Our Valentine’s Crush: The Blue Ox

Posted: February 15th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: American, Bistro, Blue Ox, Lynn | Tags: , , | No Comments »

We had planned to take a night off from reviewing when we headed to dinner on Saturday night for a Valentine’s Day treat. But we had such a great meal at The Blue Ox that we’d be remiss not to tell you about it.

Feeling in a celebratory mood, we chose Matt O’Neil’s $39 prix fixe menu, which included two options for each of the three courses. The cauliflower soup was outstanding: creamy and smoky with a generous serving of bay scallops. Not loving frisee, we were skeptical about the salad but wanted something light before the pasta entrée. As it turns out, we don’t mind frisee one bit when it’s dressed in a maple vinaigrette and accompanied by fantastic duck prosciutto, tangy blue cheese, sweet apricots, and salty pistachios—an incredible combination.

Our main courses were also highly satisfying. The grilled filet mignon was properly cooked to medium rare and kissed with a flavorful port wine glaze. A heaping serving of mashed potatoes and grilled asparagus were perfect accompaniments. Just as good were the firm but light potato gnocchi with a generous portion of lobster and a wonderful sauce of butternut squash, mascarpone, and parmigiano.

Yes, we were too full for dessert, but we had to at least sample the mascarpone cheesecake (to die for) and the decadent chocolate layer cake with whipped-cream filling.

Given that it was Saturday night on Valentine’s Day weekend, we half-expected to run into kitchen missteps and/or harried waitstaff. We’re happy to report this was not the case. Despite a very crowded dining room, our waitress was smiling and calm throughout, and we never felt rushed or neglected.

With O’Neil’s obvious talent and reasonable prices for this quality of food (entrées run from $15 to $19), the crowds are no surprise. Still, opening this type of restaurant in downtown Lynn was a risk, so we’re glad to see that diners are not letting the location get in the way of a terrific meal.

Next Tuesday (2/23) at 7:00, O’Neil is holding a demonstration on deboning a chicken and preparing a chicken roulade. The cost is $35, which includes a three-course meal of escarole soup, the chicken roulade, and almond cream cake. We attended an earlier demonstration and found it informative and fun—you can read about it here. Call if you want to reserve a spot, as these tend to sell out.

The Blue Ox
191 Oxford Street, Lynn
(781) 780-5722
www.theblueoxlynn.com

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Breakfast With the Stars: Mildred’s Corner Café

Posted: December 1st, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: American, Breakfast, Cafe, Lynn, Mildred's Corner Cafe | Tags: , , , , , , | No Comments »

A reader e-mailed us a few weeks ago to recommend a couple of restaurants in Lynn, and this long weekend was the perfect time to check out one of them: Mildred’s Corner Café.

Boy, are we glad we did. Mildred’s is a charming spot with creative breakfast and lunch offerings, kitschy Hollywood décor, games to play while waiting for your food, and warm, attentive service. The tiny seven-year-old café, which is only open Friday to Sunday, is clearly a labor of love by Jan McLaughlin-Muirhead, who describes herself owner, cook, waitress, chief dishwasher on the menu.

We had been seated for approximately five seconds before being offered coffee, which came in large, colorful mugs. Tea is also available—19 types of loose tea, a fact that surprised and delighted us. After studying the menu and relaying our choices, we sat back to admire the movie-star posters and test our knowledge of silver-screen trivia.

Along with the usual breakfast offerings like omelets and French toast, Mildred’s large menu has seasonal specialties like pumpkin pancakes, gourmet items like a wild mushroom omelets, and light fare in the form of fat free yogurt with granola and fresh fruit.

We tried the crabcakes benedict ($11), which came with a generous portion of both hollandaise sauce and home fries. Everything was well seasoned and tasty, although the potatoes could have been more crisp. We also enjoyed the English breakfast ($6), featuring a small cup of baked beans, two delicious sausage patties, and grilled tomato slices along with fried eggs.

The huevos rancheros ($9) was a winner, combining flavorful refried beans with large chunks of sautéed tomatoes/peppers/onions, a generous scatter of ripe avocado, and two fried eggs. The junior member of our party declared her crispy bacon the best she’d ever had, enjoying it along with her scrambled eggs, pancake, and Go-gurt ($5).

It was a great way to start off a Sunday, and we look forward to returning to explore more breakfast items and interesting-sounding sandwiches like the avocado egg salad. We hear that there is often a wait for tables, so we were glad to see a small counter with stools as well as a separate waiting area with couches and a television playing (you guessed it) classic movies.

Mildred’s Corner Café
45 Lewis St, Lynn
(781) 595-4600
Open 7:30 to 2:00 Friday, Saturday, and Sunday

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Neighborhood Prices, Authentic Flavors at Lynn’s Antique Table

Posted: October 27th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Antique Table, Italian, Lynn | Tags: , , , | No Comments »

We love Italian cooking, but sometimes it can be too much—in our desire for comfort food, we end up with an overly heavy meal. Of course, when Italian is done right, you get all of the flavor with none of the heft. And that’s exactly what we found at a recent visit to Antique Table.

We liked everything about this neighborhood gem, from the quirky décor to the attentive service and reasonable prices, but it was the freshness of the ingredients and their preparation that really impressed us.

We began by dipping strips of foccacia into oil accented with pesto and red pepper flakes while sipping a citrusy pinot grigio, then moved into an antipasto with a nice mix of cured meats, olives, and fresh mozzarella ($11).

Our entrees were all outstanding, starting with a plate of tender gnocchi in a light, fresh, flavorful tomato and basil sauce ($14). The fettuccini puttanesca also featured a delicious sauce along with an abundance of olives and firm-to-the-bite pasta ($14).

Our third entrée was a special that night, pollo rotelo, a large portion of chicken accompanied by asparagus, sundried tomatoes, and portobello mushrooms ($15). It was served in a cream sauce that looked heavy but wasn’t, and we loved that the same sauce was used for the pasta that came on the side.

For dessert, we splurged on a chocolate soufflé and a slice of turtle cheesecake. The soufflé had a wonderful texture and complex chocolate flavor. The cheesecake was truly sinful, with a buttery crust, not-too-sweet creamy filling, and a layer of gooey chocolate.

Our waitress was friendly and efficient, and she managed not to rush us despite a wait for tables (there are only about 15). With food this good at these prices, it’s no surprise the place is packed. If you’re looking for a quieter meal, you might try a weeknight, and although the Web site specifies reservations for parties of four or more, we were not only allowed to make a reservation for three on Saturday night but greeted quite graciously.

Antique Table
2 Essex Street, Lynn
(781) 477-9778
www.antiquetableonline.com

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Blue Ox’s Matt O’Neil Knows His Gnocchi

Posted: June 9th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Blue Ox, Event, Lynn | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Potato gnocchi, pea puree, ham, mint, mascarpone. Sound like spring on a plate? It was, and it tasted even better than it sounds. This was the main event at last night’s cooking demonstration at The Blue Ox in Lynn.

Chef/owner Matt O’Neil charmed an audience of about 40 with both his cooking advice and his food at this special event ($29). We had expected more of a stand-around-watching-the-chef type of demonstration and were pleasantly surprised when we were led to a table and handed a wine list along with the night’s menu and several recipes to take home.

We tried the house white ($5.50), a dry blended wine that’s very good for the price, while snacking on an antipasto of sopressata, prosciutto de parma, fresh mozzarella, shaved parmesan, roasted peppers and asparagus, grilled artichokes, and aged balsamic.

Then Chef O’Neil began demonstrating the gnocchi recipe on a large table at the front of the room. While he worked, he gave us tips on many of the ingredients he uses in the restaurant along with things to avoid when making gnocchi.

Here are a few take-aways from the chef:

  • Use kosher salt or sea salt that has not been iodized. The iodizing process changes the salt, preventing it from drawing out moisture from food you are trying to sear.
  • Splurge on a bottle of aged balsamic. You only need a few drops in a salad or antipasto, so a small bottle will last quite a while.
  • Likewise, spend the money to get a good bottle of fruity olive oil, not for cooking but for salads and adding to pasta or gnocchi. O’Neil uses one from Greece.
  • With the right ingredients, it’s easy to “doctor up” something like a jar of roasted peppers. Just sprinkle with lemon juice, good olive oil, salt, and pepper.
  • For gnocchi, use Russet or Idaho potatoes, bake them in the oven, and rice them while they are hot.
  • For extra flavor, O’Neil drizzles a tablespoon of good olive oil into the gnocchi dough when he adds the eggs. He also adds a small amount of freshly grated nutmeg.
  • He cautions never to overwork the dough. It should still be bit rough when you begin rolling it out, or the final product will be chewy rather than fluffy.
  • After rolling the gnocchi (O’Neil uses a fork for this), place them on a sheet pan sprinkled with semolina flour. All-purpose flour would get absorbed into the dough and make it gummy.
  • To freeze the gnocchi, put them in the freezer still on the tray. Once frozen, you can pack them in a plastic bag or container.

At the end of the demonstration, we were invited to try rolling out dough and forming the gnocchi up at the front table, and then we were served a steaming bowl with the aforementioned sauce and ham. The gnocchi were tender, the sauce was to-die-for delicious, and the mint puree drizzled on top added incredible freshness. The main course was followed by a cannoli with a crisp shell and an extra-creamy filling.

O’Neil, a Swampscott native who now lives in Nahant, is clearly one of the area’s top culinary talents. We look forward to returning to sample the dinner menu, which the chef describes as American style with a twist. The main dining room features a handsome bar area and the gorgeous art of Martha’s Vineyard-based painter Traeger DiPietro. There is a free parking lot a few yards away from the front door.

After seeing Chef O’Neil in action, we’re also hoping for more cooking demonstrations. Eating, drinking and learning—the perfect way to spend an evening.

The Blue Ox
191 Oxford Street, Lynn
(781) 780-5722
www.theblueoxlynn.com

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