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Boston Restaurant Blog -- June, 2011

Below are blog entries from June, 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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June, 2011

Thursday, June 30, 2011
Impressive First Meal at Area Four in Cambridge

There's something about the smell of wood smoke, especially if it's coming from a restaurant you're heading to and you're still a half block away from it.

It's indeed rare that a restaurant makes you happy before you even arrive, but that is exactly what happened this week as we approached Area Four, a new restaurant in the Kendall Square section of Cambridge. And the unforgettable smell of wood burning from their ovens was the first of many positives that we encountered that evening.

photo of Area Four, Cambridge, MassachusettsArea Four is one of several new dining spots in Kendall Square (including a few that are getting ready to open). This section of the city used to be a bit of an urban wasteland at night since the main focus was on business, notably high-tech firms and biotechnology companies. But this has all been changing of late, with restaurants and other attractions sprouting up throughout the area, including the Technology Square section along Main Street where Area Four is located. Taking its name from the neighborhood in which it resides, Area Four fits in nicely here, with a sleek, modern, and slightly spartan look that upon first glance could almost be mistaken for an office building cafeteria--that is, until you see the bar in the front and the open kitchen toward the back, with its two wood-fired ovens and wood stacked under the counter. The space consists of a coffee shop in once section and a long, narrow restaurant/bar area in another (with the main dining area being beyond the bar and a few steps up). During the warmer months, outdoor seating can be found out front and along the side of the building. The high ceilings and exposed pipes contrast with the wood ovens, making for an odd but intriguing mix of industrial and rustic as far as the atmosphere is concerned.

Fairly crowded but not jam-packed when we arrived early in the dinner hour, a few outdoor tables were available at Area Four, and we were able to get seated at one right away. Being that this is Kendall Square (a mostly wide-open area with huge buildings and few trees), it was very windy at our table so we jokingly decided not to get any food items that might blow away (dishes with fennel pollen or powdered sugar were not an option, not that they had fennel pollen on the menu as far as I could tell). Our server, who was friendly and professional throughout, took our drink order, including an always-excellent Pretty Things Jack D'Or that somehow seems a just a little bit hoppier to me these days than in the past. We also decided to order a side dish as an appetizer--a plate of greens that was topped with tzatziki--and it was wonderful, with the creaminess of the slightly tangy sauce nicely complementing the earthy bitterness of the greens.

The minute we finished our appetizer, our meals came out (service was very quick from start to finish), and looking back, it is hard to decide which dish was better. The white pizza, which had fontina cheese and exotic mushrooms, had a buttery taste within the cheese, a deep richness from the mushrooms, and a smoky taste coming from the crust, which had a slight char from the wood-fired oven. It wasn't quite perfect (I would have preferred it being in the oven for perhaps another 30 seconds), but it was very impressive. Equally good was the macaroni and cheese, which had a mix of breadcrumbs, herbs, and spices on top giving it a crusty texture, and a slightly thin and creamy cheese/butter combination mixing nicely with the tender pasta. The dish also had a slightly smoky taste, as it had been briefly placed in the wood-fired oven at the end of the cooking process. Perhaps the best item of the entire night was the dessert, however; the chocolate cake had an extraordinary mix of olive oil, creme fraiche, cookie crumble, and, perhaps best of all, salted caramel placed on the plate below it all. This was easily the best dessert I've had in all of 2011, which is saying a lot because I've had some great ones (the English toffee bread pudding from the Citizen Public House in Boston's Fenway area comes to mind). Aside from the slightly small macaroni and cheese dish, portions were decently sized and prices really weren't all that bad, with our entire meal being a shade over $50.

It is nice to see a new restaurant start out by firing on all cylinders, and Area Four certainly seems to fit the bill here. There's no way to know whether this Kendall Square eatery will become a popular spot as time goes on, or whether it will become a bit of a hidden gem (its slightly out-of-the-way location will probably be offset by the sheer number of businesses in the area, as well as MIT, which is nearby), but either way, this place sure seems to be a winner.

If you would like the address for Area Four, here it is: Area Four, 500 Technology Square (Main Street), Cambridge, MA, 02139. The phone number is (617) 758-4444.

Related Blog Entries: Cambridge restaurants, outdoor dining

Friday, June 24, 2011
Outstanding Seafood at Arnold's in Eastham

Over the past few months, I've had people ask about the purpose of the blog within the Boston's Hidden Restaurants website. It serves a number of purposes, actually, including being a place where I can talk about restaurants that can't really be featured within the main part of the site. Included in that category would be restaurants that are not hidden gems--that is, either not hidden, not gems, or neither. Well, the focus of this post--Arnold's in Eastham--certainly fits into this category, but by no means because of the food. It is simply much too popular a place, and is also quite a distance from Boston. But what a place it is, with the seafood we recently had there being about as good as you'll find anywhere along the Massachusetts coast.

photo of Arnold's, Eastham, MA Arnold's is one of several seafood shacks and restaurants that can be found along Route 6 between the Orleans rotary and the Truro line. Indeed, this otherwise nondescript stretch of road that goes through Eastham and Wellfleet is a must if you love seafood, and one that I am becoming quite familiar with (having reviewed the Lobster Shanty in Eastham and P.J.'s Family Restaurant in Wellfleet over the past year or so). Arnold's looks a lot like these places (and others along Route 6), with a counter area for ordering, a sprawling and slightly rustic indoor dining area, and some picnic tables outside. What seems to separate Arnold's from the others upon first glance is the fact that the lines seem a bit longer and the parking lot seems a bit more full. There is apparently good reason for this, as more than a few people believe it is the best of all the seafood shacks along this road.

Several of us went to Arnold's earlier this week, though only not all of us had seafood. The seafood that we did have, though, was nothing short of spectacular; the warm lobster roll, for instance, was absolutely stuffed with some of the sweetest-tasting lobster meat I've tried. It was served in a fresh roll, with a small container of drawn butter on the side (rather than mayo, which is used for cold lobster rolls). The clam chowder was much better than average and its broth leaned more toward being thin than thick, which is more the traditional way of making chowder in New England. For those who like fried clams, the ones at Arnold's were spectacular, with the bellies literally bursting through the batter, creating a juicy briny goodness that is simply unforgettable. Other food items were decent, with the boneless buffalo tenders having a nicely textured batter and the fries being rather basic but tasty enough. We also tried some of Arnold's ice cream at the window off to the side, and it was quite good overall (they use Richardson's ice cream), with the Green Monster ice cream (mint with Oreo pieces) being particularly satisfying. Prices at Arnold's were a bit high, but that's to be expected with good seafood, and counter service was friendly and efficient.

So no, Arnold's in Eastham is by no means a hidden gem because it is not even close to being hidden (especially if you spend a lot of time on the Cape), but it is definitely a gem, with seafood that you'll remember long after heading back over the Cape Cod Canal. If I lived on the Cape or had a summer home there, there's a good chance this would be my go-to spot, which is saying a lot since there are so many good options near the place.

For those who want the address for Arnold's, here it is: Arnold's, 3580 State Highway (Route 6), Eastham, MA, 02642. The phone number is (508) 255-2575.

Related Blog Entries: Cape Cod restaurants, Eastham restaurants, seafood restaurants

Friday, June 17, 2011
Lunch at Prime Roast Beef and Seafood in Lexington

It has been said more than a few times that the North Shore of Boston is to roast beef sandwiches as the South Shore is to bar pizza. But bar pizza can be found north and west of Boston as well, and roast beef sandwiches, of course, can be found anywhere, though the North Shore spots seem to be the best at what they do. Perhaps reinforcing this point was a recent lunch trip we took to a new-ish roast beef and seafood joint in the northwest suburbs of Boston called Prime Roast Beef and Seafood, which is located in Lexington about midway between Route 2 and the center of town. The roast beef was very good, but not quite to the levels of greatness that places such as Nick's in Beverly or John's in Lynn seem to reach.

photo of Prime Roast Beef and Seafood, Lexington, MassachusettsPrime Roast Beef and Seafood is located in a strip of shops in Marrett Square, where Route 2A and Waltham Street meet. The spaces here are small and the parking is tight, which doesn't make for an ideal spot for a full-service restaurant, and Prime Roast Beef and Seafood is definitely not that, being more of a basic sandwich shop with counter service. The folks behind the eatery have done a nice job with the space, though, making it a bit more appealing than your typical sub shop or pizza joint, with lights that aren't glaring or overly harsh, well-spaced seating with nicer tables and chairs than those that you might find in similar places, and a modern, clean overall feel.

On our weekend visit to Prime Roast Beef and Seafood, we placed our order at the counter, going with a large roast beef, a super roast beef (done three-way--with sauce, cheese, and mayo), chips, and drinks. Our food was ready in about five minutes or so, and we started digging in, noting how big both sandwiches were (the large and super were about the same size). The super roast beef came with a soft and fresh-tasting onion roll and was overflowing with slightly warm beef and toppings, making it rather messy to eat, which isn't necessarily a bad thing when it comes to roast beef sandwiches. The beef itself was very good, though not quite as tender and lean as what I've had at such places as the aforementioned Nick's and John's. But these were impressive sandwiches, especially for a place that isn't on the North Shore. Prices leaned just a tad on the high side, but not terribly so, and service was neither friendly nor unfriendly, with the workers taking a mostly businesslike approach to things.

So does Prime Roast Beef and Seafood have the best roast beef in the Boston area? Probably not. The best in Lexington? Maybe, though with the likes of Nick's Place in East Lexington, that may be a pretty tough call. But for a place not on the North Shore, Prime puts out a very satisfying roast beef sandwich, and one that I would certainly consider getting again when I'm in the area.

If you would like the address for Prime Roast Beef and Seafood, here it is: Prime Roast Beef and Seafood, 321 Marrett Road, Lexington, MA, 02421. The phone number is (781) 538-5903.

Related Blog Entries: Lexington restaurants, roast beef joints

Thursday, June 9, 2011
Late Spring Trip to Ogunquit and Kennebunkport

Every December, I head up to Ogunquit and Kennebunkport in Southern Maine to check out the Christmas festivals, but other than an occasional day trip, I rarely find myself in the area during the warmer months. Well, I did get to spend a few days up there recently, and I got to try four restaurants that I had never been to before, as well as a "repeat" dining spot.

photo of Huckleberry's, Ogunquit, ME It was chilly in Southern Maine for nearly the entire time we were up there, so the crowds weren't all that bad, allowing us to find easy parking in areas that otherwise would be nearly impossible for finding a spot for the car. Our first dining spot proved this, as we parked directly in front of Huckleberry's, a diner-type place by the main parking area for Ogunquit Beach. The restaurant was nearly completely empty when we arrived, and it was literally completely empty for most of our meal (other than the workers, of course). Huckleberry's was an ultra-casual spot that had a definite retro beach-eatery feel to it, with comfortable booths, photos of beach scenes on the walls, large windows looking out toward the parking lot and the water, and a menu with classic American fare and seafood dishes. We started out with a rather thick but tasty clam chowder, then went with a basic BLT and a delicious fried haddock sandwich, each of which had the type of rough-textured deeply-fried French fries that you either love or you hate (I happen to be a fan of them). Service was a bit reserved but efficient, and prices were somewhat high, though being right at the water probably justified a slight boost in prices. While Huckleberry's was nothing to write home about, we were basically looking for a place to get a quick bite to eat at that point in time and that's exactly what this spot gave us, so we had no real complaints about it.

photo of Ogunquit Lobster Pound, Ogunquit, ME After spending the afternoon wandering around Ogunquit and Wells, we decided to do an early dinner at the Ogunquit Lobster Pound, a place on Route 1 that I hadn't been to since I was very young. Based on my somewhat foggy memory, the place hadn't changed a bit, as the huge pine trees were still there along with the Adirondack chairs and outdoor lobster tanks, and the sprawling and rather rustic indoor dining areas. Once again, we found ourselves in a mostly empty restaurant (though it did tend to fill up just a bit as the evening went on), and we were seated at a prime window spot where we could look at the tanks. We started out with a couple of salads, then had a boiled lobster that was a little over one pound, and a lobster alfredo dish. the boiled lobster was absolutely tremendous, as it was cooked perfectly in seawater that added a briny flavor to the meat. The lobster alfredo was filled with delicious (and fresh) lobster meat, though there seemed to be a little too much cream sauce, which threatened to overwhelm the taste and texture of the lobster and the pasta. The cost of the lobster wasn't too bad, but the lobster alfredo was a tad on the high side. Service was friendly and efficient throughout, and the cozy atmosphere helped make for a terrific dining experience overall.

photo of Mabel's Lobster Claw, Kennebunkport, ME After dinner, we took a trip up to Kennebunkport, winding our way over to Cape Porpoise and Goose Rocks Beach, checking out some of the local seafood joints long the way. One spot we noticed (and which a friend had told me about a few days earlier) was a rather well-worn place on Ocean Avenue called Mabel's Lobster Claw, a local favorite that was just outside of the center of Kennebunkport. We ended up going there for lunch the following day, arriving during the peak of the lunch hour, and this time, we hit a fairly crowded restaurant. Fortunately, there were a couple of tables available in the front porch area, and since it was warming up a bit outside, we gladly took one of the tables. Once again, we started with clam chowder (it wasn't quite as thick as the chowder at Huckleberry's, and was very tasty), then moved on to a plate of crab cakes and a lobster roll. Both meals were tiny in size--though granted the crab cakes were an appetizer--and fairly expensive for the amount of food, with the crab cakes being delicious (almost no filler) and the lobster roll being stuffed with lobster meat and decent tasting, though not quite memorable. Service was fine and the atmosphere was really quite nice, with the front porch having one of those protective screens in which parts of it can be moved aside to let in more air or sunlight. I'd like to try this place again, mainly because of the local flavor and the atmosphere, perhaps giving it a try at dinnertime at some point.

photo of Wild Blueberry Cafe, Ogunquit, ME Our last day in Southern Maine began with breakfast at the Wild Blueberry Cafe on Shore Road in the center of Ogunquit. The place was bigger than it appeared to be from the outside, with several dining areas, including an outdoor patio and an attractive room up front with beautiful paintings from local artists on the walls and a shiny hardwood floor that brightened the place up a bit. We sat in this front room by a window that afforded views of Shore Road and were greeted by what was most definitely the friendliest server of the whole trip (he was also a very good server, checking in on us at regular intervals to make sure things were ok). For our meals, the "South of the Border" breakfast burrito was excellent, featuring delicious sausage as well as cilantro, Pico di Gallo, eggs, and tomatoes. Possibly even better were the blueberry pancakes, which were crusty on the outside and soft and moist on the inside, and it almost seemed like there were pancakes within the pancakes, as they appeared to have layers within them. The corned beef hash may have been the highlight of the entire meal, with tasty shredded gray corned beef mixed with shredded potatoes, various herbs and spices, and just a hint of onion. Prices were a little high, but the food was so good that we had no problem paying extra.

I would like to mention a few other places that we went to while in the Ogunquit/Wells/Kennebunkport area, one of which was Bintliff's in Ogunquit, a place that I have talked about several times now. We went there for dinner one night and had a very nice ribeye steak as well as a crispy and golden brown eggplant lasagna. We also went to the Scoop Deck on Eldredge Road (just east of Route 1) in Wells, enjoying some terrific ice cream (the oreo cookie ice cream was wonderful) while sitting on a picnic bench in the rural-feeling area next to the place. And we spent a good amount of time at Perkins & Perkins/The Vine Cafe on Route 1 in Ogunquit, kicking back with wine flights and beers on their shaded porch (the heat lamps felt nice on our second trip there, as it was very chilly). This last place is one that I really can't wait to get back to, as the people there were great and they had an impressive selection of drinks. It will be just one of several spots in the area that I hope to return to later this summer if I have a chance to get back there before the fall arrives.

Related Blog Entries: Maine restaurants, Ogunquit restaurants

Thursday, June 2, 2011
Another North Shore Food Trip

About three years ago, we went on a food-based road trip to the North Shore, hitting a couple of roast beef places, a hot dog joint, a diner, and a dive bar. A few days ago we revisited some of the area, focusing mainly on hot dogs, though we did get to a roast beef spot as well. All four places were quite impressive, though the last two frustrated us a bit when it came to service and atmosphere.

The first place we went to is technically not on the North Shore, but Fred's Franks in Wakefield was a stop on the way that we have been trying to get to for awhile. And what a stop it was, so much so that I will not write too much about it here since we may end up featuring this tiny outdoor hot dog stand shortly (as soon as we visit it at least one or two more times). What I can tell you is that the smoky-tasting dogs are tremendous here, the prices are dirt-cheap, and the views of Lake Quannapowitt are just icing on the cake. There will definitely be more to come soon on Fred's Franks, so check back here for updates over the coming weeks. (Ed note: A featured review of Fred's Franks has been posted. Here is the review: http://www.hiddenboston.com/FredsFranks.html)

You may have already read about our second stop, as it was so good that a featured review has already been written on the place. And yes, John's Roast Beef and Seafood may have a rather generic name, but this borderline upscale eatery on Western Avenue in Lynn simply blew us away with their lean, tender, and freshly-sliced roast beef. The pleasant atmosphere didn't hurt, either, and the help was friendly and professional. This isn't the type of place you would expect to find on this rather gritty road that cuts through the city, making it a very pleasant surprise, indeed. (If you would like to read our review on John's, please go to this link: http://www.hiddenboston.com/JohnsRoastBeef.html)

photo of The Scotty Dog, Beverly, MassachusettsAfter leaving John's, we drove up Western Avenue into Salem, eventually crossing over into Beverly to our next stop, a new Chicago-style hot dog stand on Rantoul Street called The Scotty Dog. Upon pulling into the parking lot, a person who appeared to be the owner came out of the tiny structure with two menus and asked us if we wanted to dine in our car (yes, this place has carhop service). We declined, instead grabbing one of the several shaded picnic tables to the right of the hot dog stand. The menu at The Scotty Dog was very impressive, with a variety of options for both their premium natural casing Vienna hot dogs and their jumbo dogs that have less of a "snap." Toppings included everything from chili to cucumbers to peppers to sauerkraut to house-made relish, and much, much more. We ordered two dogs, then waited for a few minutes before another server brought over the food. Unfortunately, both orders were wrong, so we tried to flag down anyone who would look our way, finally letting one of them know that it was the wrong order; the correct order was brought to us about a minute later, and with it, a server who let us know about all the stress coming from the fact that that they were short of help that day. Perhaps confirming this point, during (and after) our meal, we heard at least two customers complain about either their orders or their food in general--it was tough to tell, but tempers were indeed flaring a bit. As for the hot dogs themselves? Well, they were absolutely wonderful, with both the regular hot dog and the jumbo dog being meaty and juicy, and the house-made relish being particularly delightful with a nearly perfect combination of sweetness and zestiness coming from it. The poppy seed buns were every bit as good, adding a subtle nutty flavor to it all, as well as some extra texture. Although these hot dogs were much different from the more traditional (for our area, anyway) dogs that we had at Fred's Franks in Wakefield, we both agreed that we enjoyed these at least as much, if not more. If the folks at The Scotty Dog can work the kinks out on the service end of things, this may be a place I'll be coming back to a lot, but I may decide to wait awhile to hear about the experiences that others have there first.

photo of Kell's Kreme/Popo's Hot Dogs, Swampscott, MassachusettsFrom Beverly, we wound our way down the coast through Salem, Marblehead, and Swampscott, where our final destination (Kell's Kreme/Popo's Hot Dogs on Humphrey Street) was. And this one was a highly anticipated spot, as the thought of a place specializing in both hot dogs and ice cream was indeed a tantalizing one. We arrived at Kell's Kreme/Popo's Hot Dogs around early to mid-afternoon, but because it was such a hot day--and because it is across the street from a beach--the place was pretty crowded. The setup was a bit strange, as the entrance door swung inward and there was little room between the door and the counter, so we couldn't even fit into the place until the people in front of us had finished ordering. We started with a couple of their Kosher dogs (they have several type of hot dogs, including natural casing, quarter pound dogs, and veggie dogs, as well as sweet Italian sausage), with one having Monterey Jack cheese on it and the other having bacon bits and cheese. We found a couple of stools along the counter, with one being right at the ice cream display bin, which meant that I had people looking over my shoulder for the entire time I was eating. The all-beef hot dogs were excellent, though, the bacon bits were fresh-tasting, and the grilled buns were buttery and delicious. On our way out, we got back in line (this time somehow staying inside the place) and ordered a couple of soft-serve ice creams that all three Kell's Kremes are known for (the other locations are at Revere Beach and the Square One Mall in Saugus), though I was tempted to try one of their "hard" ice creams, since they come from Richardson's. We didn't want to stay inside because the digs were just too tight, so we got into the car, turned on the air conditioning, and polished off the soft-serve in what seemed to be seconds (it was very fine). We then called it a day, leaving the North Shore before the beachgoers started clogging up the roads on their way out of the area.

All four spots that we went to on our recent North Shore food trip featured food that greatly satisfied, but the last two (The Scotty Dog and Kell's Kreme/Popo's) were not exactly what I'd call the most pleasant overall dining experiences. If The Scotty Dog can get their act together in the service department, they should be fine, and as for Kell's Kreme/Popo's? Well, I guess it's a matter of going there on a weekday or a day when the weather isn't so great, since it is so tiny inside. As for Fred's Franks and John's Roast Beef and Seafood, they definitely haven't seen the last of me--I can't wait to get back to both.

Related Blog Entries: Beverly restaurants, hot dogs, Lynn restaurants, road trips, roast beef joints, Wakefield restaurants