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Boston Restaurant Blog -- November, 2009

Below are blog entries from November, 2009. 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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November, 2009

Monday, November 30, 2009
Some Info on Our Restaurant Newsletter

As many of you know, the Boston's Hidden Restaurants site has a restaurant newsletter that comes out quarterly. And with the winter 2009/2010 newsletter on the way, perhaps this is a good time to briefly talk about the newsletters in general.

Each of our newsletters includes links to a few of our latest featured restaurant reviews, an update discussing something having to do with our site (a new section, a feature or utility that might be of interest, etc.), a link to a special feature within the site, and a link to a restaurant-related question either from us or our readers that folks can answer. And as mentioned, it is a quarterly newsletter, with one coming out each season.

For those who would like to receive email updates on when the latest newsletter is out, you can send us your email address via the window below and we'll add you to our newsletter list. (NOTE: As stated in our privacy policy which can be accessed from our home page, we will never sell your personal information.)


If you would like to peruse our earlier newsletters, links to them can be found at our restaurant newsletters home page. Thanks!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009
Bar Pizza at The Varsity Club, Quincy

I've probably driven by The Varsity Club in Quincy several hundred times in my life, but have never actually been in there. One reason is because it looks like it may be a little, well, rough around the edges. But a recent visit to the place dispelled that theory, as it was clean and brightly lit inside and the folks who worked there were both friendly and funny. As for the food, it was about what I expected, with very good bar pizza, fair to middling food otherwise, and cheap beer.

The inside of The Varsity Club is dominated by a bar in the middle of the place that has seating around the entire perimeter. There are TVs everywhere that are set to different channels in case there's a specific game that folks want to see. Booths with window views line the outer edge of the place, but they almost seem like an afterthought, which is no surprise, since The Varsity Club really feels like a sports bar that is geared more toward drinking than eating.

photo of The Varsity Club, Quincy, MA The food that we had at The Varsity Club was mostly average with the exception of the bar pie. The pizza was your classic individual variety, with a cracker-like crust, a rich sauce that tasted like it came out of a can (which, ironically, is what most good bar pies have), and lots of greasy cheese on top that extended to the very edge of the pie. The one negative about the pizza at The Varsity Club was the fact that the crust was very greasy, which kept it from being a bar pie at the level of The Alumni across town or The Lynwood Cafe in nearby Randolph, which may be home to the best bar pizza in the entire Boston area. But it was certainly above average, and a lot tastier than some of the bar pizzas I've had in some neighboring cities and towns. Unfortunately, the rest of our food didn't match up to the pizza, as the buffalo chicken wrap was messy and swimming in bleu cheese dressing, while the pasta fagioli had a strong acid taste from the tomato base and the clam chowder was tasty enough but otherwise unremarkable. Beers were cheap, with a pint of Narragansett being ony $2.50 (at least one or two other beers were actually well under $2.00).

I love going to places where I can have some greasy food and a couple of beers while watching a game or two. And The Varsity Club certainly fits the bill for this kind of day or night out, especially if you go with the bar pizza there. I think I'd probably choose The Alumni over The Varsity Club (mainly because The Alumni has such good bar pie), but I'll certainly consider returning to this place at some point, perhaps on a rainy or snowy afternoon to catch a local game on TV.

If you want the address for The Varsity Club, here it is: The Varsity Club, 33 Independence Avenue, Quincy, MA, 02169. Phone: (617) 786-9053

Related Blog Entries: bar pizza, Quincy restaurants

Thursday, November 19, 2009
First Time at Beacon Street Tavern, Brookline

I dine out in Brookline a lot, as there are so many great little neighborhood restaurants such as Dok Bua, Family Restaurant, Genki Ya, and O'Leary's. And all of these places have something in common, namely they are unpretentious, simple places that would never be considered trendy. Well, this week, I went to a spot in Brookline called the Beacon Street Tavern that was probably a bit more chic than my usual haunts in town, though to be honest, it wasn't over-the-top trendy; in fact, it felt more like a laid-back spot you might find at a ski area rather than in a quiet Brookline neighborhood. And while the food won't make me forget about my nearby favorites, it was mostly good, and with excellent service and a nice atmosphere, this sibling of the Washington Square Tavern (on the other side of town) is probably a place that deserves a return visit or two.

photo of the Beacon Street Tavern, Brookline, MA The sprawling, brightly-lit storefront of the Beacon Street Tavern contrasts to the more unassuming exteriors of the other smaller neighborhood restaurants on this stretch of Beacon Street between Coolidge Corner and Kenmore Square in Boston. The inside of the place doesn't seem quite as spacious as it appears from the outside, but it does have quite a bit of room, with a cozy bar on the right (including banquettes as a seating option), a mix of booths and tables in the main dining area to the left, and a small private room in the back called the Nitecap Lounge. An old wooden floor gives the space a rustic feel, while the red walls add a slightly sultry touch.

We went to the Beacon Street Tavern toward the beginning of the dinner hour and the place was nearly empty, though it did start to pick up pretty quickly once we arrived. Upon being seated, we were given some tasty rolls and ordered beers to start, with both the Spaten and the Samuel Smith Oatmeal Stout hitting the spot. We skipped the appetizers, opting instead for a shared side of sweet potato tater tots that arrived with our meals. The tots were perhaps the highlight of the dinner, as they had a wonderfully spicy curry taste that mixed nicely with the sweetness of the sweet potatoes themselves. Our meals were a mixed bag, however; the otherwise lean and tender steak tips had such a bland marinade that it was almost as if they hadn't been marinated at all, while the baked kabocha squash was better, with the crispy fennel and salty ricotta adding just enough taste to the otherwise slightly bland mix of Swiss chard, acorn squash, and lentils. Our server was very friendly and checked back several times to see if we needed anything, and in fact it seemed like everyone who worked at the Beacon Street Tavern was just plain nice. Prices seemed just a bit high, with the steak tips coming awfully close to the $20 mark and the tater tots costing $3.50 for a grand total of six morsels.

I was neither disappointed nor blown away by the Beacon Street Tavern. The high points were probably the atmosphere and the service, but the tots were excellent and the squash dish was satisfying, and some of the other entrees I saw while we were there did look pretty good. As I said earlier, I will probably give the place another shot or two, and would be happy to hang out at the bar at some point, especially since they do seem to offer some of my favorite beers. The Beacon Street Tavern may not keep me from going to Dok Bua and Family Restaurant, but it does seem like one of many options I'll keep in mind whenever I'm in Brookline.

If you would like the address for the Beacon Street Tavern, here it is: Beacon Street Tavern, 1032 Beacon Street, Brookline, MA, 02446. Phone: (617) 713-2700

Related Blog Entries: Brookline restaurants

Thursday, November 12, 2009
Autumn Trip to Montreal, Quebec

A couple of weeks ago, several of us took a trip up to Montreal, Quebec. It was the first time I had been there in about 5 years, and the city was every bit as great as I remember it being. Food-wise, we had a few forgettable meals, but there were also some memorable spots as well. Since we went to so many places while we were up there, I'll concentrate on some of the highlights.

photo of Hurley's Irish Pub, Montreal, Quebec The night we arrived in Montreal (Friday night), we didn't want to travel very far from the hotel, so we walked over to the hip and trendy Rue Crescent on the southwestern edge of downtown to a bustling (and not quite so hip) Irish pub called Hurley's. The dark, cozy, cave-like atmosphere of Hurley's was instantly appealing, with lots of nooks and crannies throughout the sprawling spot. Because it was an Irish pub in a city known for its cosmopolitan cuisine, I wasn't expecting a whole lot from Hurley's, but the food was quite good, especially the roast beef au jus and the similar roast beef with cheese on a baguette. The beef stew was also decent, especially for the type of raw night that we had to deal with. Service was friendly, and both the waitstaff and most of the patrons spoke English (in this part of Montreal, especially heading west toward Westmount, English was heard much more often than French). All in all, it was tough to beat the atmosphere, the service, and the food at Hurley's, which really wasn't what we had been expecting when we walked into the place for a quick bite.

photo of Premiere Moisson, Montreal, Quebec On Saturday morning, we went to Boulangerie Premiere Moisson on Rue Sherbrooke Ouest (around the corner from Rue Crescent as well as our hotel) not once, but twice--the first time to get some of their impossibly good bread, and the second time to have a sitdown breakfast that included some less-impressive food. I had been to Premiere Moisson on my last trip to Montreal, bringing a few loaves of bread back to Boston that I still consider to be among the best I've had anywhere, and this time was no exception. The baguette with sesame seeds that we brought back to the hotel was tremendous, with a freshness and a taste like nothing I've experienced from breads made in the Boston area. But unfortunately, our second trip to the bakery/cafe that morning wasn't all that memorable, as the food we ate in their dining room was mostly basic, run-of-the-mill stuff. But oh, that bread...the next time I will definitely stick to what they do best there, and the bread is surely that.

photo of Papillon, Montreal, Quebec After breakfast at Premiere Moisson, we headed over to Old Montreal, where we wandered through the charming streets, checking out some of the sites along the way. A bit after noon, we stopped in at a place called Restaurant Papillon on Rue Saint-Paul Ouest. Like so many other dining spots in this section of the city, it seemed to be a place that catered more toward tourists than locals, and the rather bland, generic atmosphere felt more like something you'd find in a chain in the states than in a charming city such as Montreal. But to their credit, Papillon did have a few interesting dishes on their menu, including a shark steak with homardine sauce, which is what I ordered. The sweet taste of lobster in the sauce helped make this a tasty dish, but there was a good amount of waste on the steak itself. The club sandwiches and roast beef that were also ordered at the table were average at best, and the French onion soup, while tasty, actually had a bay leaf left in one of them. Service was about as friendly as we had on the whole trip, though, and the prices, while just a tad high, were kept down a bit by their lunch specials, which included soup/salad, entree, and coffee/tea all for one price.

photo of Eggspectation, Montreal, Quebec Both Sunday and Monday mornings were spent at a popular breakfast spot on Boulevard De Maisonneuve Ouest (very close to the hotel) called Eggspectation. And on both days, this restaurant greatly impressed, with fresh crepes, tasty grilled potatoes with lots of flavor (and very little grease), delicious ham and smoked meat (the latter of which was a little like pastrami and was mixed into scrambled eggs), and perhaps the best dish of them all, strawberry French toast flambe with brandy and whipped butter. This last plate, which I ate on our last day, filled me up so much that I wasn't all that hungry until I got back to Boston. The atmosphere at Eggspectation was interesting, as it was located in what looked like an old warehouse, with two stories of dining and lots of exposed brick and concrete. Service was prompt and professional both times we were there, and the prices were quite good, considering the quality of the food.

photo of Montreal Poutine, Montreal, Quebec On Sunday morning, after a quick trip up Mont Royal, we returned to Old Montreal to check out a few of the sites we had missed the previous day. We ended up having a very quick lunch at Montreal Poutine along Rue Saint-Paul Ouest near where we had lunch at Papillon the day before. The little quick-food spot had a pleasant outdoor patio in the back that was surrounded on all sides by other buildings, making it a rather cozy, appealing place. A few minutes after we ordered, our server brought out a plate of poutine with smoked meat along with a plain version of the dish. Both were very good, with rich, thick gravy smothering the French fries, and lots of slightly wobbly (and squeaky) cheese curd added to the dish. The smoked meat made that version a bit tastier than the plain version, but both were impressive. By the way, if you are squeamish about eating something with cheese curd, it really is quite mild and has a pleasant taste. The look of it may be a turnoff, but it's worth trying if you happen to be in Quebec, which is where poutine is very popular.

photo of Moishe's, Montreal, Quebec Before we made the trip to Montreal, we decided that Moishe's, a high-end Jewish steakhouse in the bustling Mile End section of the city, was a must. So we saved it for last (more or less), heading over there on Sunday night. And what an experience it was; everything, from the professional service to the old-school dining room to the mostly outstanding food, made this a place I won't soon forget. We ordered a lot of different dishes, including a sirloin au poivre that was so tender it could have been cut with a butter knife (and was one of the best steaks I have ever tried); potato latkes that matched the best I have had in New York City and Boston; Kosher pickles that had just the right amount of sourness to them; fresh cole slaw like nothing I have ever had; and so much more, including good versions of tuna steak, chicken teriyaki, fried rice, and Monte Carlo potatoes. For the kind of food that we had at Moishe's, the prices weren't terrible, as the bills averaged out to well under $100 per person, including drinks.

We went to a number of other restaurants, bars, and food places on our trip to Montreal, including KJ Diner in St. Albans, Vermont (on the way up), Sir Winston Churchill Pub, a restaurant and bar on Rue Crescent in Montreal; Patisserie Belge, a wonderful pastry shop in the Outremont section of the city; Marche Atwater, a huge farmer's market southwest of downtown; and Ken's Pizza in Burlington, Vermont (on the way back). And then there's a big tip of the cap to Ziggy's Pub, a salt-of-the-earth watering hole that is the least "cool" place on Rue Crescent, and for that we salute it. On both Saturday and Sunday nights, we were welcomed with open arms by the gracious owner and bartender, and by late Sunday night, it was if we had known the pub--and the people there--for years. Even though Ziggy's serves no food, it is certainly worth a mention here, as it is one place that stands out more than perhaps any other on our trip to Montreal.

Related Blog Entries: Quebec restaurants

Tuesday, November 3, 2009
Wednesday Night Dinner at Marliave, Boston

The old Cafe Marliave in downtown Boston was a spot that had tons of character, with a mellow old-school atmosphere and an out-of-the-way location that made me feel as if I were the only one who knew about this place. But I thought that the food was just ok there, and toward the end the restaurant seemed like it had seen its better days. That's why I was excited to hear about the place being revamped into Restaurant Marliave by the Grotto folks last year. But with all the restaurants I have been going to, I was somehow unable to get to the new Marliave until a couple of Wednesdays ago, when we finally got to check out the place. The verdict? Much better food and some tasteful renovations, though I definitely prefer the feel of the more charming and casual bar area on the middle floor to the slightly stuffier vibe of the upper floor.

photo of Restaurant Marliave, Boston, MA Restaurant Marliave is located between Tremont Street and Washington Street in a relatively low-traffic section of downtown. The neighborhood has a cozy, almost intimate feel with its high buildings and narrow streets. Some of the buildings in and around this part of Boston have a lot of history, including the one in which Marliave resides. (For you history buffs, Marliave has actually been located in this spot since the late 1800s.) And while the more formal upper floor and the tiny cafe-style lower floor (which doubles as an oyster bar) are pleasant enough, it is the middle floor that really displays the character of this wonderful old building. The middle floor includes a long bar as well as a number of tables and has a pressed tin ceiling, tin walls with wood paneling on the bottom, a cracked black and white mosaic floor, and old-fashioned beehive-shaped pendant lamps.

We opted for this less formal middle floor for dinner, grabbing a table along the wall to the right of the bar. After starting out with a couple of drinks and sampling the breads that came with olive oil and green olives, we decided to order the rarebits, which turned out to be a decidedly unhealthy yet absolutely delicious plate of comfort food that was perfect for the rather chilly night. The bacon almost seemed to be floating on the mix of beer and melted cheese, and the bread that came with it was toasted just crisply enough to serve as a kind of utensil with which to scoop the gooey ingredients. Unfortunately, there wasn't quite enough toast for the dish, as we ran out of it before we ran out of the cheese and bacon mixture, but that's just a minor gripe. A few minutes after we finished the rarebits, our meals arrived, and they were very good overall. The wild mushroom risotto didn't quite match up to the better versions of this dish that I have had at some other restaurants in the Boston area (Vecchia Roma in Newton comes to mind), but the rice was firm without being too sticky and the mushrooms had a nice amount of flavor but not so much as to overwhelm the rice. The steak frites, like the risotto, was not the best I've had, but it was a good, solid dish with the tender flat-iron steak sliced into several pieces and the handcut fries being seasoned nicely. Service was impeccable throughout, with everyone being friendly, prompt, and professional.

As much as I liked the old Cafe Marliave (mostly for its atmosphere and "hidden" feeling), I believe that the new Restaurant Marliave is much better in a number of ways, and I'm glad that they didn't go overboard with renovations. It might not be the best place for dining in downtown Boston, but the food is plenty good enough, and it's certainly tough to think of another place with more character than this wonderful old spot.

If you would like the address for Marliave, here it is: Restaurant Marliave, 10 Bosworth Street, Boston, MA, 02113. Phone: (617) 422-0004.

Related Blog Entries: Boston bars, Boston restaurants, historic restaurants