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Boston Restaurant Blog -- August, 2010

Below are blog entries from August, 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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August, 2010

Tuesday, August 24, 2010
Trip to Old Forge and Lake Placid, NY

Another summer, and another trip to the Adirondacks in upstate New York...this year, several of us spent time in the Old Forge area, with some of us continuing on to Lake Placid as well, and along the way, we went to some repeat restaurants as well as a few that we had never been to before. The trip, which was this past weekend (plus a couple of weekdays), included a few regular spots that we ate at, such as the Riverside Diner in Rensselaer (a basic diner with typical diner food, including chicken croquettes that were swimming a bit too much in white gravy); the Hard Times Cafe in Eagle Bay (disappointing this time, with slow service and poor to average food, including a subpar haddock dish and a pasta with vodka sauce that had little taste); the Muffin Patch in Old Forge (excellent once again, with delicious banana French toast and pecan waffles); the Buffalo Head in Forestport (mostly decent, including some hearty steaks--the flatiron steak was especially tender and delcious--and a huge and decadent brownie sundae); and a breakfast at the Tamarack Cafe in Inlet that may have been even better than that of the Muffin Patch. And now, for the places we had never been to, as well as a couple that I had tried years ago, but not in recent memory....

photo of the North Woods Inn Tap Room, Old Forge, New York On Saturday, which was our second day in Old Forge, three of us spent the late morning relaxing at the Big Moose Inn in Big Moose before heading down to Fourth Lake (between Eagle Bay and Old Forge) to the North Woods Inn Tap Room. The North Woods Inn (also called NWI) is a classic Adirondack lodging spot right on the lake, with a restaurant overlooking the water as well as a tap room that we went to for lunch. The tap room itself didn't look like much, but its covered outdoor patio was the perfect spot for a bite and a beer, as all of the picnic tables had outstanding views of Fourth Lake, as well as refreshing breezes off the water. The food was basic pub grub, with the burger and fries, French dip, and chicken sandwich all being satisfying. The bartender who served us was as friendly as could be, and the prices were dirt cheap. It wasn't fine dining by any means, but our overall experience at the NWI Tap Room was one we won't soon forget.

photo of Saranac Sourdough, Lake Placid, New York Sunday was a travel day, as we slowly made our way through the central Adirondacks, arriving in Lake Placid in the early afternoon. We went to a deli and market called Saranac Sourdough for a quick bite, and while the atmosphere was rather grim (dark counter area and dining section, unsmiling counter person, etc.), the freshly made sandwiches were simply wonderful. Saranac Sourdough seems to focus on the use of healthy, organic, local ingredients, and it really showed; the gobbler (turkey sandwich with the works), the herbed chicken sandwich, and the gorgonzola chicken sandwich were all delicious, with the homemade potato dill bread being the icing on the cake for all three sandwiches. Saranac Sourdough is certainly a place I'd return to in the future, though based on the rather glum environment inside, takeout might be the best option with this place.

photo of Belvedere Restaurant, Saranac Lake, New York On Sunday night, we drove over to Saranac Lake to have dinner at a restaurant that I had been to for a couple of times a number of years ago, but not since the start of this website. The place, which is called Belvedere Restaurant, has been stuck in my memory for a long time now, mainly because I had had memorable experiences there with groups of friends, but also because of the food and atmosphere. Well, it did not disappoint this time, either, as I fell back in love with the old-fashioned atmosphere (the restaurant is located in an old house with lots of neon outside) and the fresh Italian food that is well above average. This was the first time we didn't sit in the comfortable L-shaped dining room inside, as we were seated on the three-season porch to the left. The heavy rain that was pounding on the porch's roof made it a bit difficult to hear each other, but the breezes and the views of the trees beyond the porch made it all worthwhile. And the food we had--including a decent French onion soup, piping hot Italian bread, a savory chicken cacciatore, a nearly perfect plate of angel hair pasta with garlic, olive oil, and anchovies, and a hearty meat lasagna--was all good, and filling, leaving us no room for dessert, unfortunately (though we did get some small ice creams at the nearby Mountain Mist later on). Our server was friendly and efficient, and the prices were very reasonable, with entrees being between $10 and $15. Belvedere has really become one of my personal favorites for restaurants; I only wish it were closer to Boston.

photo of Howard Johnson's, Lake Placid, New York We went to another restaurant that I hadn't been to in a long time on Monday morning, though unlike Belvedere, this one didn't turn out to be very good. But I do have some fond memories of Howard Johnson's in Lake Placid, partly because I used to go there a lot as a youngster, and also because groups of us would eat at the place on ski weekends back about 10 to 15 years ago. There are only a few Howard Johnson's restaurants remaining in the United States (all in the Northeast), and based on the breakfast we had there on our way out of the Adirondacks, it seems like the place has gone downhill. Not much seemed to be very memorable, from the slightly mushy and pasty pancakes to the undercooked corned beef hash to the rather distant server to the tired-feeling dining room. The coffee, however, was excellent, bringing back memories of how good it had been on my many trips to the place back in the 1990s. Overall, Howard Johnson's was a disappointment, though nothing compared to what awaited us later in the day.

photo of the East Greenbush Diner, East Greenbush, New York Often when I end up at a restaurant that I didn't plan on going to, I find myself pleasantly surprised--and sometimes the restaurants are so good that they end up being featured on this site. The East Greenbush Diner just east of Albany isn't one of them, unfortunately. We had been looking for a dining spot near Rensselaer, bypassing the aforementioned Riverside Diner to try something new. Well, we probably should have returned to the Riverside, as the East Greenbush Diner was a big disappointment. The atmosphere was fairly pleasant, with a comfortable dining area to the right and a classic diner setup (complete with stools) to the left. But the beef barley soup contained a tomato sauce that reminded me of SpaghettiOs, the chicken soup was much too salty, and the turkey and roast beef dinners contained meat that seemed to have no flavor whatsoever. And the yellowish bread that was put on our table was in plastic wrap. About the only thing the food did was fill us up, but that was about it.

So not every meal was a good one on our trip to the Adirondacks, but there were certainly some standouts, including the Muffin Patch, the Tamarack Cafe, and Belvedere Restaurant, all of which I hope to get back to on any future trips to this beautiful region of upstate New York.

Related Blog Entries: Adirondack restaurants, New York restaurants

Tuesday, August 17, 2010
Discussion on Clam Shacks, Ice Cream Stands, Farm Stands

We had our third live online discussion on food last week, with this chat focusing on popular late-summer topics. Included were talks about clam shacks, ice cream stands, and farm stands around the Boston area as well as elsewhere in New England. The panel included a mix of media folks, food writers and bloggers, and chefs. And this time, our viewers could participate during each topic, instead of coming in to ask (and answer) question toward the end of the chat.

A replay of the latest discussion can be found at this link:

http://www.hiddenboston.com/online-discussion-0810.html

And for a written transcript of the discussion, go to this link:

http://www.hiddenboston.com/transcript-0810.html

We will be having another panel discussion in a week or two, this one focusing on a topic that should be of interest to returning (and new) college students, so check back on our Boston's Hidden Restaurants Facebook page or our Hiddenboston Twitter page for details over the coming days.

Thursday, August 12, 2010
Sunday Brunch at Rocca in The South End

You know the old phrase, "the best laid plans Of mice and men"? Well, that certainly applied to me this past weekend, as we had definite plans to hit the Food Truck Festival in the SoWa district of Boston's South End on Sunday, only to be thwarted by incredibly long lines and huge crowds. Well, it just so happens that the upscale Italian restaurant Rocca is located right next to the spot where the festival was held, so we went next door to check out how busy the restaurant was, and to our surprise, we were able to get right in. So no Food Truck Festival for us, but Plan B definitely turned out to be completely satisfying.

photo of Rocca, Boston, Massachusetts Rocca is a chic and trendy restaurant located in one of the many interesting buildings that line the increasingly funky and artsy Harrison Avenue on the edge of the South End. The main part of the eatery is an airy, atrium-like room on the ground floor that includes a curved bar area, plenty of tables for dining, and a private room to the left of the bar. A more cozy and intimate dining room is on the second floor, and a spacious outdoor patio wraps around the ground floor area. Because of its soaring ceiling and hard floor, the atrium area isn't the greatest place for quiet conversation, as we discovered while there, but it is an attractive and rather unique-looking room.

We were seated across from the end of the bar (just in front of the private room) and started with a round of light-tasting summer beers (including Blue Moon), then split a nicely charred bianchi pizzetta, which included a mild mix of taleggio and parmesan cheeses that went well with the sharp-tasting garlic chives. We then moved on to a couple more dishes, with the hash plate being nothing short of spectacular. It consisted of slightly crunchy corned beef mixed with hand-rolled gnocchiette, scallions, and two fried eggs, making for an exquisitely rich dish. The chicchirichi (fried chicken and French toast with pure maple syrup) was every bit as good, with the chicken having a crispy, non-greasy batter and the thickly-cut French toast being hearty and savory. Service was friendly and efficient from start to finish, and the overall price wasn't too bad, with each item being in the low to mid teens.

So yes, we missed out on the food trucks over the weekend, but we certainly made up for it by having a truly excellent meal at Rocca instead. Now that I've experienced the restaurant (this was indeed my first time there), I do want to try the place for dinner soon, so expect another post in the near future.

For those who want the address for Rocca, here it is: Rocca, 500 Harrison Avenue, Boston, MA 02118. The phone number is (617) 451-5151.

Related Blog Entries: Boston restaurants, Italian restaurants, South End restaurants

Thursday, August 5, 2010
Five Very Hidden Boston-Area Restaurants

photo of Louis' Crossing, Quincy, MA As we've mentioned on the Boston's Hidden Restaurants site more than a few times, some dining spots are simply more "hidden" than others. Perhaps they are buried in the back of a convenience store, or located in what looks like a house, or perhaps at the end of a road that doesn't really go anywhere. We have featured a few such spots on the site, including five mentioned below:

1) Scup's in the Harbour, East Boston
All right, how many restaurants do you know of that require you to go through a guard post in order to get to it? Well, there is one such spot in East Boston called Scup's that is located in the middle of the Boston Harbor Shipyard. To get to it, you have to drive up a residential street along the water until you come to the aforementioned guard booth, mention to the guard (if he or she is there) that you are going to Scup's, then pull into a parking spot by the restaurant shortly ahead. It is well worth the rather odd journey, as Scup's features high-quality cheap eats either inside their old brick building or at one of their picnic tables that have views of the water.

2) J & J Restaurant, Somerville
Somerville is home to an Italian restaurant called Vinny's at Night that happens to be located in the back of a convenience store. There is another eatery in the city called J & J Restaurant that has a similar setup, though it is much less known and features Portuguese food. J & J Restaurant is located on the eastern edge of Union Square in a nondescript spot that has a convenience store/sub shop setup in the front. But look to the right and you'll see a little entrance that leads to a small dining room where you can enjoy traditional Portuguese fare (as well as beer and wine) at very reasonable prices.

3) Louis' Crossing, Quincy
All right, raise your hands--how many of you know where Hough's Neck is? Indeed, not many people know about this neighborhood that sits on a peninsula east of Quincy Center, as it is mostly residential and the main road that leads to it peters out from a busy multi-lane boulevard to a narrow, twisting lane that simply ends by the sea. And where it ends sits what looks like a house or perhaps a private club of some kind. It is neither, however, as it is the home to Louis' Crossing, a laid-back neighborhood restaurant and bar that serves American classics and seafood. And while there is no outdoor seating at the restaurant, it is only one block away from some of the most scenic ocean views you will find in the Boston area.

4) Grappa Restaurant, Watertown
the western suburb of Watertown happens to have a number of good restaurants, many of which are located in the center of town or along or near Mt. Auburn Street in East Watertown. But there is one rather cozy and romantic Italian restaurant that is in what seems like an improbable location, along a dusty, bumpy industrial side street near the Watertown Mall. But location aside, Grappa Restaurant is a lovely eatery that features delicious soups, scratch-made pasta dishes, and mouthwatering desserts. And they even have a small outdoor dining area for those who don't mind a view of a little industry.

5) Villa Mexico, Boston
We've all heard of gas station coffee (and yes, it's usually pretty bad), but what about gas station food? And no, we're not talking about pre-packed ham and cheese sandwiches with a side of corn chips. There is a little Mexican place called Villa Mexico on the northern edge of Beacon Hill that is indeed located in the back of a gas station, and it has some of the best food of its kind in the entire city (including some amazing housemade salsa). Granted, it feels strange walking into a gas station and seeing people making burritos and tamales, but it somehow works, and there are even a couple of tables by the window for dining in, though we recommend walking the few blocks west to the Charles River for a little picnic lunch or dinner.

Several other restaurants we have featured on the site could be classified as "extra" hidden, but these five give a taste of the types of hidden gems out there. We will surely be finding some more dining spots that are way under the radar, so keep checking back to see what we have discovered!

Monday, August 2, 2010
Live Online Panel Discussion with Chefs

A few weeks back, we hosted our first live online panel discussion. The chat focused on little-known restaurants in the Boston area, with the panel consisting of several food bloggers as well as media people from around the city. Well, we had a second discussion last week, with this one focusing on hidden gems that chefs from the Boston area like to go to.

For this latest discussion, the first 30 minutes or so focused on the panel's picks for little-known restaurants in the Boston area and beyond as well as some info on the chefs themselves. The last 30 minutes or so had our readers asking questions for the chefs, including topics such as farmer's markets, places to get spices, and the Jamaica Plain dining scene. A replay of the live discussion with chefs can be found at this link:

http://www.hiddenboston.com/online-discussion2-0710.html

If you would like to see a written transcript of the discussion, it can be found here:

http://www.hiddenboston.com/transcript2-0710.html

It looks like we may have a new panel discussion later this month, so check back either on our Boston's Hidden Restaurants Facebook page or our Hiddenboston Twitter page for more details soon!