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Boston Restaurant Blog -- February, 2011

Below are blog entries from February, 2011. 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, 2011

Tuesday, February 22, 2011
Restaurants in Manhattan (and CT), Winter 2011

This has been about the longest stretch between trips to New York City for me, as the last one I took was way back in the spring of 2010. Well, we finally made it back to The Big Apple over the past weekend, and we were able to try a few new restaurants along the way.

photo of Reuben's, West Hartfcut Our trip to New York began with a stop for lunch at an authentic Jewish deli in West Hartford called Reuben's. This little spot in the heart of the downtown area felt like the real deal the minute we walked in, as it was noisy and bustling, with people tackling huge sandwiches and large bowls of matzo ball soup while also snacking on plates of pickles. We moved past the busy front counter area and grabbed a seat toward the back of the place, squeezed in between several other groups of people. Our server brought out a plate of the aforementioned pickles, and they were excellent, with a mix of Kosher pickles and sour pickles (the Kosher pickles had more of a "snap" and tasted better overall). I then tried a bowl of their matzo ball soup, and while it had basically nothing in the way of chicken or vegetables, the matzo balls were about the best I've had, as they were somehow both fluffy and dense at the same time, and had a rich taste that really beat just about any other version I've tried of this Jewish staple. For our meals, we tried the pastrami sandwich (lean and delicious) and the corned beef sandwich (the corned beef looked more like ham, but it was tender and quite tasty). Service was just about perfect, and prices were a little high, though not quite at the level of the popular NYC delis. Looking back, I'd have to say that I have no need to return to Rein's in nearby Vernon while on trips to New York, as Reuben's seemed much better overall.

photo of City Tavern, Manhattan, New York A couple of hours after leaving Reuben's Deli, we were settled into Manhattan, and soon three of us made our way to Union Square to eat at a place called City Tavern for dinner. Situated on a quiet stretch of E 13th Street maybe two blocks from the square itself, City Tavern almost looked like a sports bar at first glance, but once inside, it was much different. The ground floor did have a bit of a "drinking establishment" feel to it, but upstairs it felt being whisked away to a quiet trattoria somewhere in the Italian countryside. The rustic room featured a beamed ceiling, exposed brick, a wooden floor, and attractive art along the walls, with the front having windows looking out over the street and the back being a bit more cozy and serene. We started our meal with a round of drinks and a appetizer of prosciutto-wrapped figs with gorgonzola cheese in a balsamic reduction. This was a tremendous dish, with the saltiness of the meat and cheese complementing the sweetness of the figs perfectly. Soon after we finished the appetizer, our main dishes arrived, and all three were very impressive; the shrimp with penne was helped greatly by the creamy vodka sauce, while the risotto with sweet Italian sausage and earthy mushrooms was nearly perfect. The fettucine bolognese was a bit on the small side portion-wise, but the veal ragu had a rich and hearty goodness to it that made up for the slightly small size of the meal. The server that we had at City Tavern was friendly and efficient, and the prices were certainly reasonable, with our dishes averaging in the teens.

photo of Eataly, Manhattan, New York Over the past year or so, I had been thinking about going to a New York restaurant owned by a celebrity chef, but time constraints--and so many other places to try in the city--have kept me from doing so. But we did hit a celebrity chef's place on this trip, even if it wasn't one of the famous high-end spots. In retrospect, however, our experience to Mario Batali's Eataly in the Madison Square section of Manhattan will probably go down as being every bit as memorable as being at any top-tier restaurant, as this new-ish Italian food complex is a sight to behold--and a very, very special place for anyone who is into cooking. The enormous space is filled with all kinds of pasta, cured meats, cheeses, breads, olive oil, vinegar, sauces, seafood, and so much more. And within the space are little cafes and restaurants where folks can stop for lunch or dinner. We did just that, going to the section called La Pizza & Pasta, where we ordered a quattro formaggi pizza and a plate of spaghetti al pomodoro. The wood-fired pizza was outstanding, with the sharp-tasting gorgonzola really standing out (the other cheeses used were mozzarella, parmigiano reggiano, and cacio cavallo), while the spaghetti was slightly bigger in diameter than I'm used to--and perfectly cooked--with the sauce completely addictive (rich, zesty, and slightly spicy). Service seemed a bit confusing, as I wasn't really sure who our main server was, but the people who waited on our table were all very helpful. Prices were a little on the high side, with the pizza being in the upper teens and the spaghetti being in the low to mid-teens. No complaints about the prices, though, as dining at Eataly was an amazing experience that I will not soon forget.

photo of Sevilla, Manhattan, New York After lunch, we wandered through Eataly for awhile longer, picking up some ingredients for cooking, then we made our way back to Lower Manhattan before taking a cab to the West Village. Making stops at McNulty's tea shop, Murray's cheese shop, and Oliver's City Tavern, we eventually ended up at Sevilla at the corner of W 4th Street and Charles Street for dinner. Sevilla is a very old Spanish restaurant with well-dressed waiters, beautiful paintings on the wood-paneled walls, a low wooden ceiling, and attractive lanterns and hanging lights throughout. Other than the fact that we found it to be a bit loud on our visit, Sevilla's warm, cozy, and intimate atmosphere was nearly worth the trip alone, but the food was top-notch as well. The stuffed mushrooms greatly impressed, with lots of fresh crabmeat placed in the mushrooms. And the house-made red sangria (we ordered a pitcher to start, along with the mushrooms) may have been the best I have had anywhere, as it was both sweet and spicy, with a definite kick from the alcohol in it. Our meals couldn't have been better, with the seafood paella including a large helping of littlenecks, mussels, and shrimp, and the veal in almond sauce having a sweetness from the sauce that went nicely with the delicate taste of the meat. While we were eating, one of the waiters accidentally dropped a beer bottle near us, lightly spraying our jackets. A person who appeared to be the owner immediately came over and offered to have our coats cleaned with the bill being paid by them, and he also deducted the price of the pitcher of sangria, being both graceful and sympathetic the whole time. Between the atmosphere, the food, and the warmth of the people at Sevilla, this is a place that I would gladly go back to, especially since the prices are quite low here for the quality of the food and service.

Monday was a travel day, so we left Manhattan around mid-morning, making our way briefly through Park Slope in Brooklyn before getting onto the highway and reaching Connecticut just before noon. We decided to have a late lunch at Doogie's in Newington, which is a place I have been to a few times now. We had a couple of their delicious hot dogs (the regular-sized ones, not their 2-foot monsters), a cheeseburger (nothing special), and a cheesesteak (terrific as usual), along with decent but fairly basic fries. (To read more about Doogie's, check out our earlier review at http://www.hiddenboston.com/blogentries/connecticut-trip-0706.html.)

So it was another fun weekend in New York, and once again, we got to try some great eating spots. It's tough to choose between City Tavern, Eataly, and Sevilla, as there really wasn't a dud among them. I know I'll be going back to all three places at some point, and I definitely want to return to Eataly soon, especially since they are apparently building a rooftop beer garden, which I will surely want to check out.

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

Friday, February 18, 2011
Videos Come to Boston's Hidden Restaurants (Via how2heroes)

Over the past year, we have been adding a lot of photos to the Boston's Hidden Restaurants site via our new Food Photos and Random Photos sections, but we haven't really done much in the way of videos. Now, thanks to the how2heroes site, we have been able to start including videos from that site onto our site, with an emphasis on instructional cooking videos from chefs and owners of restaurants, including places that we have reviewed on Boston's Hidden Restaurants. The new video section is just getting started, but so far we have included videos on how to make stuffed clams, which glassware to use for various beers, how to make a chocolate cake that looks like a pint of Guinness, and how to make masala dosas.

The new section on videos can be found at the following link:

http://www.hiddenboston.com/videos/

There will surely be more videos coming up, so keep checking back for updates, thanks!

Thursday, February 10, 2011
Five Romantic Restaurants That Are Also Hidden

photo of Antique Table, Lynn, MA Valentine's Day is almost here, and with it the mad scramble to find a restaurant to go to for a romantic evening out. Well, the truth is, many restaurants cost a lot more on Valentine's Day, and the popular spots can get tremendously crowded (and noisy), making for a less-than-ideal night out with the one you love. But there are a number of dining spots that are lesser-known and that also happen to be cozy, intimate places. We list five such restaurants below, though this list really just scratches the surface.

1) Antique Table, Lynn
Hidden away on a relatively little-traveled road on the Swampscott line, Antique Table is a rustic eatery that features some terrific Italian fare, including orecchiete, fusilli bolognese, and linguini and mussels. The beamed ceiling, stained glass lamps, and rough plaster walls make this seem more like a place that you'd find in Tuscany than in this sprawling old mill city located a few miles north of Boston.

2) Loco Tapas and Wine Bar, South Easton
It seems like Spanish restaurants in general tend to be romantic spots that are ideal for a quiet date, and this upscale dining spot south of Boston is certainly no exception. The deep red walls, Spanish arches, hardwood floor, and copper bar help create a memorable environment, and the small plates that can be ordered here (both hot and cold) are simply wonderful. It may be a bit of a hike from downtown Boston, but perhaps that only adds to the romance, since it is really in an out-of-the-way spot.

3) Shanti: Taste of India, Dorchester
Savin Hill may not seem like the place to go for a quiet, intimate dinner with the one you love, but this Indian restaurant in the heart of this Dorchester neighborhood may change people's minds about that. The moderately-sized dining spot is sultry and exotic with candles and Hindu statues giving it a peaceful overall vibe. And the food is tough to beat at Shanti, with some great tikka masala, vindaloo, and biryani offered.

4) Townsend's, Hyde Park
Irish pubs and restaurants in the Boston area tend range from quiet and moody to fun and vibrant, with many of them being rather romantic in their own ways, especially on a cold, rainy night. Well, Townsend's is a particularly intimate spot, as it is a bit more upscale and quiet than many of the other Irish places around the city, and the use of dark woods, combined with a fireplace, dim lighting, and little nooks and crannies throughout make this little-known restaurant and pub a perfect escape.

5) Vecchia Roma, Newton
An absolutely charming spot in the mostly working-class Nonantum section of the city, Vecchia Roma is a truly special place, with some of the best Italian food in the Boston area along with an atmosphere that is made for couples looking to have quiet conversation. The owner, who is from Italy, will go out of his way to make people feel at home here, and he creates both familiar and more inventive Italian dishes, many of which are nothing short of outstanding.

Again, there are plenty of other romantic restaurants in the Boston area that are also relatively little-known, but these five can hopefully give you a head start if you're looking for an intimate dinner on Valentine's Day at a place that won't be completely out of control either crowd-wise or price-wise.

Related Blog Entries: romantic restaurants

Tuesday, February 1, 2011
First Visit to La Scala Ristorante in Worcester

Depending on whom you talk to, Shrewsbury Street in Worcester is either considered the city's "restaurant row" or its "Little Italy" (or both). In either case, the often-bustling street, which heads east out of downtown Worcester, is surely one of the best places to go in the city if you're looking for food, as it has a ton of restaurants, including many Italian eateries and a few classic diners. And of course, some of the street's dining spots are better known than others, with the popular Boulevard Diner and One Eleven Chop House being at one end of the spectrum and places such as the one we went to over the weekend--La Scala Ristorante--being at the other end. Indeed, there is very little information on La Scala online, though based on the decent crowds we saw there Saturday evening, it does seem to attract a local following.

photo of La Scala Ristorante, Worcester, Massachusetts La Scala is a tiny place, with a small bar situated to the right and a few tables to the left (including booths) and along the front windows. The atmosphere is that of an Italian cafe, with a hard tile floor, some exposed brick behind the bar, a curtain that diners need to pass through as they enter the place, and classic Italian music played in the background. There is also a bit of a "ski lodge" feel to the spot, as it is dark and cozy and feels like a place that is meant for lingering. A small outdoor patio is available to diners during the warmer months.

We had a bit of a wait when we first arrived at La Scala, so we squeezed into the rather cramped bar area and had a couple of beers (including a very nice Wormtown Ale). Once seated, we started with a special antipasto for the evening that included all kinds of grilled vegetables (zucchini, squash, onions, red peppers) as well a tremendous sharp provolone cheese that may have been the best part of the dish, a good helping of spicy soppressata, fresh Italian bread, and a mix of black and green olives. The antipasto was really quite good, though it seemed almost too big, nearly killing our appetites before we even saw our actual meals. As far as the meals themselves, the veal marsala was excellent, with tender pieces of meat mixed with earthy mushrooms and a perfectly sweet marsala sauce, all over a large bed of linguini--perhaps a bit too large, actually, as it threatened to overwhelm the entire dish. The other entree--the gnocchi pesto--was similarly satisfying, with soft pillows of potato pasta mixed with a deliciously garlicky house-made pesto. Dessert was disappointing, as the tiramisu was more like a piece of birthday cake, and about as overly sweet as some birthday cakes can be. Service was good overall, and the prices were very reasonable, with the total bill (including two rounds of drinks) being about $60.

Although it wasn't the best Italian meal I've had over the past few months, I believe that the food at La Scala was good enough to warrant another trip to the place, especially considering the low prices and the easy parking behind the restaurant. There are plenty of other good restaurants on Shrewsbury Street--as well as Worcester in general--but La Scala seems to be a decent spot that also appears to be flying quite a bit under the radar, at least outside of the immediate neighborhood.

For those who want the address for La Scala, here it is: La Scala Ristorante, 183 Shrewsbury Street, Worcester, MA, 01604. The phone number is (508) 753-9912.

Related Blog Entries: Italian restaurants, Worcester restaurants