Archive for October, 2007

October 12, 2007

Darwin’s Limited: Cambridge’s Living Room

There are some places that are an institution. They’re cozy and comfy and people return day after day because they know they’ll be recognized, they like the food and drink, or they think the chairs are cozy. At Darwin’s Ltd. it seems it’s a little bit of everything, despite its draw-backs.*

People are lured in by the promise of good sandwiches, and they often wait upwards of half an hour in line to order their ten minutes of bliss. After they have ordered they arrive at the register and realize (until last week) – what? No credit cards?** After they’ve paid with trusty greens, they turn around and go to the other side of the store to find a seat. If they are lucky they will get one of the benches along the coffee bar or outside the store, leaving the chairs, tables, and soft seating for the extra lucky ones.

So why, you ask, do people still come back? Because once you’ve had a bite of a Darwin’s sandwich, you have to go back for more. On each subsequent visit you will find other treasures in the store – the beer and wine selection is great, and you’ll make it to the coffee side and find their coffee and espresso to rival if not beat out most other joints in town. Someday you’ll discover the Lakota sandwich cookies and macaroons, $1.25 to extend those ten minutes of bliss by one too-short minute, but totally worth it. If you return often enough, you will one day be recognized. Finally, the big moment will come when you get one of those comfy soft chairs to sit in and you’ll realize that the chairs really are cozy, the music is good, the food and drink splendid, the service as speedy and helpful as they can be, and the ambiance perfect for an afternoon of studying, good conversation, or a pleasant little nap – or all three.

Darwin’s is quirky. Its sandwiches aren’t named the traditional way by using their ingredients. They’re named using street names around the store (with the second store open now each store has the same sandwiches, but different names). We don’t have a BLT or a grilled cheese but there are amazing other options: one with hummus and vegetables; a sandwich of prosciutto, tomatoes, pesto, and mozzarella; a roast beef with boursin cheese sandwich; a turkey sandwich with avocado and an herb vinaigrette; a smoked salmon, cream cheese, caper, cucumber and red onion sandwich; and countless more concoctions to choose from. As if that weren’t enough, daily sandwich specials (with a vegetarian option) and soup specials are also available, along with countless salads and some to-go dinner choices.

Some people at Darwin’s come not only once a day, but they’ll be there throughout the day several times. One customer comes in in the morning for a large dark blend in a double cup, only to return at least two more times in the day ordering subsequently smaller cups. A dog walker comes in every evening to order coffee, and one architecture firm’s employees came in so often that a sandwich was named after them. One wonderful customer stops by every evening and calls Darwin’s the perfect living room and Darwin’s a great big family. I have to say, there are definitely days when I wish I could be in the living room and enjoy the scenery around me. However, it’s also fun and rewarding being behind the scenes at Dawrin’s, making the living room as pleasing for everyone as possible.

You can find Darwin’s Ltd. at 148 Mt Auburn Street or 1629 Cambridge street, both in Cambridge, MA near Harvard Square. Hours are 6:30-9pm Mon-Sat and 7-9pm Sun. Mt. Auburn’s phone number is (617) 354-5233 and Cambridge Street’s number is (617) 491-2999. Both stores accept sandwich orders over the phone but must be picked up in person at the store.

* Disclaimer: I work here, so this “review” may be a bit biased. But I have tried to be as fair as possible and am aiming to capture all aspects of Darwin’s, including the food as well as the atmosphere and culture surrounding it.

**Darwin’s has recently started accepting Visa and MasterCards but with a ten dollar minimum. This is due to the exorbitant fees credit card companies charge on each sale.

October 3, 2007

Culinary Update: Highlights in Pictures

Perhaps I’m not as prolific as I promised, but I can assure you that this post will be full of pictures and insights to what I’ve been up to these days. To start off with, we’ve done a bunch of stuff in class these past couple weeks. We’ve simmered, poached, grilled, sautéed, broiled, steamed, smoked (yes! with fire!), chopped, measured, baked, and countless more. Here’s a glimpse (in somewhat chronological order) in pictures of some of the things I, or my classmates, have conjured up in our journeys:

Rolls of typical Buffalo, New York style called “wrecks;” my roll promptly disappeared never to be seen again after this picture. Probably was camera shy or something…

This is probably the best beef I have ever had in my life. It was incredibly simple filet mignon. The secret ingredients: truffles and marsala wine. No one flavor upstaged the other and everything literally melted in your mouth.
Picture courtesy of Ashish Desai

Me with the foods I grilled on grilling day. Hamburger, broiled tomato, broiled flounder, grilled salmon, grilled steak, and grilled chicken breast. Mmm!!!

The “fruits” of garnishing day! Here’s what I produced (clockwise from top left): leek pom-poms, decorated summer squash, red onion flower, tomato rose, pepper flower (not bloomed yet, they need to soak overnight. See blow for final product)

Mostly Jean-Jacques Paimblanc’s work, though some student work scattered here and there. The yellow summer squash tulip is mine! The peppers are on the bottom left.

Decorated mushroom caps. Master on left, student on right. I’ve got a ways to go!

Picture courtesy of Ashish Desai

Butchering day! Here’s Charles Grandon showing us how to make the primal cuts (then later the fabricated ones) of a lamb. The blue on the back is the USDA grading, apparently grape juice, but butchers do have a morbid sense of humor…

Picture courtesy of Ashish Desai

Racks of dry-aged beef on a tour at Kinnealy’s, one of Boston’s major meat suppliers. I was surprisingly not queasy until we went into this room. The meat isn’t rotting, but it doesn’t smell very pleasant in there…

Picture courtesy of Ashish Desai

Grapevines at Turtle Creek Vineyards in Lincoln, MA where we toured and learned all about growing grapes and making wine in New England.

Picture courtesy of Ashish Desai

The first course of the dinner we cooked with Johanne Killeen and George Germon of Al Forno restaurant. This is a split pea puree with olive oil and garnished with red onions and mint.

Picture courtesy of Ashish Desai

Johanne and George demonstrating the dishes we made that night for the audience. We also made a summer chicken cacciatore and poached pears on mascarpone and whipped cream. All the recipes were from their latest book “On Top of Spaghetti…” They were wonderful chefs, people, and teachers and I wish we could have them more often in our kitchen this semester!

And finally, the poached pear we did with Jean-Jacques a day after our Al Forno pears. Here’s mine – for which I got into trouble because, despite knowing he didn’t like it, I added cinnamon to my pear. The wine and spice poaching liquid smelled just like Glühwein which was a weird sensation to be smelling in September! It took me right back to the Weihnachtsmarkt.

If you’ve made it this far, congratulations! You survived my whirlwind tour of highlights in the kitchen at the BU Culinary Arts program. More will be on its way, no doubt. In the meantime may your hearts be happy and your tables full!