American Lamb Jam 2012 Highlights, The Charles Hotel, Cambridge

The American Lamb Board, partnered with Boston Chefs, held their third annual Lamb Jam at The Charles Hotel in Boston this past Sunday, February 19, 2012. The event was completely sold out and the upstairs conference room was packed with lamb loving attendees. We loved the ice skating rink in the front of the hotel, filled with youngsters learning to skate.

Boston’s American Lamb Jam was hosted by TV Diner‘s Billy Costa. There were eighteen chefs and restaurants represented at the event, each preparing one lamb dish using either a leg, shank, loin or shoulder cut of American lamb.

Part of the proceeds from Lamb Jam will go to benefit Share Our Strength,  a national non-profit geared towards ending childhood hunger in America by 2015. Their hope to reach this goal by creating public-private partnerships, building public awareness about childhood hunger, improving access to nutritious foods and educating families about nutritious, affordable eating. Help support a great cause and purchase tickets to Share Our Strength’s Taste of the Nation Boston at the Hynes Convention Center on April 19, 2012.

Chef Brian Alberg of The Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge took home the trophy for Best Overall dish, as well as winning Best Shoulder dish for his Lamb Shoulder & Kale Meatballs with Farm Girl Farm Smoked Tomato Puree & Parmesan Crustade. The flavor of all the components including the lamb and kale meatball was phenomenal. The meatball was tender and tomato sauce went well with the crispy bread.

As the Boston Best in Show winner, Alberg will now compete in California later this year against the other winners of Lamb Jams being held in cities across the country.

Cassie Piuma of Oleana was the People’s Choice favorite for Lebanese Style Lamb Crepe with Harra Sauce, Cucumber & Pomegranate. Every person we chatted with loved Oleana’s crepe and suggested go to Sofra. The crepe was a clever idea. The flavor of the Middle Eastern style filling was mouth-watering and was really enhanced by the other ingredients.  The texture as well as crunchy mouth feel of the fried chickpeas, sesame and sweet juicy pomegranate seeds were delicious. They provided such a neat sensation when you chewed.

Best Leg dish went to Chef Brian Reyelt of Citizen Public House & Oyster Bar for Lamb Leg & Bone Marrow Polpettone with Bourbon Cherries. The presentation with the bone was unbelievably creative. We flipped the bone over to pop out and pry the polpettone out of the bone. The sweetness of the cherry was a nice flavor addition to the tender meat.

Russell House Tavern‘s (BMH review of Russell House Tavern) Chef Michael Scelfo prepared plates of Braised Lamb Shank Terrine, Carraway Brioche, Horseradish and Crispy Lamb Bacon. They also won Best in Shank category. The terrine had a creamy texture and multiple layers of flavors from the carraway and horseradish.The bacon poprocks were a unique and surprisingly fun element in their dish.

There was a Providence first this year with a Rhode Island chef in the competition. He is bringing home a category best trophy to boot! Best Loin dish went to Chef Matt Jennings of Farmstead/La Laiterie (BMH review of La Laiterie) for Korean Lamb Reuben: Red Miso Cured Lamb Loin, Sauerruben, Gochujang 1000 Island and Smoked Emmentaler on a Semolina & Lamb Fat Roll. Jennings served his sandwich with lamb fat fried potato chips which were a huge hit. The potato chips were nicely salted, crunch and as good as duckfat fries. The loin was very tender and the cheese and sauce drenched the sandwich in rich flavor.

Congrats to all the winners! See the continuation of this post below to view the other lamb dishes and alcohol we tried as well as the fun goodies.

The spice station was a new idea this year. It was great to be able to make your own dry spice rubs for lamb or otherwise. The little packets to fill our own personal spice blends on your own was a lot of fun and very popular because by the time we left, they had run out!

Noir in the Charles Hotel served up miniature Bacon Bourbon Old Fashioned cocktails. The bacon infusion was interesting and the burst of citrus really brightened the classic cocktail.

There was also a lamb butchery demo given by butchers from Tavolo and The Meat House, along with beer served by eight area breweries and wine from J. Lohr. Some of our favorite breweries were serving up their beers including Berkshire Brewing CompanyBlue Hills BreweryCape Ann BrewingHarpoon BreweryIpswich AleMayflower Brewing CompanyPretty Things Beer (a BMH favorite) and Rapscallion.

We tried a lovely petite syrah from J. Lohr that we are excited to keep in our red wine rotation going forward.

Pretty Things was a very popular beverage station because they ran out of their Field Mouse’s Farewell farmhouse ale within the first half hour. Their Jack D’or is a wonderful simple table beer that we love to drink regularly ourselves.

Tomasso Trattoria will be competing for awards for Best in Show and People’s Choice. They served Brasato D’agnello, Braised Lamb Ragu, Sweet Peppers and Fregola Salad. The texture of the fregola salad was fantastic and very refreshing.

Nuno Alves and Chris Douglass from Tavolo presented Beer Braised Lamb Shoulder with Seared Potato Gnocchi and Saffron Pepper Sauce One of our fellow attendees came up for fourths and fifths of this dish. It was one of his favorites and he said he loved the fact that the lamb was braised in beer and the gnocchi had a nice texture.

Peter Davis from Henrietta’s Table served Spicy Pulled Lamb Shank with Maine Yellow Eyed Beans and Grafton Farm Cheddar Cheese Grits. We loved the cheesy grits and the flavor of the spiced shank. This dish makes us want to return to The Charles Hotel and dine at Henrietta’s Table.

Louis Dibiccari from Storyville prepared a Lamb Meatball Grinder, Tomato Jam ‘n’ Gravy.  The meatball had a good flavor, but the bread was a bit tough to chew.

Tyson Podolski from Summer Winter prepared Chiang Mia Braised Lamb Shank with Winter Squash Cavatelli, Mint and Cilantro. This dish was one of our favorites. The lamb shank was unbelievably tender and the Asian flavors was a breath of fresh air amongst the other dishes. The cavatelli was perfectly al dente.  We are planning on visiting the Burlington Marriot’s Summer Winter for Restaurant Week in late March.

One of last year’s winners, Jim Solomon from The Fireplace, plated Mayflower Porter Braised Lamb Shank with Sweet Garlic Yogurt and Blood Orange over Cheesy Grits. The blood orange flavor with the creamy grits was a great combination. We also enjoyed the acidity of the yogurt with the lamb.

Rich Garcia from 606 Congress served up Medallions of American Lamb Leg, Winter Vegetables, Citrus and Anchovy Sauce. We really enjoyed seeing the sous vide process. The lamb leg had an interesting soft texture and the umami from the anchovy was quite tasty. The soft vegetables, however did not seem to enhance the dish much.

Toby Hill from Pain D’Avignon prepared Smoked Bone Marrow Beignet with Braised Lamb Shank, Vermont Shepherd Cheese and Blood Orange Mostarda. The size of the beignet was quite large, about palm size. The exterior of the beignet had a beautiful crust and nice soft interior. The flavor of the cheese and mostarda was very nice.

Joseph Margate from Clink made a Red Lamb Bun with Chickpeas and Yogurt. The bun was a great pillowy texture and light sweetness and I enjoyed the flavors of the filling.

Robert Sisca from Bistro du Midi (BMH review of Bistro du Midi) made Applewood smoked Lamb Loin Carpaccio, Baby Fennel, Turnips, Watermelon Radish, Micro Mint, Spicy Pepper Emulsion. There was a large line for this dish and the emulsion was quite vibrant. I liked the crisp of the fennel and turnips and flavor of the radish.

Sel de la Terre (BMH review of Sel de la Terre Mandarin and Sel de la Terre, Natick) served Lamb Loin brushed with Black Garlic Mustard and Garden Herb Breadcrumbs, Black Pudding wrapped with Crispy Shoe String Potatoes and Warm Parsnip Mousse. The sauce had a great flavor and the best part was the black pudding. That dark popover had a great crunch from the potatoes and we could eat more of those alone.

Will Gilson from The Herb Lyceum made Merguez, Wrapped Lamb Loin with Yogurt and Harissa was a good cold dish. The cooling yogurt was a nice touch.

Brian Rae from Rialto made Braised Lamb Sausage with Chickpeas, Grilled Romaine and Ricotta Salata. The sausage had a great snap and flavor.

Cabot Cheese from Vermont was serving aged cheese and promoting their beer infused cheese products and it was nice to try the varieties. If you answered a trivia question about cheese, you could get a plastic cutting board, perfect for chopping vegetables or whatnot. They also had a great machine that cut the cheese into cubes for them which was fun to watch.

One of the best non-lamb related samples was from Captain’s Coffee Brewers, based in Natick, MA. They serve cold brewed iced coffee. It has a great smooth flavor and was not acidic like most coffees. The coffee taste is very concentrated and I could easily see how you could just pour some to have a great instant ice coffee or make a wonderful coffee granita in the summer.

One of the best dessert items were the Harvard Sweet Boutique desserts. The mini salted caramel and peanut butter brownies were luscious, but our favorites were the airy and lightly sweet coconut cookies. Those cookies were mistaken for sugar cookies initially, but were irresistible once you had a bite. Harvard Sweet Boutique has been given accolades by people Rachel Ray and DailyCandy.

The media bag was filled with great samples including a wine glass, a tote, additional dry rub, some lamb jerky, and an adorable and buttery sheep sugar cookie with a 20% off coupon at Harvard Sweet Boutique.

We are looking forward to another fabulous Lamb Jam next year. The event was well run, delicious and a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon while celebrating all things lamb.

Disclaimer: We received complimentary entrance to the event, all opinions are our own. Special thanks to FoodieBytes and Baltz and Company.

Russell House Tavern, Harvard Square, Cambridge- Revisited


Russell House Tavern is a mid-priced dark-wood and leather decorated gastropub, located directly off the T-stop in Harvard Square. It is a popular location with locals and visitors alike. We previously had brunch at Russell House Tavern last fall and we have been looking forward to dinner since.

The food here is good and fills a definite food void for me in Harvard Square. There are cheap eats and higher-end fare to be found but nothing as well-rounded with delicious, quality fare in the mid-price range. It’s modern, clean and the menu has something for everyone. The focus is on creative casual American food that is locally sourced and seasonally grown.

Chef Michael Schlefo gives a nod to offal in quite a few dishes on the menu as well. Although portion sizes can be a bit tinier than expected for the price, I find that Russell House Tavern provides unique and comforting food and drinks that I will be returning for, again and again. I’ve certainly got my eye on the crispy soft poached egg and the grass-fed burger next time around. Please note that Russell House Tavern is owned by the Grafton Group which also runs Temple Bar, Grafton Street and opening in Fall 2012, Park at the former Redline location.

We came on a Friday night around 9pm after a show at the A.R.T. to find an overly crowded downstairs bar. Following the usual waiting routine, we put our names in with the hostesses. Obviously while we waited, we were going to scout out the bar and sit there if we could find seating for three. Poised and ready to snatch seats, we waited. And waited. Then stared and conversed amongst our little trio. We waited some more, then positioned ourselves on opposite ends of the bar and continued to wait for leaving patrons. Finally after a fairly short thirty minute wait (it probably felt much longer because we were hungry) we snagged two seats at the bar, pushed them together and shared the impromptu banquette all together.

There were three bartenders for the large bar downstairs that night. Each one was dressed in a nice uniform of jeans, a grey suit vest, button down shirt with rolled sleeves and a tie. Given the busy hour, it was a bit tough to get their attention, but managed to do alright.

City of Eternal Spring- Rosangel Tequila, St. Germain, Meletti Amaro, Lemon, Grapefruit Bitters for $10

I really enjoyed this drink because it had one of my favorite liqueurs in it- St. Germain- an elderflower liqueur. The citrus and tequila helped to tone down the sweetness of the St. Germain and liven things up.

Pimm’s Cup- Pimm’s No. 1, ginger beer, lemon, cucumber for $10

This national, refreshing, seasonal English drink is not on the Russell House Tavern menu but any good bartender should be able to make you one. Pimm’s is a lovely fruit and herb infused gin that is a staple at most bars and restaurants. Pour some Pimm’s over ice, add seltzer or your favorite ginger beer/lemonade/ginger ale, and garnish with cucumber if you want to make it at home.

Archer Farms Beef &Tongue Meatballs- roasted tomato, melted Robiola, sage $9

You get two meatballs folks. Yup, that’s right. Why am I warning you? Because these little babies are so tender and tasty that you’ll want a whole plateful. They melt in your mouth and can easily be eaten with spoon.The roasted tomato is well seasoned with salt on the outside so make sure you chew it well to release the concentrated sweetness you get from roasting vegetables.

Archer Farms Beef Heart Ravioli, Pecorino crunchies, red wine sauce, pickled apple $9

I liked this a lot but wanted to love it. It was somehow missing something to push me in the right direction sadly. I’m definitely willing to try it again. I loved the tender, meaty beef heart inside as well as  the sweet and sour pickled apples with the au jus sauce but something about the pasta exterior was off for me. It could have been a random fluke.

Painted Hills Steak Tartare, griddled caper-brioche, chip-in farm egg yolk for $8

This was a very good tartare. The meat is clean, lightly seasoned and tasty. The egg is not on top like most traditional tartare but already mixed in. The brioche was crisp on the outside and slightly soft on the inside. The only disappointment was it was a small portion. For an additional $2, you can get a slightly larger portion size.

Warm Burrata Salad, honey roasted brussel sprouts, apple, Calabrian chili oil for $10

I really enjoy good brussel sprouts so when I saw this on the menu, I had to try it. I was glad we did. The roasted sprouts kissed with honey combined with the sweet apples and spicy oil went well with the creaminess of the cheesy burrata.

Citrus & Juniper Cured Gravlax- rye crumbs, pickled grapes, creme fraiche $8

This is a new item on the menu and it was pretty good. The housemade salmon was silky, smooth and lightly seasoned with citrus salt. When I ate it, there was only a hint of the citrus and I didn’t detect any juniper. The rye crumbs were more like mini rye croutons.The pickled grapes were something new to me. I’d never had a picked grape before. Sure, I’ve tried picked onions and beets, but grapes were a new territory in pickled foods. They added a pleasant sweet tang to the gravlax. Try it for yourself and see.

Russell House Tavern on Urbanspoon

American Lamb Jam 2012, The Charles Hotel, Cambridge

February is Lamb Lovers Month and to celebrate, we are featuring two lamb recipes we have made: Grilled Lamb with Sweet Herb Rub and Lamb Tacos with Chili-Tzatziki Sauce.

 
 
 

This Sunday, February 19, from 3 pm to 6 pm, we will be heading over to The Charles Hotel in Cambridge for the Third Annual American Lamb Jam, sponsored The American Lamb Board and Boston Chefs. It will be hosted by TV Diner‘s Billy Costa. We are looking forward to sampling the eight local beers and lamb dishes of 18 local chefs.

Chefs from 606 Congress, Bistro du Midi (BMH review of Bistro du Midi), Citizen, Clink, Garden at the Cellar, Henrietta’s Table, La Laiterie Bistro (BMH review of La Laiterie), Oleana, Pain D’Avignon, Storyville, Red Lion Inn, Rialto, Russell House Tavern (BMH review of Russell House Tavern), Sel de la Terre (BMH review of Sel de la Terre Mandarin and Sel de la Terre, Natick), Summer Winter, Tavolo, The Fireplace and Tomasso Trattoria will be competing for awards for Best in Show and People’s Choice.  Attendees will also enjoy butchery demonstrations by Chefs Chris Douglas & Nuno Alves of Tavolo and Butcher Josh Pert from the Meat House.

Some of our favorite beers and breweries will be there including Berkshire Brewing Company, Blue Hills Brewery, Cape Ann Brewing, Harpoon Brewery, Ipswich Ale, Mayflower Brewing Company, Pretty Things Beer (a BMH favorite) and Rapscallion.

Part of the proceeds from Lamb Jam will go to benefit Share Our Strength,  a national non-profit geared towards ending childhood hunger in America.

Tickets to the 2012 American Lamb Jam cost $50 each and include all food and beverages.

Update: Lamb Jam tickets are now sold out as of February 15th, due to their popularity, but for more information visit www.FansofLambBoston.com. Keep this amazing foodie event on your radar for next year as tickets have consistently sold out in the past!

We will be receiving complimentary tickets for our coverage, so stay tuned for the recap.

Russell House Tavern, Harvard Square, Cambridge

Russell House Tavern is popular for brunch and cocktails and is located right in Harvard Square. Every person who speaks of Russell House Tavern, consistently speaks highly of their brunch and dinner.

The main bar area is warm with luxurious black bar stools.

The downstairs area is spacious with dark wood and and scones. The area can accommodate large parties or a great cocktail hour.
I enjoyed the Anti-Benedict: Garlic Spinach & Breakfast Sausage, Hollandaise, Hash Browns with Two Crispy Fried Poached Eggs for $14. The rich hollandaise spread all over the rich and perfectly poached eggs. I loved the garlicky greens and just wish the english muffin was toasted a bit longer.

The Pit Master was 16 Hour Smoked Brisket scrambled with Three Eggs, Scallions, Fontina, Potatoes and Toast for $11. The scallion and fontina combination paired well with the tender brisket. It was quite generous in portion size and we had plenty leftover.

The decadent E.B.L.T on a Croissant: 2 Eggs over easy, Cheddar, Lettuce, Tomato, Bacon, Mayo, Hash Browns for $9 was really tasty. One can not go wrong with a flakey, buttery croissant, eggs and crispy bacon. It was yummy.

I will have to come back for cocktails and dinner since they serve a nice variety of updated American classics such as pizzas, sandwiches, salads and appetizers.

Russell House Tavern on Urbanspoon