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Boston Restaurant Blog -- June, 2012

Below are blog entries from June, 2012. 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, 2012

Thursday, June 28, 2012
A Few of the Best Restaurants of 2012 (So Far)

photo of Cast Iron Kitchen, Maynard, MAEarlier this month, we posted a blog entry on ten of the best restaurant dishes that we have had so far in 2012. Now, we focus on the restaurants themselves, picking out some of the best overall dining experiences of the year up to this point. These are in no particular order, other than being categorized into two groups--restaurants that we have featured for the first time and dining spots that we are "re-reviewing." And now to the lists:

First-Time Visits
Tu Y Yo, Somerville
City Girl Cafe, Cambridge
Cast Iron Kitchen, Maynard
Gustazo Cuban Cafe, Belmont
Italian Express Pizzeria, East Boston

Re-Reviews
Shanghai Gate, Allston
Tony's Clam Shop, Quincy
Picco Restaurant, Boston
Qingdao Garden, Cambridge
Allora Ristorante, Marlborough

Tuesday, June 19, 2012
Spring 2012 Trip to Manhattan

I returned to Manhattan last week for another quick trip that included a few restaurants, with two first-time visits to dining spots being part of the trip. I also went to what is becoming a quasi-regular breakfast/lunch hangout of sorts while in the city. And included among the meals out was what may have been the best dining experience I've had anywhere in 2012 so far.

So what was the "repeat" spot on my trip to New York City? A place called Viand Cafe, which is located in a very busy part of the Upper West Side (Broadway and W 75th Street). I had lunch there on the first day, with the open-faced reuben featuring lean corned beef and a lot of cheese on top--definitely not a low-calorie meal, but very tasty. The following day, I returned to the Viand for breakfast ordering pancakes with strawberries and real maple syrup. It was quite filling (as pancakes tend to be), but delicious, and it kept me full until later in the day when we had a late lunch/early dinner nearby (more on that later). Our servers at Viand Cafe were friendly and efficient on both visits, and prices, while high by Boston standards, were about average for New York.

photo of Mole, Manhattan, New York My first day in New York City brought us into Greenwich Village, where we made some of the usual stops (including McNulty's for tea and coffee) before heading to dinner in a particularly charming area of Manhattan near where the West Village, Meatpacking District, and Chelsea meet (a bit beyond the end of Bleecker Street). Our destination was Mole, a little Mexican restaurant at the corner of Jane Street and Hudson Street that has a cozy interior with lots of exposed brick and dark woods, and an attractive patio out front. We chose to eat indoors because the patio was packed, taking a window seat that was a little tight (the bar was within reach of the table and the adjacent tables were nearly on top of us). The restaurant had a half-price margarita special--which I took advantage of--and we also ordered a guacamole plate for an appetizer. Their menu said that the guacamole would be made tableside, but the dish was brought to us fully made instead (in a traditional stone bowl). No matter, though, as it was absolutely wonderful, with a nice chunky texture, plenty of fresh avocado pieces, and not too much in the way of onions. Our main dishes came out just as we were finishing our appetizer, and, well, they were mind-blowingly good--no other way to say it. The tacos chuleta featured smokey chunks of pork loin, bacon, and queso fresco, along with a side of more guacamole and frijoles charros (cowboy beans), and could possibly be considered the best dish I've tried in many months. The chicken tacos were nearly as good, with grilled smokey morsels of chicken mixed with minced veggies, and rice and beans on the side. Both dishes had roasted peppers that seemed to have a delayed heat reaction, though they weren't blindingly hot by any means. Service was decent overall, and prices were slightly high, especially for Mexican food, but worth the extra money considering how good our dishes were.

photo of Amsterdam Ale House, Manhattan, New York The following day we headed up to the Upper West Side for a very late lunch (or a very early dinner, depending on how you look at it), stopping at the Amsterdam Ale House at the corner of Amsterdam Avenue and W 76th Street. This is a real local hangout, and a charming one at that, with a dark and slightly moody interior (tin ceiling, old-style hanging lights, dark wood everywhere) that has the feel of a classic Irish pub. The restaurant also has a sprawling outdoor dining area along the sidewalk of W 76th Street, which is fairly quiet with little traffic. We opted to sit outside this time around, though we were in the "back" part of the outdoor area, cut off from the main outdoor section in an area seemingly devoid of any service, at least for the first several minutes, anyway. Our drink order was eventually taken, with the Duvel and Anchor Steam beers really hitting the spot on this relatively warm day. We didn't bother with an appetizer, instead going right to the main course, ordering a bison burger and a pasta dish. The burger was just a tad dry--as bison burgers often can be due to their low fat content--but it was seasoned nicely and it was placed on an English muffin, which was a nice touch. (The onion rings that came with it were greasy but quite tasty.) The "alehouse pasta" was excellent, with nicely marinated chicken, capers, and artichokes mixed in with the pasta, all in a white wine sauce that didn't overwhelm the dish. Dessert was decent, though the tiramisu wasn't exactly the type that you would find at a quality Italian restaurant. Our servers--when they were actually around--were generally friendly and low-key, and prices were fine.

The Viand, Mole, and Amsterdam Ale House turned out to be good choices on my most recent visit to New York, with Mole being the obvious standout here. But I'll certainly be returning to Viand Cafe on future trips as well, along with the Amsterdam Ale House, which is a fun neighborhood spot that wouldn't be out of place in Boston. I will likely be heading back to the city sometime this year, so expect some more reviews of dining spots there over the coming months.

Related Blog Entries: Manhattan restaurants, New York restaurants

Wednesday, June 13, 2012
Excellent Breakfast at Friendly Toast in Cambridge

Some folks have asked me over the years how this blog plays into the overall theme of the Boston's Hidden Restaurants site, and there isn't really one answer, as it covers everything from new additions to the site to restaurant reviews and so much more. As for the reviews, the blog is basically a place to put reviews of, say, restaurants that are not impressive enough to be featured on the site, or dining spots that are just a bit too popular to be considered "hidden." And it is this last point that forces us to include The Friendly Toast in Cambridge's Kendall Square to be here rather than as a feature, as it is simply too well-known to be considered a hidden gem. But a great place it is, as we discovered a few days ago when we had a truly terrific breakfast there.

photo of Friendly Toast, Cambridge, MassachusettsFriendly Toast is a quirky, eclectic spot in the heart of One Kendall Square (which is home to several other restaurants), sharing a building with the now-closed Think Tank and a new upscale eatery called West Bridge. A small patio can be found in front of the dining spot--though on the day we were there, it was being used as a waiting area--and the interior of the restaurant includes a bar area to the left, a waiting area to the right, and a main dining room in the back. Each section has various knickknacks, pictures, memorabilia, etc. that give the place a fun, dynamic feel, though the hardwood floor and tight seating arrangement keep this from being a spot to go for quiet conversation. Rounding out the atmosphere are funky hanging lights, colorful walls, and mostly alternative rock coming from the speakers.

We had a long wait at The Friendly Toast on our visit there, sitting outside for a good 45 minutes while watching people come in and out of the place. Once seated in the main dining area, our server promptly brought over some coffee (slightly strong and very good) and gave us a minute to look at the menu, as there were a lot of interesting-sounding breakfast dishes from which to choose. It didn't help that nearly everyone in the place seemed to have a delicious-looking meal in front of them, but we finally decided on a special called the "eggs Michelangelo" and a plate of pancakes with toffee crumbles. The egg dish was wonderful, with a savory mix of fluffy eggs, spicy pepperoni, and a robust salsa on top, while the pancakes were outstanding, with the toffee adding some extra sweetness (and texture) to the dish. The bacon that we also ordered was crisp and not overly fatty, and the home fries may actually have been the highlight of the entire meal, with perfectly caramelized onions adding sweetness and depth to the dish and the potatoes being buttery and tender. Prices were not too bad overall, and our server did a very nice job considering how many tables she had to wait.

While it isn't a hidden gem, The Friendly Toast is one place I could easily go to at least once a week for breakfast, based on our nearly perfect meal there a few days back. It would probably be best to go on a weekday morning, though, as the crowds would certainly be less of an issue.

If you would like the address for The Friendly Toast, here it is: Friendly Toast, 1 Hampshire Street, Cambridge, MA, 02139. The phone number is (617) 621-1200.

Related Blog Entries: breakfast places, Cambridge restaurants

Friday, June 1, 2012
Ten of the Best Food Dishes of 2012 (So Far)

photo of cactus paddle from Tu Y Yo, Somerville, MALast August, we started a brand new photo slideshow series, with the first one focusing on the best dishes we had tried in 2011 up to that point. Well, now we are almost halfway through 2012 and it is time for a similar slideshow, with this one centering on ten of the best dishes we have had since the start of this year. The items range from ethnic dishes to unusual items to pizza to dessert and more, and as was the case with our first slideshow last year, there were so many others that we could have added, but perhaps we'll save a few of those for a second part to this slideshow.

And now...on to the latest slideshow. The link below will take you to the pictures of the ten items.

Slideshow for Ten Best Dishes of 2012

Related Blog Entries: slideshows