Below are blog entries from November, 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.)
Wednesday, November 24, 2010
Fall Trip to Philadelphia
Earlier this month, several of us went to Philadelphia for a few days. I've only driven through Philly on my way to (or from) other places, so I was really looking forward to seeing a "new" city and trying some of the restaurants there. Well, Philadelphia turned out to be a great place to visit, and based on what we ate while there, a terrific "foodie" city to boot.
On our way to the city on Thurday, we stopped for lunch at the Tick Tock Diner in Clifton, NJ, which I had heard a lot about over the years, and which Guy Fieri of "Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives" featured on his show. The site of the diner is classic, as it is on one of those ancient New Jersey divided highways that has stores, driveways, and exit/entrance ramps that result in a real white-knuckle ride. The diner itself is huge, with a traditional-feeling diner area by the front entrance and a spacious family-style dining room toward the back. The menu at this old diner is full of classic American dishes and comfort food items, and we had trouble choosing, but decided upon matzo ball soup (excellent broth, huge matzo balls), regular chicken soup (also delicious), an open-faced monte cristo sandwich (decadent, with cheese smothering the top), and a char-grilled cheeseburger (very good, though probably not their strong suit). Our server was a bit brusque but very efficient, and the prices were reasonable. If only we had a diner like the Tick Tock in Boston, I'd be very happy.
We arrived in Philadelphia late on Thursday afternoon and headed over toward Society Hill and the rather funky South Street, where we had dinner at a German restaurant called Brauhaus Schmitz. I had been expecting a sprawling beer hall, much like that of a place we went to in Chicago a couple of years back called Chicago Brauhaus, but this was a much smaller spot (though still fairly spacious, with two floors of dining). We were seated in a booth along the wall opposite the bar and started with some flights of beer (including some rather strong ones) as well as a round of outstanding pretzels dipped in hot mustard. For our meals, we tried the wienerschnitzel (outstanding, with tender veal and a nice breading), rotisserie chicken (decent, though not the best dish of the night), rouladen (perfectly tender slow-cooked beef served with bacon and mustard), and house-made bratwurst (lots of flavor; perhaps the best I've tried anywhere). For dessert, I had a black forest cake that definitely rivaled the ones I've had at the Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe, VT. Service was friendly and efficient, and prices, while perhaps a little on the high side, were acceptable considering the quality of everything we had.
On Friday, we headed back to Society Hill, and also back to South Street, where we stopped at Jim's Steaks for lunch. More than a few people seem to put Jim's Steaks in the same class as the landmark cheesesteak places such as Tony Luke's, Pat's, and Geno's, though it doesn't seem to be nearly as well-known as those spots. When we arrived toward the end of the lunch hour, there was a line just out the door, though it only took about 10-15 minutes to get to the ordering area. Two of us ordered cheesesteaks "whiz" and "without" (Cheez Whiz, no onions), while the others asked for American cheese instead, and once the sandwiches were handed to us, we went upstairs to a little room with a few tables and counter areas. This turned out to be the best cheesesteak I have ever had, though to be fair, Boston isn't really a cheesesteak town (and Philly is THE place to go for them). The meat was lean--but not too lean--and of high quality, the bread was perfectly toasted, and the gooey cheese blended in perfectly with the steak. Service was not as rough as I thought it might be, though one of us was yelled at for not hearing what the person behind the counter asked, and prices were maybe a dollar more than I'm used to for a cheesesteak. Jim's was a tremendous overall experience, and a great alternative to the more touristy cheesesteak places that are nearby.
After spending the rest of the afternoon on South Street, five of us headed west toward the Schuylkill River area to an Italian restaurant tucked away in a relatively quiet section of the city. And as good as our meals had been up to this point, our dinner at Salento may have been the highlight, food-wise, as the dishes that we had there were about as good as you will find in any Italian dining spot. Salento's front room was bustling when we arrived, and had a sleek, almost trendy feel to it, but the back room, where we were seated, was much quieter and had more of an old-school red-sauce joint feel to it. We started out with a fantastic antipasto filled with prosciutto, vinegar peppers, and buffalo mozzarella cheese, and a not-so-fantastic plate of grilled calamari that seemed limp and slightly undercooked (that was the only dud of the night, however). Our dinners consisted of a rich-tasting spaghetti bolognese, ear pasta (orecchietta) with a good helping of hearty shredded duck mixed in, and a plate of penne in a sublime eggplant and tomato sauce. Our server had a heavy Italian accent and was downright funny, telling jokes and laughing throughout the evening. And for the quality of the food we had at Salento, the total price really wasn't that bad, with entrees tending to be under $20. It was another incredibly impressive meal in Philly, and one that would be tough to match over the course of the trip.
Saturday was a busy day, checking out museums in the morning (including the wonderful Philadelphia Museum of Art), walking along the Schuylkill River, and heading to the Reading Terminal Market in downtown Philly where we had a very late lunch. The indoor market was packed and a bit crazed, and we ended up splitting up to find food. Two of us went to By George! Pizza, Pasta and Cheesesteaks, ordering cheesesteaks with sharp provolone as well as a slice of pepperoni pizza (and eyeing the interesting-looking sandwiches behind the counter). The cheesesteak was underwhelming, with the meat seemingly being of a lower quality than that of Jim's Steaks (lots of gristle and less taste), though the delicious sharp provolone almost made up for the subpar steak. The pizza was pretty good, though by no means up to the level of the best pizzas in Boston or New York. If I returned to By George!, I would probably look into getting one of those sandwiches in the display window (the milano looked really nice), but I would probably avoid the cheesesteak the next time around.
After yet another trip to Society Hill, we ended up back where we were staying (near City Hall) and relaxed a bit before walking a few blocks south to another place that Guy Fieri had featured on his Food Network show, namely the Good Dog Bar and Restaurant. For those who haven't seen the episode (which first aired only a few weeks ago), the place looks like a bit of a dive, with a dark bar on the ground floor, a well-worn dining area one floor above it, and a quieter bar area with a pool table on the top floor). We arrived very late in the evening, but even though it was well past dinnertime, there was still a long wait for a table, so we went up to the third floor and shot some pool with the locals until our table was called. We put in an order of apps right away, since it was so late, and a plate of truffled cheesesteak empanadas and pulled pork sliders soon arrived. The empanadas disappeared nearly as quickly as they arrived, as the combination of thinly sliced steak, melted cheese, and aromatic truffles made for an unforgettable experience. The pulled pork sliders were nearly as good, with tender shredded marinated pork and cooked onions piled high on miniature rolls. Our dinners soon arrived, and the macaroni and cheese with cornflakes on top may have been the star of the show, with the cornflakes sopping up some of the grease and oil from the cheese, and the cheese underneath being cooked to a perfect golden brown. The meatloaf was another highlight, as it was tender and flavorful with a rich mushroom sauce. I had very little room after all this food, but I just had to try the rice krispy treat sampler, which consisted of a regular, a chocolate, and a peanut butter treat stacked on top of one another. It was sweet and tasty, but I could barely finish half of it. Our server was a bit of a character, with a pork pie hat on his head and a good sense of humor. And there were no complaints about the prices, which were about what you would expect to pay at a comfort food joint like this.
Sunday was a travel day, and we had been hoping to make it to Connecticut by lunchtime, but with traffic and a late start, we barely made it into New York by early afternoon. We stopped in the charming town of Katonah for a late lunch, dining at the Katonah Restaurant in the center of town. The place seemed like a slightly upscale version of your basic in-town greasy spoon family restaurant, with a quiet, comfortable atmosphere, a painted tin ceiling, wooden booths, a hardwood floor, and large windows facing out at the town. The food was mostly basic, with the soups (one beef barley and one chicken) being nowhere near as good as the soups we had at the Tick Tock Diner in Clifton, the moussaka tasting good but not being up to the level of some of the best Greek restaurants in the Boston area, and the turkey dinner being a decent and hearty version of this classic dish. The baklava that I had for dessert was probably the highlight, so good in fact that I almost wished I had made that my entire lunch. Service was all right for the most part, and prices were a little high, which made sense because Katonah is a very wealthy town.
So our trip to Philadelphia was a fun one, and the food was really quite impressive with only a couple of blips here and there. We did go to a few other places (mostly for drinks) that I'd like to mention, including The City Tavern, which is an historic spot in a beautiful setting by Society Hill that had some great beers based on very old recipes; Mace's Crossing near City Hall, which is a friendly little pub that had so-so food but a great jukebox and a quiet atmosphere (this was our go-to place for most of the trip); the Cherry Street Tavern west of downtown, which is a dive bar with a quiet back room, where we had beers after our trip to Salento; Lickety Split on South Street, another dive bar with cheap drinks and a bartender who was about the nicest person we met on the entire trip; and the several places we visited at the 9th Street Italian Market, which was "the real McCoy," as they say, making me instantly forget the more touristy Reading Street Terminal. We went to some other places along the way, but this covers most of our trip, which I am thinking will by no means be my last trip to this truly interesting city.
Posted by MH, Boston's Hidden Restaurants, on November 24, 2010.
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Monday, November 15, 2010
Pricey But Good Meal at Typhoon Asian Bistro and Lounge, Hingham
Thanks in part to the new waterfront complex in Hingham called The Hingham Launch, this beautiful South Shore town has seen a number of new restaurants open over the past several months. Well, we visited one of these eateries about a week ago at the Launch, and while I was a bit surprised at the cost of our meal at Typhoon Asian Bistro and Lounge, the food was good enough to (almost) justify the high prices.
Typhoon Asian Bistro and Lounge is the second location of Typhoon Asian Bistro, which is located on Boylston Street in the Back Bay of Boston. Like the original, the Hingham location features Asian fusion cuisine, including Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, Chinese, and Thai dishes, though Japanese does seem to be the main focus. The new spot in Hingham is quite spacious, with teppanyaki sections, a sushi bar, and a large number of tables of all sizes throughout its several dining areas. With its Euro music, sleek atmosphere, and nicely dressed servers, Typhoon Asian Bistro and Lounge seems quite a bit more upscale than your basic Asian restaurant, with a feel not unlike Great Chow in Abington.
On our recent visit to Typhoon Asian Bistro and Lounge in Hingham, we were seated toward the back, near one of the teppanyaki stations and the entrance to the kitchen, and it was quite loud--almost to the point where we had to yell in order to hear each other. Our server (who was friendly and professional from start to finish) took our drink and appetizer order, and our steamed pork and shrimp dumplings and Singha beers came to us after a short wait. The freshly made dumplings were very tasty, though just a tad on the mushy side, and the ginger sauce that came with them had a nice little kick to it. A few minutes after we finished the dumplings, our main dishes arrived, with both being excellent in quality and presentation. The spicy sushi plate included a variety of spicy tuna and salmon pieces as well as an attractive spicy cucumber salad that was served in what looked like a martini glass. The steamed vermicelli plate was wonderful, with seasoned sliced chicken placed on top of the thin noodles, and slightly bitter greens and sweet peanut sauce adding a nice mix of flavors to the dish. Aside from the noise within the place, about the only gripe I had about our experience at Typhoon Asian Bistro and Lounge was that the prices did seem rather high, especially for a suburban dining spot. It seems that these prices could be justified in Boston's Back Bay, but maybe not here, though to be fair, Hingham is a wealthy community, so perhaps some folks won't mind paying a few dollars more for the food at this restaurant.
I'm not sure I'd become a regular at Typhoon Asian Bistro and Lounge because of the relatively high price point, but the food really was impressive on our visit there. I'm sure I'll be going back at some point, perhaps to try some of the Korean, Thai, or Chinese dishes there or maybe the teppanyaki, which is always a fun experience.
If you would like the address for Typhoon Asian Bistro and Lounge in Hingham, here it is: Typhoon Asian Bistro and Lounge, 25 Shipyard Drive, Hingham, MA, 02043. the phone number is (781) 749-8484.
Related Blog Entries: Asian restaurants, Hingham restaurants
Posted by MH, Boston's Hidden Restaurants, on November 15, 2010.
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Tuesday, November 9, 2010
Our Latest Online Discussion (And a New Index of Discussions)
Our sixth live online food discussion was held last week, and this one focused on little-known restaurants within walking distance of some of Boston's busiest areas. The panel (as well as our viewers) talked about dining spots near South Station, Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market, Boston Common, Logan Airport, and the Seaport District. The setup of the discussion was similar to the previous ones, with our viewers participating mostly toward the end of each topic.
If you would like to view a replay of the live discussion on little-known restaurants near busy parts of Boston, here is the link:
And for a written transcript of the latest discussion, please go to this link:
One final note--we have just set up a page with links to all of the discussions we have hosted. This page can be found at: http://www.hiddenboston.com/discussions.html.
Posted by MH, Boston's Hidden Restaurants, on November 9, 2010.
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Thursday, November 4, 2010
First Time at Cafe Bistro in Braintree
I find myself going to restaurant chains less and less often these days, and I also find myself avoiding shopping malls unless absolutely necessary. Well, this past weekend I happened to do both, but the restaurant I went to was rather unique, being tucked away in the upper floor of a department store. And both the food and service were quite good, making for a very nice overall experience. The restaurant? Cafe Bistro, which is within the relatively new Nordstrom at the South Shore Plaza in Braintree.
As mentioned, Cafe Bistro is located on the third floor of the Nordstrom department store, with a small, attractive entrance along the north-facing wall of the shop. The interior of the eatery looks almost upscale, which makes sense, since Nordstrom is a bit more high-end than your typical anchor store within a mall. Rich woods and warm lighting can be found throughout the dining area, though some of the window tables along the back wall suffer from glaring narrow-focus spotlights that you might find in an art studio. An open kitchen is situated behind the ordering area, with a brick oven built into the wall. Views from the tables along the back wall are mostly of the parking lot below, but you can also see a hint of the Blue Hills in the distance.
Our visit to Cafe Bistro began with our ordering food and drink in the front area where you first enter the place, then grabbing a seat along the back wall. Our beers were brought over almost immediately (their selection is limited, but does include Blue Moon Belgian White), and as we started sipping our drinks, we were struck by how unpleasant the spotlight was above our table. I noticed that each table along the wall had a different amount of light hitting it, so we moved to another table that had a bit less glare. Our meals came quickly and included a roast turkey focaccia with crispy prosciutto, peppery arugula, and a fairly mellow garlic aioli on toasted bread, as well as a gourmet brick-oven pizza with wild mushrooms, roasted garlic, basil, and four different cheeses. Both the sandwich and the pizza were satisfying, with the delicious prosciutto within the sandwich being the highlight of the former, and the mouthwatering blend of cheeses on the pizza really standing out with the latter. Prices were a little high, with the sandwich being just over $10 and the individual-size pizza being about the same, but the freshness of the food seemed to justify the prices. Our servers were very friendly and professional, and the staff in general was top-notch.
So yes, Cafe Bistro is a chain, and yes, it is located within a department store in a shopping mall. But if you didn't know any of this, you might think it was an independent dining spot, and a good one at that. My aversion to chains may have been dealt a blow with this place, but I'm certainly not complaining.
If you would like the address for Cafe Bistro in Braintree, here it is: Cafe Bistro, 250 Granite Street, Braintree, MA, 02184. Phone: (781) 519-7200
Related Blog Entries: Braintree restaurants, cafes
Posted by MH, Boston's Hidden Restaurants, on November 4, 2010.
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