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Boston Restaurant Blog -- February, 2010

Below are blog entries from February, 2010. Use the links in the left column to do a quick search of blog entries, or to see blog entries from other months. And feel free to use the "Comments" links under each blog entry to reply to us; your comments just might end up in our Boston restaurant blog! (Note: This page is part of our restaurant features section.)

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February, 2010

Thursday, February 25, 2010
A Favorable First Impression of The Local, West Newton

It is no secret that I am a big fan of gastropubs. They are often dark and moody (which I like in a place), but not overly dive-y, and typically have above average food and excellent beer lists. And for the most part, this could be an apt description of The Local, a casual restaurant and pub in West Newton that opened in late 2008, and one that we finally were able to check out for the first time recently.

photo of The Local, West Newton, Massachusetts The Local sits on the edge of the center of West Newton in a space that used to be home to a local bar called RJ Crowley's. You can still sense the feel of the old neighborhood bar here, as it is dimly lit and made even darker by the black walls and wood paneling throughout (and the recessed lighting doesn't seem to help a whole lot). But The Local also has a clean, modern vibe, with an airy bar to the left, a fairly roomy dining area immediately to the right of the bar, and a quieter dining room further to the right that sits slightly below the rest of the place.

On our recent trip to The Local, we were seated in the middle area by the front windows and settled in, taking a look at the drink menu. I was actually a bit disappointed in the beer options available, as I had expected a more extensive list (the cocktail list actually seemed more interesting). We ended up with a couple of very nice beers, however, including a light-tasting Ipswich Apricot Wheat and a somewhat heavier (and hoppier) Cisco Whale's Tale. For starters, we ordered a bucket of fried pickles and another bucket of homemade potato chips. The pickles had a pleasantly sharp bite to them, and the spicy mayo further added a kick, but they weren't quite up to the level of the outstanding fried pickles I have had at the Fat Cat in Quincy (one of my favorite gastropubs). The chips were better, with many of them being slightly browned and especially crunchy, and all of them being nicely salted and seasoned--and the French onion dip was the perfect companion to them.

Our main entrees soon came, and with mostly positive results. The steak tips were delicious, with a slightly tangy marinade and little fat or gristle, but they had been ordered medium and they came out somewhere between rare and medium rare. The handcut fries were also a bit undercooked, though they were absolutely delicious and had just the right amount of salt. The other dish--the macaroni and cheese with chives and truffle oil--was out of this world, with short, stubby pieces of macaroni (ditali, really) mixed with a thick, creamy sauce that had that wonderfully earthy and woody truffle taste (though it probably would have been even better with truffle butter, which is admittedly tough to find). Alas, we had no room for dessert or even a cup of coffee or a tea. Prices were very reasonable, with the bill totaling less than $50, and service was about as perfect as can be, with our server being friendly, personable, knowledgeable, and efficient.

Our first visit to The Local was a pleasant and satisfying one (even with a few blips here and there), and it is certainly a place I want to try at least a few more times. I'm not sure if The Local is up to the level of the Fat Cat or the Highland Kitchen in Somerville (perhaps my favorite gastropub), but even if it isn't, it seems mighty close.

For those who want the address for The Local, here it is: The Local, 1391 Washington Street, Newton, MA 02465. The phone number is (617) 340-2160.

Related Blog Entries: American restaurants, Newton restaurants

Thursday, February 18, 2010
February 2010 Trip to Brooklyn and Manhattan

I was overdue for a trip to New York City, as I typically go four or five times a year. But the last trip was during the summer, and that was mainly Brooklyn and Queens; the last Manhattan trip was about nine months ago. But we finally did get back to the Big Apple, spending about half of the time in Brooklyn and half in Manhattan, stopping at a number of restaurants along the way.

photo of The Coffee Break, Clinton, Connecticut Our first stop on the trip was to a neighborhood breakfast and lunch spot in the pleasant town of Clinton, CT (between New London and New Haven) called The Coffee Break. The place was a little more cheery and comfortable than your typical diner, with carpeting, bright (but not too bright) lighting, a three-season porch, and a large dining area complete with a counter section with seating. One interesting thing about The Coffee Break is that it had no less than ten clocks in the dining room, many of which chimed in different fashions on the hour. Our food was basic diner fare, including a tasty egg salad club (not on the menu, but they made it for us), a huge griddled burger that didn't have much in the way of flavor, crispy but otherwise average fries, outstanding beer-battered onion rings (perhaps the best item of the meal), a deliciously sinful caramel apple pie, and rice pudding that was just ok. Service was friendly and efficient, and the prices were certainly more than fair. All in all, The Coffee Break wasn't a bad place to stop at, and it was certainly a lot less stressful to get to than many restaurants between New Haven and the New York border.

We made it to Brooklyn by late afternoon and immediately headed to Burp Castle on E 7th Street in the East Village where several of us spent some time enjoying the high-quality beers that this quiet place has. Then it was off to yet another great dinner at Focacceria on MacDougal Street in the Village (won't bore you with details here, as I've been to this favorite spot so many times). After dinner we headed back to the East Village, where eight of us had some truly outstanding desserts at the legendary Veniero's on E 11th Street before heading back to Brooklyn for the night.

photo of Mr. Dennehy's, Manhattan, New York We had a quick continental breakfast where we were staying in Brooklyn on Sunday morning, then spent some time in the Upper West Side of Manhattan before heading back to Greenwich Village for lunch. We stopped at a quiet and unassuming Irish pub on Carmine Street called Mr. Dennehy's, which is just far enough off the beaten path to avoid some of the huge crowds that restaurants and bars on nearby Bleecker Street get. The pub was long and narrow, with a bar and a few tables in the front area and a small dining area in the back. We grabbed a table toward the back and had some macaroni and cheese and a couple of pints of Guinness and Harp. The mac and cheese was made with four cheeses (cheddar, gouda, gruyere, and parmesan) and had bread crumbs on top, but honestly, it wasn't all that impressive, as it was a bit on the thin and watery side. I did like the atmosphere at Mr. Dennehy's, however, as it felt like a place that locals might go to rather than tourists, and I had the feeling that it is probably a good place to watch sporting events (soccer is a good bet!) on TV.

photo of Fragole, Brooklyn, New York Much of the rest of Sunday afternoon was spent walking around the beautiful Boerum Hill and Carroll Gardens sections of Brooklyn, and it was indeed Carroll Gardens that was to be our destination for dinner that night. And what a dinner it was, as the place we went to -- Fragole on Court Street -- was easily one of the best Italian restaurants I have been to in either Boston or New York. The atmosphere was charming (a cozy bar, wooden beams and a wood s floor, exposed brick walls), the service was polite, professional, and low key, and the food? Well, everything, from the antipasto (the dry aged meat was out of this world) to the freshly made pappardelle with sweet-tasting honey-braised short rib ragu to the hearty and rich rigatoni with bolognese, was about as good as it gets. Even the fresh bread with creamy tomato dipping sauce that we received at the start of the meal was unforgettable, and the Sardinian and Sicilian wines were wonderful. This was perhaps the best meal I've had in 2010 (so far), though as mentioned in an earlier blog entry, Metropolis in the South End of Boston may vie for that spot as well. But what a meal it was, and I cannot recommend this place enough if you happen to be near Carroll Gardens in Brooklyn.

photo of The New St. Clair Restaurant, Manhattan, New York After our incredible meal at Fragole, we knew it would be tough to match that for the rest of the trip, and we were right (though we did get to another very good restaurant--more to come on that later). After a late-night stop for drinks at the quirky and offbeat Zombie Hut on Smith Street in Brooklyn, Monday morning quickly came around and it was time to leave the city. But we did make a quick stop for breakfast in Boerum Hill at a clean and brightly-lit diner at the corner of Atlantic Street and Smith Street called The New St. Clair Restaurant. It was a fairly large place with two dining rooms as well as a counter area. We mostly ordered basic breakfast food and it was decent enough overall, though the home fries were dry and not seasoned very well and the coffee was just plain bad. But the hand-rolled water bagels were really quite good (though they had huge bricks of cream cheese squeezed into them) and the turkey bacon was crisp and tasty. Prices were rather high for what we ordered, but that is not all that uncommon in both Manhattan and Brooklyn. Service was very quick, which is definitely what you want in a diner that caters to the nearby business crowd.

photo of the Blue Dolphin Restaurant, Katonah, New York After breakfast, we stopped at Chelsea Market in Manhattan (a requirement for anyone who is into cooking, in my opinion), then headed north, winding our way toward Route 84. But before getting onto the highway that would eventually take us back to Massachusetts, we stopped in the peaceful and charming town of Katonah for lunch, where we checked out an interesting place called the Blue Dolphin Restaurant. The Blue Dolphin is housed in a classic diner space, complete with an arched wooden ceiling, window booths, a counter area with some seating, and a tiny side room. This was anything but a typical diner, however, as the menu featured more in the way of Northern and Southern Italian cuisine than classic American comfort food. After being served some bread with garlic oil, we dined on a fresh-tasting Caesar salad and a flavorful minestrone soup with all kinds of veggies, then moved onto our entrees, which included a savory plate of veal-stuffed ravioli in a tomato and basil sauce, and an orecchiette (ear pasta) plate that had a garlicky pesto sauce. It was all very good, and nothing like what you would expect from a diner, and in a sense, the Blue Dolphin isn't really a diner at all--it's really a borderline upscale restaurant that happens to be housed in a diner, making it a rather unique spot.

I may be heading back to Manhattan in a few weeks, so expect another entry that focuses on some more restaurants. And there is talk that at least a couple of us may do a pizza-based food trip to New York soon, so definitely stay tuned, as that could be a fun one!

Related Blog Entries: Brooklyn restaurants, Connecticut restaurants, Manhattan restaurants, New York restaurants

Friday, February 12, 2010
Town Spa Pizza in Stoughton: Good Again?

I have been to Town Spa Pizza in Stoughton several times over the years, and like more than a few people, I felt like their bar pizza started going downhill after being considered one of the best south of Boston for a long time. Well, the quality may actually be back, as a few of us did a takeout order of several of their pizzas about a week ago, and it was some of the best bar pizza that I've had in a long time.

photo of Town Spa Pizza, Stoughton, Massachusetts With our recent order of Town Spa bar pies, we mostly stuck to simple toppings (which is a good thing to do when you're talking about bar pizza), and both the plain pizza and the pepperoni pizza were nearly perfect, with a greasy mix of golden brown cheese on top that extended all the way to the edge of the slightly oily and bendable crust, and a zesty, rich sauce that wasn't loaded too heavily on the pizza as to overwhelm the taste of the cheese or crust. As is the case with typical bar pies, the pizzas were small, making it easy to finish a whole one (and then some) individually.

It is possible that we just hit Town Spa on a good night, but I'll go with the benefit of the doubt and say that this probably isn't the case, especially since I have heard from a few people that their pizza does seem to be up there in quality once again. I'm not sure it's quite at the level of the Lynwood Cafe in Randolph (often considered the best of the best for bar pizza), but the pies we had the other night really didn't seem all that far behind.

If you would like the address for Town Spa Pizza, here it is: Town Spa Pizza, 1119 Washington Street (Route 138), Stoughton, MA 02072. The phone number is (781) 344-2030.

Related Blog Entries: bar pizza, pizza places

Wednesday, February 3, 2010
Sunday Lunch at Nicky's in Wrentham

The Boston's Hidden Restaurants site is nearly six years old now, but there are still a number of restaurants that I haven't been back to since the site first got going. And one of those places is a family-friendly spot in Wrentham called Nicky's, which I had probably last been to about ten years ago. Before returning last weekend, what I had recalled of Nicky's was a comfortable, low-key restaurant with cheap and hearty comfort food, and my recent visit to the place surely didn't do anything to change that memory.

photo of Nicky's, Wrentham, Massachusetts Nicky's is located a short distance west of Wrentham Center on Route 140 (across from Lake Archer). It feels like it is in the middle of nowhere, giving it the overall vibe of a classic roadside restaurant. The interior of Nicky's has a counter section (with seats) by the front entrance and two partitioned dining areas with the one furthest to the left being more bright and cheery, thanks to light coming in from the windows. An outdoor patio that is used during the warmer months sits off to the left of the restaurant.

A number of us went to Nicky's on my most recent trip, with all kinds of items being ordered. Some highlights included a clam chowder that was not overly rich (thanks to the thin broth) and had a lot of clams; a turkey dinner that had all white meat (on request) and came with a deliciously clumpy stuffing and creamy mashed potatoes; an outstanding baked haddock that was flaky and had no waste to it; a classic raspberry lime rickey that had a perfect mix of sweet and tangy flavors; and a homemade blueberry pie that was substantial enough to be a meal in itself. There were a few low points, however, including an overly salty and thin beef vegetable soup that had rather mushy veggies, and a grapenut pudding that was perhaps a tad too sweet and much too watery (the bottom half of the serving bowl was all water). Prices were more than reasonable, and service was prompt, efficient, and friendly.

Overall, our visit to Nicky's was a satisfying one; if the restaurant were closer to Boston, I would probably go there more often, but ten years between visits does seem a bit excessive. My guess is, I'll be back well before the year 2020, and with a little luck, maybe even sometime this year.

For those who want the address for Nicky's, here it is: Nicky's, 460 Franklin Street, Wrentham, MA 02093. The phone number is (508) 384-8283.

Related Blog Entries: American restaurants, Wrentham restaurants