek Oyster Bar – Boston, MA

Boston, Food Adventures
View from the bar.

View from the bar.

We love raw oysters on the half shell. In LA, we typically have oysters from British Columbia, Washington state, even locally in Northern and Central California. We were especially excited to try some East Coast oysters and what better place to go than Island Creek Oyster Bar? During this quick stop we tried 6 varieties – 5 farm and 1 wild. This swanky oyster bar served its own Island Creek variety of oysters, farmed just south of Boston at Duxbury Bay along with several other New England varieties and other areas.

Can you spot the wild variety?

Can you spot the wild variety?

Starting from the right of the lemon: Island Creek (Duxbury, MA), Rocky Nook (Kingston, MA), Ichabod Flat (Plymouth, MA), Big Rock (E Dennis, MA), WellFleet (WellFleet, MA), Wild Belon (Harpswell, ME).

The Island Creek variety was definitely the creamiest and sweetest of the 6. As we went around the tray clockwise, each variety was more briny and became increasingly more complex than the last. The Wild Belon was a slap in the face, standing completely out from the rest with its powerful mineral notes throughout. Luckily we finished with the Wild Belon which blew out our taste buds for the next 15 minutes. It’s quite the experience but not for the faint of oyster.

The Menu

The Raw Bar Menu

We enjoyed or brief hour or so at Island Creek Oyster Bar and could see ourselves frequenting this gem more often if we were Bostonians. If you’re dropping by Boston for a weekend or two, consider stopping by Island Creek Oyster Bar and try some of their local catches – you won’t be disappointed.

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Check out Island Creek Oyster Bar: www.islandcreekoysterbar.com

500 Commonwealth Ave
Boston, MA 02215

See their Yelp reviews here!

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Samuel Adams Brewery – Boston, MA

Boston, Food Adventures
The golden tickets to enter Jim Cook's Factory

The golden ticket to enter Jim Cook’s Factory

The Sam Adams Brewery is a ways off from Downtown Boston but definitely worth the trek to experience the process of beer making if not for the free beer at the end of the tour. The free tour starts about once every 45 minutes and weekday tours did not seem very crowded. There may be a short wait between tours but visitors could distract themselves at the mini museum showcasing the many Sam Adams varieties and company history. I was actually surprised to find out that Sam Adams hasn’t been around all that long – only since 1984. Its wide appeal, many awards, widespread distribution, and iconic name has built a brand that feels like it has been around for much longer.

Varieties

Best Family Photo Ever

I wish I could say I have tried all these beers but I’ve only just begun to scratch the surface. Many of these varieties are readily available year-round, some are seasonal, and a few are either limited to certain regions or unavailable altogether.

I won’t even try to go through all the details our expert tour guide edumacated us with but here’s a quick run-down on the key ingredients (aside from water and yeast).

The Hops!

Hops used in Sam Adam’s Boston Lager.

These little flowers imbue different flavors into the beer. Some of the best hops in the world are grown in Germany which is where Sam Adams sources its Bavarian Noble Hops from.

Malt Barley

Two-row Barley

Sam Adams uses two-row barley which means the seeds grow in two rows on the central stem as opposed to four or six. Two-row barley tends to malt much better than other varieties but at a higher cost. This barley tasted very much like Grape Nuts cereal.

Caramel 60 Malt Barley

Caramel 60 Malt Barley

The barley is roasted, giving it a range of colors which ultimately determines the color of the beer. The Caramel 60 will end up in a darker beer and smells and tastes a lot like a coffee bean.

The Brewery

The Brewery

The brewery floor is much like that of a winery with huge tanks filled with millions of yeast cells hard at work to help us get our buzz later in the tour. They were in the process of replacing some equipment so the brewery floor was filled with brand new equipment still wrapped in plastic (not shown above).

Beers on Tap

Beers on Tap

Here’s the best part of the tour – free beer! Everyone sat in rows of long communal tables as the tour guide and his buddy passed down pitchers of 3 different beers: the Sam Adams Boston Lager, the Marathon 26 crafted specifically for the Boston Marathon, and the seasonal Summer Ale.

Tasting #1: Summer Ale

Tasting #1: Summer Ale

Tasting #2: Boston Lager

Tasting #2: Boston Lager

Tasting #3: Marathon 26 (Exclusive to bars along the Boston Marathon course)

Tasting #3: 26.2 Brew

The Summer Ale was the most refreshing and had light citrus-y notes; Alice was quick to declare this one her favorite. The classic Boston Lager, which we had to try while we were in the city itself, was a more full-bodied brew, rich with roast-y malt flavor. Our third and final tasting is a Boston exclusive – the annual 26.2 Brew. Named for the 26.2 miles in a marathon and particularly for the Boston Marathon that was to take place the week following our visit, this brew is exclusively served at the Brewery and at select bars along the marathon course.

Whether you’re looking for free beer or for fun things to do in Boston, we recommend visiting the Sam Adams Brewery. It definitely helped us appreciate the process and effort that goes into making each glass, pint, and keg.

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Check out Samuel Adams Brewery: samueladams.com

30 Germania St
Boston, MA 02130

See their Yelp reviews here!

Giacomo’s Ristorante – Boston, MA

Boston, Food Adventures

With so many Italian restaurants serving pasta on the North End, it was difficult to know where to begin searching for the best. After looking up several local favorites, we came upon Giacomo’s Ristorante and felt reassured when we saw the line going out-the-door. We were well-trained in the art of waiting after the many visits to Daikokuya back home. Giacomo’s seemed to be one of those restaurants that, regardless of the time of day, there was most assuredly going to be a wait. After only a few short minutes in line, it became evident that we weren’t the only newbies to Giacomo’s; many people stopped and peered at the line and menu, often asking “Is this place really that good?” I’ll answer that question later.

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Giacomo’s Ristorante, located right on Hanover

An hour later, we were seated at a cozy two-top next to the “Specials” wall, making it impossible to view it but amazingly close to the open kitchen with its wall of copper cookware. Each one of the 20 or so seats had only inches separating it from the next. Despite being purely the luck-of-the-draw, the tables next to the window were definitely the worst spots simply because all the hungry, slightly irritated (I would know) patrons would be staring you down, Jedi mind-tricking you to eat faster and leave.

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The open kitchen with its copper back-splash and hanging copper pots

At Giacomo’s, the pace is fast and it may even be considered rude to nurse that second glass of wine. It’s reminiscent of the lack of pleasantries and hand-holding at some Vietnamese restaurants. Our waitress basically threw the menus at us, quickly explained how the combinations of pasta and sauces worked, and hurried off to another table. We weren’t offended at all and openly embraced this high-speed dining experience.

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Large order of fried calamari to start…with deep fried pickled peppers to my dismay.

Definitely one of the best calamari I’ve ever tasted. The batter was perfectly seasoned with a slight kick of the pickled peppers sprinkled throughout. They look SO much like a calamari ring the way they were sliced and totally blew my taste buds before Alice pointed out their true identity. She happily ate the rest of them. The marinara was so flavorful we had to ask for a second helping to accompany the calamari. I honestly could have gone with three large orders of the calamari and be content…sans pickled peppers.

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Garlic Bread – charred and packed with flavor

We also picked up an order of the garlic bread, which used olive oil instead of butter. The strong garlic flavor might have turned off other diners but we enjoy bold flavors like this. The drawback was that the edges of the bread were burnt, causing every other bite to be bitter even though we had removed most of the burnt edges. I was disappointed because although Alice had plenty of garlic bread middles (her favorite part), I was missing out on the garlic bread crusts (my favorite part).

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Special: homemade fusilli with lobster and shrimp in fra diavolo

Alice decided to branch out from the main menu and select a dish off the day’s list of specials – the homemade fusilli with lobster and shrimp in a fra diavolo sauce. With the allure of homemade pasta coupled with a sauce so spicy it bears the name of the devil himself, she just could not resist and was very happy with her choice. The pasta was al dente, the sauce was piping hot in temperature and spice, and the chunks of lobster and shrimp were fresh and plentiful. For those who can’t quite take the heat, Giacomo’s also offered this dish with the house Giacomo sauce (red, non-spicy marinara) or half-and-half with the fra diavolo to lessen the blow.

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Lobster ravioli in garlic cream sauce

I went with one of my favorites, lobster ravioli with diced tomatoes in a garlic cream sauce. The lobster meat was generous and ravioli thin enough to let the flavors of the lobster shine through. The cream sauce wasn’t heavy and along with the tomatoes, made the dish very enjoyable.

The check came as quickly as our menus. In the end, we gave up on the garlic bread due to its bitter, burnt crust. The rest of the meal gave us a better appreciation for authentic Italian flavors. Los Angeles does have some great Italian restaurants but the sheer density of delicious Italian eateries in Boston is truly impressive. Giacomo’s is one of those places we were glad to have saved our valuable, limited stomach real estate for.

In and out in under 45 minutes… less time than we had waited for our seats. And yes, it is THAT good.

So when in the North End with time to kill, drop by Giacomo’s. No time? Call ahead and pick up!

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Check out Giacomo’s Ristorante online at: www.giacomosblog-boston.blogspot.com

355 Hanover St
(between Tileston St & Clark St)
Boston, MA 02113

Check them out on Yelp! here!

Day 3a: Drake’s Bay Oyster Company

Food Adventures, San Francisco

Rise and shine! We woke up pretty early to make the trek out to the farthest part of California that sticks out into the Pacific Ocean. The windy, narrow roads were very reminiscent of the wilderness leading up to Camp River Glen, the site of Unicamp where we volunteered as undergrads at UCLA. A good 15 minutes into Inverness, California, we noticed a heavy fog blanketing the surrounding forest. The air smelled more and more of salt as we approached Drake’s Bay. It was very serene at 8am, way before any other visitors made their way out there. It was difficult to navigate by GPS because of the trees and abrupt end to the road we were traveling on but we made it!

Once over the hill, there seemed just to be a few flimsy shacks huddled together. “This was it?” we thought at first. Little did we know the reasoning behind why the buildings were in such disrepair until we met Ginny but we’ll get to this later. We pulled up to a marginally sturdier shed that served as the storefront for the small oyster company.

Once we stepped inside, we were greeted by a genial Ginny who commented about us being birds of an early nature. Our attention diverted to the various posters and displays of oysters decorating the walls. Most importantly, we noticed that there was an adequate amount of oysters for us to try, the lack of which was an irrational fear when one is going to an oyster farm.

After a self-guided tour of the farm, which we realized consisted heavily of weathered shacks and makeshift equipment, we were able to finally try the oysters. Ginny was kind enough to teach us how to shuck the oysters, hinge-first and separate the adductor muscle to loosen the oyster. We were also lucky enough to snag a Drake’s Bay Oyster Company oyster knife to help us in our endeavor of 12 smalls and 3 mediums. The few large oysters available were about the size of my face, literally. We spent a good hour shucking and eating the oysters before we headed out. The oysters were super fresh and succulent. Alice liked the smalls as they were brinier and more “ocean” tasting, while I preferred the buttery flavor and texture of the mediums. This was a great high-protein indulgence for our first meal of the day!

As food bloggers, we try to shed light on the food we consume. Drake’s Bay Oyster Farm is no different from any other producer but it just happened they are facing a very difficult time brought upon by investigations conducted by the National Park Service. The National Park Service claims that the operations of the oyster farm causes disturbances to the wildlife and ecosystem which they apparently have scientific evidence to back that claim. We have done our fair share of homework into this matter and we must say that we support Drake’s Bay Oyster Company in preserving and maintaining their operations as it does not seem to do any harm to the surround ecosystem. An independent research study found that the research done by the National Park Service was a stretch and could not prove a causal link between, specifically, oyster farming and harbor seals among other disturbances to wildlife. The battle between the NPS and Drake’s Bay Oyster Company has been well covered in the media in the past year.

Drake’s Bay Oyster Company invites everyone to visit and see for themselves the transparency in which they run their operations and business. We think it’s quite a shame that the livelihood of the family that owns Drake’s Bay Oyster Company, the many workers, and the surrounding communities who enjoy the oysters produced here are under attack by the National Park Service based in inconclusive and manipulated scientific data. For the time being, Drake’s Bay Oyster Company is currently closed pending an unrelated investigation and may close permanently as early as December 2012 depending on the decisions made by the U.S. Department of the Interior. We hope you, our readers, will have the opportunity to pay them a visit before it’s too late.

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Check out Drake’s Bay Oyster Farm: drakesbayoyster.com

17171 Sir Francis Drake Blvd
Inverness, CA 94937

See their Yelp reviews here!

Day 2b: Sonoma Farmer’s Market & Mamma Tanino’s

Food Adventures, Napa & Sonoma

After visiting Lancaster Estate and Medlock Ames we were just about dead tired, quickly hopping back into the security of the car and its air conditioned heaven. Healdsburg was a good hour away from the city of Sonoma and we were expecting to arrive in time for the Sonoma Tuesday Night Farmer’s Market. After checking into the nearby hotel, we took a brief stroll to the park in front of city hall where the farmer’s market was located.

The entire block and surrounding neighborhood were bustling with people enjoying the sun and mingling around the tented shops. Stalls of produce from nearby farms lined the walkway around the city hall building carrying a variety of seasonal fruits and vegetables. The colors were spectacular and we were enjoying the beautiful day so much that we had forgotten to take photos of the area.

Having drank most of the day and filling up on wine, we had forgotten to eat very much for lunch and were famished. At 6:30pm and without a reservation at any restaurant, we should’ve known better than to try walking into the restaurants that enclosed Sonoma Square. We decided to try Mamma Tanino’s – a place a little out of the way that we found on Yelp, a homely-looking, literal hole-in-the-wall in the corner of a strip mall. The patrons seemed to be an older, more local crowd. The interior was a warm, cozy space with an obnoxious yellow glow that enveloped every nook and cranny. This glow, while warm, took a terrible toll on the quality of our photos, but please bear with us.

Alice found out an interesting piece of information about Chef Gaetano that we didn’t want to speculate about its accuracy: he was accepted into culinary school at the age of 13 and graduated at 15. We managed to verify this information with his wife Kimberly who runs the front of the house.

Without further adieu…the noms:

Housemade Focaccia

The table bread was a simple fresh-baked focaccia that was extra toasted and a little burnt on its extremities. We didn’t mind too much, and I myself am a fan of slightly charred bread. Alice found a piece that tasted like pizza crust, in a good way.

Appetizer: Calamaretti Fritti

Fried calamari was very crispy but the batter was unevenly coated and didn’t adhere well to the calamari. The homemade pomodoro sauce had a little kick that kicked me in the…taste bud. The creamy tartar sauce with capers wasn’t all that special but I’m glad we were given the choice of two different dipping sauces.

Pappardelle Bolognese

Alice had the homemade, hand-cut pappardelle accompanied by a ragu-style sauce with beef, beef stock, carrots, and mushrooms. Just a little al dente to give it a more firm texture, making it a hearty and winning combination.

Gnocchetti Piemontese

I ordered another one of their homemade dishes – hand-cut mini gnocchi with a creamy tomato sauce. Texture was more like a cloud than a pillow, extra light and fluffy. I was able to polish off the entire dish and was left wanting more but that’s not to say that the portion was too small – it was just that good.

Tiramisu

I have to admit that this was definitely not that great of a tiramisu. There was a little too much marscapone and it was made using both rum and kahlua. When it came down to it, the tiramisu had a strange sour taste to it, perhaps from the kahlua or perhaps from the marscapone, but we couldn’t tell. Either way, the tartness tasted a bit awkward.

All in all, Mamma Tanino’s was a great find. It’s unfortunate that their location in the forlorn strip mall seems to have a negative impact on their business. People of Sonoma, swing by and give them a try! The pasta dishes are awesome and the service, courtesy of Kimberly, is very friendly.

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Check out Mamma Tanino’s Ristorante: www.mammataninos.com

500 W. Napa St. Suite 512
Sonoma CA, 95476

See their Yelp reviews here!