Blogging has always been a labor of love for me. It’s a constant work in progress because I like to do justice to each post, particularly if it’s one where I’ve dined out. Writing about something I love has proven to be more challenging than I’d originally thought when first embarking on my official Katie Eats Boston adventures. There are definitely times when I’ll drag my feet. Then, there are times when I’m so excited to post that my fingers can’t possibly type fast enough.
Pizza and Pasta
My experience at Asta had me joyfully jotting down notes throughout my meal, eagerly building this magnificent piece in my mind. Co-owners Chef Alex Crabb (hailing from a 5 year run at L’Espalier) and girlfriend Shish Parsigian opened Asta in January 2013, taking over the former Café 47 space. What they created was a dramatic dining experience that sitting at the bar, had me right in the action. The decor was simple, highlighted by this hilarious and awesome drawing on the wall of Zeus wielding a lightning bolt. The owners have taken out of the box flavor pairings and elevated foods to levels that not only could you not believe could be achieved, but also levels that you could no longer imagine coming down from.
Alex and Shish make being bad ass bosses look adorable
Mr. E treated me to an early birthday dinner at Asta. We were immediately greeted by Matt, our bartender who poured me a glass of champagne. Upon learning of Mr. E’s choice to not drink alcohol, Shish swooped into the conversation ready to offer a mocktail of Pinot Noir grape juice topped with some San Pellegrino. I find this level of flexibility and willingness to serve invaluable to a restaurant. It’s as much about feeling welcomed as it is about the food itself.
Lured in by the dramatic cooking stage
Sweet corn salad with corn butter
The ending summer sweetness of the corn was captured in this simple salad of onion, chive, a light vinaigrette, and corn butter. Yes, corn butter. RUN TO ASTA NOW!
Honeydew melon, zebra tomato, mushroom
The melon was served with the classic mint pairing but also had some pleasant hints of anise running through the background. The very thinly sliced tomato offered just a breath of acidity to the fruity sweet melon punctuated with umami of the mushrooms.
Again, in the essence of bringing summer to a close, Asta offered a light gazpacho playing off the flavors of a standard BLT. The soup was garnished with bacon, charred lettuce, oregano, and a very punchy horseradish cream. Mr. E described this as “campy”, an adjective he likes to use when there is any level of smokiness to a dish. If I was served this in the outdoors, I’d definitely be a happy camper.
mushroom on a rock
This was a beautiful lobster mushroom served with charred eggplant puree and porcini rice chips. The lobster mushroom held a tremendous amount of moisture, imitating a juicy piece of meat. The chips were a neat addition, contributing a light mushroom-y crunch. Plus, I got a good kick out of the presentation and the fact that you had to go caveman style by foregoing your utensils.
duck breast, fennel, and carrots
This dish seriously flirted with strong fall flavors that enveloped me in a forward homey, earthy hug. Excellent contrasting textures here with the light crisp of the fennel and the heartier crunch of the carrots. The duck dressed in one serious “au jus” was reminiscent of an enchanting Thanksgiving.
sweet & sour eggplant
Mr. E couldn’t even with this dish. He described this as “an ice cream snickers bar left in the sun… in the tastiest of ways!” I too believed this dish toyed with some heavy dessert tones, but in the end the savory notes rang true. Shish brought out an unfiltered sake to pair with the eggplant. It was creamy and strong and had the right amount of milkiness that really emphasized the hyssop and sweet and sour. The eggplant was smooth and silky, hardly able to hold its form. Peanut puree brought an interesting mouth feel and chopped peanuts lent a much needed crunch.
Brilliant presentation! I felt like I was rolling around the farm with the poor little pig that ended up on my plate. The pork practically fell off the bone with little coaxing. The rib was served with a sauce of apple and the braising liquid. The hay, the apples, the pork totally embodied the concept of terroir.
seared foie gras
Some people think seared foie gras is overplayed. I am very much not one of them. Shish and Alex sent out this additional treat, which happened to be my favorite of the night. Thanks guys! The foie gras was served on the sweetest of sweet potatoes and surrounded by a broth that I believe was flavored by coffee malt or actual coffee. If you asked me, I don’t think I could name you a more perfect bite. The combination of the sweet potato and the coffee reminded me of my morning joe. The bitterness of the coffee offset some of the heft of the salty rich liver. The combination of the sweet potato with the bitter coffee, the herbaceous freshness of the cilantro, and the salty rich liver gob smacked me. Every flavor was in harmony.
strawberry and rose ice
I wasn’t a huge fan of this little palette cleanser only because I’m not a huge fan of rose. At first bite, the temperatures and the rose laced strawberry flavor was refreshing. At bite 2 and 3, I felt like I was sucking down perfume. Mr. E happily ate my portion and I’d imagine anyone without a hypersensitivity to rose would enjoy this.
fig leaf panna cotta
I had a small bite of Mr. E’s panna cotta dessert. It was served with tomato and nectarine, which was a combination I wasn’t overly excited for, but tasted pretty darn good. I can’t say it was a standout amongst other panna cotta I’ve eaten and it certainly was a hard battle to outshine some of the earlier dishes of the meal.
blueberries, milk bread, lemon verbena
Sweet delicate crumble topped the milk bread. The light tartness of the blueberries cut through the creamy milk the bread floated in. The bread was very tasty with a nice almost caramelized outer “crust.”
Crazy lady notes – can never take too many notes right?!
Thanks Mr. E!
To close, I say [H]asta la vista, baby! And because there can never be too many Arnold Schwarzenegger quotes, I’ll be back!
47 Massachusetts Ave
Boston, MA 02115
Mr. E surprised me with a reservation to journeyman after his friend Chef Nathan Gould enthusiastically suggested we give the place a try. What struck me immediately was the appearance of the restaurant. Boxed plants that find their magical way into your dishes adorn the converted garage tucked in the back of an alley. Its high ceilings and open kitchen make you feel like you’re right in the action, particularly if you score seats at the “bar.”
The list of drinks
Flipping through my options
No, there’s no mistake when your hostess presents you with a standard clipboard with sheets of cocktails, mocktails, craft beers, spirits, and wines. Journeyman doesn’t give you options foodwise, unless you have allergies like me in which case, those mussels are out, buddy. Instead, you select your beverages or opt for the wine pairing, and leave yourself in those journeymen’s capable hands.
Seaweed meringue, arugula puree, and sweet cicely
Our meal opened with an amuse bouche in the form of a seaweed meringue crisp. It’s light texture was offset by the immediately intense nori flavor. With peppery and anise greens garnishing the bite, you’d think they’d give the good fight to compete for your tastebuds’ attention. No. Nothing rang as true as that seaweed flavor, making this one seriously seaweed shrimp cracker-esque snack.
Best seats in the house
Steamed clam over duck confit with peas, pea puree and carrot butter
This dish was extremely balanced with all of its Captain Planet like elements of the sea, air, and earth. The purity of the steamed clam and the richness of the duck confit was tied together with a pretty little bow by that sweet pea temptress and her little dill sidekick. My favorite element was the carrot butter. I honestly don’t even recall mixing it with anything because I was godsmacked by my sample taste and blacked out when I spooned the rest in my mouth.
Cornets with smoked bluefish, pickled pepper and chili
When this little cone found its way in front of me, I sadly compared its looks to the salmon tartare cornet made famous by Chef Thomas Keller at the French Laundry. However, journeyman’s rendition of the dish slashed all comparisons at first bite. I enjoyed the bluefish’s light fishy oiliness post smoke which paired well with the sour pickles. The cornet itself was delicate and added a soft crisp texture to the fish.
Oyster with asparagus tips, turnip and pea tendrils
The dish was a true representative of the verdant offerings of late spring. This bite was good, but I brought my own bias to the table for this one. I tend to enjoy oysters in their raw form, so unfortunately it didn’t stand a chance at being my favorite dish.
Tea poached egg, salmon roe, asparagus, rice, and green tea broth
This was the clear winner for most innovative dish. It came with a small pot of tea broth poured table side, which triggered the aromas of the dish. There were a decent amount of dull flavors and somewhat mushy textures going on when you looked at each element separately, but in aggregate were a singularly delicious bite. Man, I love when that happens.
Squid dressed in squid ink on a diver scallop with scallop roe and sorrel
When our server mentioned scallop roe, I had a very different image in my head from what was presented in front of me. The roe, which you see above as those two coral masses, was not in fact the monster egg sack you find inside lobster every now and then. This was one solid mass with no real “eggs” to speak of. The taste is much more intense than the sweet white flesh of the scallop, slightly minerally and brought a whole lot of umami to the table. This in combination with the smokiness of the squid made for a very balanced dish.
Rabbit roulade, rilette, liver mousse with fiddles, and ramp Parmesan gnocchi
This was my favorite dish of the meal. It was simple and straightforward. I love bells and whistles, but sometimes I just want to eat some rabbit and greens. The rabbit in all forms was delicious with the liver mousse taking the grand prize. The fiddleheads were a nice touch. Nothing is more earthy than fiddleheads, which I’ve always thought tasted a bit like a bitter dirty asparagus… but in the best way possible? Clearly, fiddlehead farmers wouldn’t hire me as their spokeswoman, but I do love a good fiddlehead.
Pork loin, headcheese, radish cake, turnip tops, and butter dipped radish
There were a lot of really nice elements to this dish. To get one thing out in the open, radish is by far my favorite root vegetable. This little sucker tried to take me down when I was mere two year old and nearly choked me to death – when you’re two and you love something, sometimes inhaling/swallowing whole is the fastest way to satisfaction right? My dad saved me and then I got back on the horse and started popping whole radishes again like the bad mama jama I am. The fact the Journeyman paid a nice tribute to the classic turnip cake you see at dim sum warmed my soul. Also, the fact that someone would butter dip my favorite crunchy treat was like a big bear hug. If I thought any more about it, I’d probably start crying. The pork loin was good and the headcheese was a knockout. If you’ve ever felt a little fearful of eating headcheese, don’t. The pigs head contains a lot of very tasty morsels. If you can get over the hump and just go for it, you’ll probably really enjoy it!
Oh hi there. At this point, we are already pretty full!
Goat sherbet and goat caramel push pops!
I mean, come on. Did you just read those words? A friggin push pop!! These were so adorable, it pained me to eat these. These were a perfect segue to our full own dessert. Excellent little tangy cold bite.
Kelvin and Ben, two of our masterful chefs for the night
Chicory sorbet, coffee mousse, and soy sauce cake
I had my doubts when I heard chicory, coffee, and soy sauce. It sounds like some nightmare basket from Chopped. Journeyman pulled it off. No flavor came on too strong or overwhelmed the other. It was a strange symphony that still has me scratching my head.
Black rice chocolate, green tea cake, coconut ice cream, and aerated white chocolate
This dish had very good texture. The black rice in particular created a nice mochi like chew. Aside from the pretty original move to add black rice to a dessert, there wasn’t anything special about this one.
Elderflower tapioca, flax brittle, grapefruit sorbet, fennel mint gel, and black locust flower
I stuck my nose in this one. Mint, grapefruit, elderflower. There were a lot of strong fragrant ingredients in this dish… and flavor packed for sure! Mr. E and I loved the grapefruit sorbet. He described it best — “like eating a grapefruit without all of the obstacles.” The tapioca and the flax brittle added a nice contract to one another and the addition of the flowers were a surprise. I’ve never eaten an locust before. They were floral and heady, contributing just enough pizzazz to a light crisp dessert.
Of course, we also had a few items that got gobbled up prior letting Mr. E snap some photos. We took advantage of the optional cheese course before dessert after being easily swayed with some sexy, cheesy adjectives. We also had some treats after the generous three desserts including a really beautiful financier, sable, cardamom and sesame caramels, and a refreshing elder flower and raspberry macaron.
This was such a lovely experience. I couldn’t thank the restaurant staff and chefs enough, particularly after they generously brought us all of their dessert offerings. There were a lot of inventive bites with playful elements of molecular gastronomy and offal. While I can appreciate a good tasting menu, it’s a shame that I can’t just pop in for a quick bite without all of that commitment. Regardless, on the car ride home Mr. E excitedly told me we are going at least once a month. Hungry for more? You bet I am.
9 Sanborn Court Union Square
Somerville, MA 02143