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Boston Restaurant Blog -- December, 2011

Below are blog entries from December, 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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December, 2011

Friday, December 30, 2011
A Wish List for 2012

photo of soup dumplings from Shanghai Gate, Allston, MA Well, here we are at the end of 2011, and lots of big things have happened within the Boston-area food and restaurant scene over the past 12 months, including the very first Wegmans market coming to Massachusetts, big-name places such as Rocca closing, and the introduction of food truck "stations" all over Boston. So what's on tap for 2012? No idea, actually, but there are a number of things I really hope for over the coming year, including the following wishes below. Some of these are obviously tongue-in-cheek, while others may be pipe dreams, but still others are wishes that could possibly happen. And which is which? I suppose I'll leave that for you to decide! And now, on to the wish list for 2012:

1) A Kosher Deli Food Truck
Anyone who has read my posts within the Boston Globe food chats is familiar with my obsession with this by now, but it seems to me that this would be a big hit. Imagine being able to buy potato pancakes, corned beef sandwiches, kasha varnishkes, and blintzes from a food truck? Boston seems to have most other cuisines covered when it comes to carts, wagons, and trucks, so why not good Jewish fare?

2) A Casual and Reasonably-Priced Restaurant on the Waterfront
Sure, we have Joe's American Bar and Grill near Long Wharf, and yes, we have the Barking Crab over by Fort Point Channel, but it would be nice to have a low-key, family-friendly, independent restaurant somewhere on the waterfront that would be something similar to the now-closed Eastern Pier (where Atlantic Beer Garden now resides on Northern Avenue), which seemed to fit this category nearly perfectly.

3) At Least One In-N-Out Burger (please!) in the Boston Area
Hey, no one thought that a Wegmans market would ever come to Massachusetts, and now we finally have one (with at least two more on the way), so why not In-N-Out Burger? The California-based burger chain has almost a cult status in some areas, so it would likely do very well if it came to Boston or somewhere else in the general area.

4) Wegmans Markets on the North Shore and the South Shore
Speaking of Wegmans, it is great to see this grocery store chain (which is based in Rochester, NY) expand into Massachusetts, with one now open in Northborough and two others on the way to Burlington and Chestnut Hill. But how about branches of the market directly north and south of Boston? It would seem that such communities as Saugus, Peabody, Braintree, and Hanover would be good possibilities for a Wegmans, since all four communities are near or on major highways and have a good amount of commercial space available.

5) At Least One More Italian Restaurant in Cambridge
The city of Cambridge has countless restaurants, but oddly enough, very few Italian spots. Yes, there are some low- and mid-range places (East Side Bar & Grille, Gran Gusto, L'Impasto, Basta Pasta, Amelia's) and a couple of higher-end spots (Rialto, Dante), but there really isn't a classic sit-down full-service old-school Italian restaurant anywhere in the city (though East Side does come close).

5) Oh, If Only We Had a Montreal-Style Public Market
For those of you who have been to this incredibly food-rich city a few hours north of Beantown, you probably know what I mean. Such heavenly food centers as Atwater Market and Jean-Talon Market in Montreal simply don't exist in the Boston area, though one bit of promising news is that a year-round public market will likely be coming to a building in downtown Boston along the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway, so perhaps this wish will indeed come true.

6) Laotian, Georgian, or Bolivian Restaurants, Anyone?
Yes, these could probably be placed into the "niche" category and would certainly not be for everyone, but Providence has Laotian and Bolivian places, and New York has at least one Georgian restaurant (Georgia as in the country in Eurasia, by the way, not the state that has lots of peanuts) so perhaps the Boston area could become home to such spots? Ehhh, ok, maybe not.

7) Chicago-Style Deep-Dish Pizza from an Independent Restaurant
Chicago-style pizza is indeed available in the Boston area, with locations of Uno Chicago Grill being all over the region. But wouldn't it be nice to have an independent eatery that focused solely on deep-dish pizza? The long-closed Bel Canto in Lexington didn't feature a truly traditional Chicago-style deep-dish pie, but they were close, and it was a popular place simply because of the fact that they were doing what so few others did in the area.

8) The Re-Emergence of the Dive Bar
Over the past few years, gastropubs and high-end cocktail lounges have popped up all over the Greater Boston area, and many of them are very fine places to go for food and drink. But when was the last time you heard of a brand new dive bar opening? It just doesn't happen all that much anymore, and each year, more and more of these neighborhood townie spots seem to be disappearing from the scene, which is a shame.

9) More Late-Night Coffee Houses, Please!
The Boston area is home to many independent coffee houses, but relatively few of them stay open late. This is a shame, as not everyone wants to go to a Starbucks, and Dunkin' Donuts is...well, it's not a coffee house. If only there were more places such as Perks in Norwood, Diesel Cafe in Somerville, or 1369 Coffee House in Cambridge (all open late), the world--or at least the Boston area--would seem a better place.

10) Xiao Long Bao for Everyone
Have you ever eaten an Asian soup dumpling? If so, you probably know that immensely satisfying feeling of having steaming hot broth spraying everywhere (hopefully not on your dining companion's shirt) while savoring the tastes of pork, chicken, vegetables, etc. If 2012 became the year of the emergence of restaurants featuring Xiao Long Bao (also known as XLB), I (and many others, I'm sure) would consider it to be a very good year.

Do you have a culinary wish list for 2012? If so, please post your lists on this page, thanks!

Thursday, December 22, 2011
Ten New England Restaurants in Scenic Locations

photo of The Old Mill in Westminster, MAOver the past few months, we have been posting photo slideshows that focus mainly on various food items from Boston-area restaurants. This time, however, we focus more on atmosphere than food, with the main theme being on dining spots that are in particularly scenic locations. Ten such restaurants are shown here, including some that are fairly closed to Boston as well as others that are elsewhere in New England (all can be done in a day trip from Boston, though a few would admittedly make for a rather long day trip).

Here is a link to the slideshow, which includes such spots as a pizza restaurant in the middle of a deep valley, a family spot on a pond with a waterfall, and a slightly upscale eatery on the shoulder of a mountain:

Slideshow of Ten Scenic Restaurants

Related Blog Entries: slideshows

Wednesday, December 21, 2011
December 2011 Trip to Manhattan

My second trip to the Big Apple in 2011 finally took place this week after a few postponements, but it was worth the wait, as New York is truly wonderful this time of year. And while this wasn't specifically a food trip per se, I did get to a few dining spots, including a very good one in Hell's Kitchen.

Before getting into the two spots I went to for the very first time, I'd like to mention a couple of "repeat" places I stopped at. The first was a low-key spot in a relatively quiet section of the Upper West Side called Pier 72 that impressed once again with its food (decent burger, excellent oat bran pancakes), service, and prices. (See the Manhattan Trip, February 2009 blog for more information on Pier 72.) And in what seems to be my go-to place in Manhattan for breakfast, I went once again to Viand Cafe, which is also on the Upper West Side, enjoying a hearty plate of scrambled eggs, corned beef hash, and rye bread, though the home fries were dry and not all that tasty this time around. (See the Mid-Winter Weekend in Manhattan blog from 2008 for more information on Viand Cafe.) I also trekked over to Eataly a bit further down the island, though mainly to pick up cooking supplies rather than dining there (and yes, Mario Batali's Italian emporium was absolutely jam-packed when I went).

photo of Puttanesca, Manhattan, New York And now to the new--on my first night in the city, we headed over to Hell's Kitchen for dinner, checking out an Italian spot called Puttanesca (located at the corner of 9th Avenue and W 57th Street). Puttanesca is just one of countless Italian eateries along this stretch of 9th Avenue, and it falls into the range somewhere between low-end casual and high-end formal. The space itself is very appealing, with a warm and comfortable main dining area to the right of the central entrance area (there is also a private room with a long table for parties and functions to the left). The main dining room has lots of exposed brick, an attractive tile floor, classy-looking chandeliers, and arched entrances, with about the only downside being the noise level due to the aforementioned tiled floor. Our dinner at Puttanesca included a sweet and savory salad to start (romaine lettuce, sun-dried tomatoes, cubes of mozzarella cheese, baby artichokes, shaved parmesan, and balsamic vinaigrette), with our meals being a tender and creamy veal cannelloni in a mushroom sauce and a chicken rigatoni dish with sun-dried tomatoes and a rich pink vodka sauce. Service was nearly flawless throughout, and prices were actually quite reasonable, especially considering that we had wine with our meal.

photo of Harry's Burritos, Manhattan, New York As I mentioned earlier, this was not specifically a food trip, and quite often on my "non-food" trips to NYC I like to hit some of the ultra-casual neighborhood joints for cheap eats and drinks. And that is exactly what we did for dinner on the second night, as we checked out Harry's Burritos on Columbus Avenue in the heart of the Upper West Side (by W 71st Street). This place is actually one of three Harry's locations, with the others being in Larchmont and Nyack (another spot in the East Village called Benny's is also under the same ownership). All four spots focus on Cal/Mex fare, with the owner coming from San Francisco years ago (where he was an art student), and the menu does seem to offer more in the way of healthy California-style fare than some of your more typical burrito joints. The Columbus Avenue location has an unusual setup, with a tiny bar below ground level and a similarly small dining area above ground level, almost giving the place a loft-like feel. Unlike many lofts, however, the restaurant is very dark inside, and colorful lights, pastel walls, and exposed brick add a bit of charm to the space, though the low ceiling and wooden floor raise the noise factor just a bit in the dining area. Our meal was a basic one but a good one, with the fried plantains being caramelized nicely, the chicken mole burrito being overstuffed with tasty shredded chicken (though the mole sauce could have used a few more spices), the veggie taco getting an extra boost in flavor from the shredded jack cheese, and both the chicken burrito and the chicken enchilada being satisfactory, if not overly inspiring. The red sangria at Harry's was quite nice, though the flan I had for dessert was not very good, with a rough texture and little taste. Service was friendly and very efficient, and prices were plenty reasonable, especially for New York City.

I will likely be heading back to New York (either Manhattan or Brooklyn--or both) later this winter for a few days, so expect to see more reviews of area eateries coming up. By the way, if you have any favorite spots to go to in either borough, let me know what they are via the comments area here, thanks!

Related Blog Entries: Manhattan restaurants, New York restaurants

Tuesday, December 13, 2011
A List of Our 2011 Food Discussion Participants

Last year, the Boston's Hidden Restaurants site started hosting a series of live online food discussions, and we continued with a number of chats this year, covering such topics as best dive bars in the Boston area, long-closed restaurants, outdoor dining, and more. And as was the case in 2010, we had a group of panel members (as well as our readers) participating in each talk, asking and answering questions about all aspects of the Boston and New England restaurant scene. Last year we listed the folks who participated, and we are doing the same this year, including all of the food writers and bloggers, media folks, and restaurant industry people who took part in the talks. The complete list of participants in 2011 follows:

Alison Arnett
Owner of Alison Arnett Consulting, former Boston Globe food writer.

Busa Wine and Spirits
Busa Wine and Spirits in Lexington and Woburn.

Adam C.
Publisher of the Adam's Hospitality and Tourism Industry Blog .

Richard Chudy
Private Chef, Writer for the Boston Burger Blog.

City Feed Produce
City Feed Produce in Jamaica Plain.

Ed Comelia
Chef/Owner of Silk Road BBQ in Boston and Cambridge.

Julie Dennehy
PR consultant at Dennehy Public Relations .

Fun and Fearless in Beantown
Publisher of the Fun and Fearless in Beantown blog.

Gary
Publisher of the PigTrip website.

Eric H.
Editor and Publisher of VisitingNewEngland.com.

JustinCanCook
Publisher of the Justin Can Cook blog.

Aaron K.
Editor for the Eater Boston website.

Jeremy Kirkpatrick
Owner of Grand Trunk Imports in Newburyport.

LD Gourmet
Writer of the Leather District Gourmet blog, contributor to Nourish Network and Good Eater Collaborative.

Lingbo Li
Food Blogger at LingboLi.com, president of the Harvard Culinary Society.

Christine Liu
Community Manager of Urbanspoon, publisher of the Discreet Hedonist blog.

William M.
Publisher of the The Boston Foodie blog.

Patrick Maguire
Author of the Server Not Servant blog.

Dan McCarthy
Editor for UrbanDaddy Boston.

MC Slim JB
Boston-based restaurant critic and freelance food/drinks feature writer (Boston Phoenix, Stuff Magazine), publisher of MC Slim JB blog.

NorthShoreDish
Publisher of North Shore Dish website.

Penny
Publisher of Boston Zest website.

Rebecca
Owner of Beacon Hill Wine and Spirits in Beacon Hill and Melrose, MA.

Rich O.
Writer and Publisher of No Excuses Cooking blog.

MichellePC
Local Food Writer, Blogger of The Economical Eater.

Walt Perkins
Sports Director at WBZ Radio.

Richard PF
Writer of the Passionate Foodie blog.

Kathleen Pierce
Writer at The Boston Globe.

Mary Reilly
Chef/Owner of Enzo Restaurant and Bar in Newburyport.

Susan Tran
Reporter at Channel 7 News.

Steve Uliss
Chef/Owner of Firefly's in Framingham and Marlboro.

Carol Yelverton
Publisher of the Vinetown website.

Once again, thanks to all of you who have participated in our 2011 live online food discussions. We will be having a number of new chats in 2012, so check on our Facebook and Twitter pages for updates!

Friday, December 9, 2011
The Best Reader Posts of 2011

Last December, we highlighted some of the most, er, INTERESTING posts from readers over the previous 12 months. And this year, we are doing the same, as we searched through countless reviews of restaurants we haven't been to yet, answers to questions we ask, and comments about blog entries. Ten of the best posts from 2011 are shown below, and even though they are numbered, they are in no particular order, as they are all rather entertaining in their own way.


1) And the Secret Ingredient Is...
The first post is from a reader who was apparently a big fan of a hot dog joint south of Boston. After reading this part of the post, it becomes apparent that the "stream of consciousness" style of writing is sometimes not the way to go.

"...yes, he did line [the hot dogs] up his sweaty nasty arm. They say it enhanced the flavor - I think it did."

2) A Shame, Considering the Price of Gas These Days.
This post was a review of another place south of Boston, with this one being a burger joint. And to us, anyway, it certainly adds more credence to the theory of dining local.

"We drove 145 miles just to eat one of [their] famous burgers and they just slap us in the face."

3) Perhaps If There Were More Coconut Trees Lining the Mass. Pike...
The following post was from a diner who went to a restaurant in Chicopee and was disappointed that the place had the atmosphere of, well, Chicopee, rather than a string of beautiful islands in the Pacific.

"I wanted to feel like I was in Hawaii."

4) Understatement of the Year.
Umm, no analysis of the below review of a Rhode Island restaurant is necessary.

"I was very disappointed to find out their chicken was rancid."

5) You Can't Have Your Plastic and Eat It Too.
The review below is of a restaurant in Connecticut that seems to have a surplus of plastic. And cake.

"Plastic in my panini, piece of plastic bag in my wife's sandwich, wouldn't comp her meal, wanted to give her a piece of cake, drove 30 minutes one way, last trip there ...done, keep ur cake."

6) Three Years Later, and Still No Answer.
The comment below is in response to what seems like hundreds of people claiming to have the recipe for a Chelsea restaurant's steak tip marinade. It appears that this person didn't buy into any of it.

"The only thing I know is, I started reading the first pass on this page and it was dated 4/23/08 and I'm at the end and 3 years [have] gone by and I have learned nothing."

7) You're All Worthless and Weak.
Speaking of recipes, the poster below didn't believe that all of the other posters were experts on how to make a certain food item. We believe the poster is correct, and also believe that the last sentence was not really necessary (it's good to stop when you're ahead).

"A whole board full of experts have showed up to NOT answer the question. Great work. Go eat your slop."

8) The Dark Side of Steak Tip Marinade.
Back to the coveted steak tip marinade recipe...one of our readers apparently did get the correct recipe, as it looks like the restaurant promptly called both the CIA and the UN to get it back.

"Tried to post recipe...from work...Feds were waiting... Hard Drive missing... Days in a foreign black prison... No food... No water... Rats... If you posted here... Black helicopters... Coming for you too... Must feed cows Italian dressing... Catsup... Coke a Cola... Equal parts.... Oh No... Not again...."

9) Speaking of Conspiracies (and Recipes)...
Another reader (at least we think it was another reader) also connected bar food with the darker side of our political system. Who knew that such a cabal of powerful people might be so interested in the underside of South Shore bar pizza?

"I'm honing in on the [Lynwood Pizza] recipe; hey if Bush can be accused with blowing up the towers, [then] he can certainly get the Lynwood Pizza recipe."

10) Perhaps the Rose Bush Smelled Like a Pepperoni Pizza.
At one point, the same writer above seemed to shift abruptly away from the machination of bar pie, looking at how food can bring one back to earlier days instead. In this case, however, we are glad that this person decided not to finish the thought, instead going back to chatting about the secret cliques seeking more info on pepperoni pizza.

"People tend to relish memories, and smell evokes memories--I walked by a rose bush that reminded me of the woods I snuck into with my first date."


So there you have it--some rather unusual and at-times head-scratching posts from some of our readers. More will surely be coming, so check back with us in about a year or so.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011
2011 Trip to Maine (Including Prelude and Several Restaurants)

Over the past several years, I have gone up to Southern Maine in December to check out the Christmas Prelude in Kennebunkport, and I always get to a number of restaurants along the way. This year was no exception, as I went to a few spots I had been to before, along with a couple that I had never been to--and these two restaurants will be the focus of this blog entry.

photo of When Pigs Fly Pizzeria, Kittery, ME Our first stop of the weekend was at a fairly new restaurant in Kittery from the folks behind the When Pigs Fly bakery. Called When Pigs Fly Pizzeria, the eatery is one of many restaurants along Route 1 in town, though it is just north of the outlet stores, so it is in an area that is slightly less busy. The restaurant (and attached bakery) resides in a spacious structure that is both rustic and modern-looking, with a huge dining area inside (including a wood-fired oven built into the back wall) and a large outdoor section for the warmer months. We decided to go with a Caesar salad and a pizza on our lunchtime trip to the place, and both were terrific; the salad was fresh tasting with delicious croutons that only a top bakery can make, while the coppa, pepperoni, and roasted wild mushroom pizza was easily one of the best pies I have tried in recent memory, with a perfect char coming from the white-hot oven and an array of incredible tastes coming from the meaty pepperoni, house-made coppa, and earthy mushrooms. Everyone we met--from the host to the server to the chef--was laid back and friendly, and prices, while a bit high, were definitely worth the price considering just how good the food was. When I first heard about When Pigs Fly opening a pizzeria, I have to say that I had my doubts, but they were certainly put to rest after our one visit there.

photo of Federal Jack's, Kennebunkport, ME While we were at the Christmas Prelude in Kennebunkport, we decided to try a place just outside of the main "downtown" area of the village called Federal Jack's. Now I had heard a lot about this place mainly because it was the birthplace of the Shipyard Brewing Company (now based in Portland), which indeed makes some of my favorite beers. We stopped by the place just before noon to beat the crowds, climbing to their upstairs location with stunning views of Kennebunkport as well as the Kennebunk River, which is almost directly below the restaurant. It was soon discovered that the space in which Federal Jacks' resides is deceptively big, with a comfortable dining area and an adjacent bar, along with a separate room in the back with pool tables and video games. We were fortunate to be seated at a corner seat by the windows, affording the aforementioned views of the area, and started off with a round of beers. I liked most of the beers that we tried (five were from a sampler), with the moderately light Prelude beer and the rich-tasting stout being my favorites. Our meals soon came and they were adequate--nothing outstanding, but nothing to complain about, either--with the open-faced turkey sandwich having a good amount of very tender shredded turkey and the tuna club being basic but tasty. Service was good albeit not overly friendly, and prices were fairly reasonable. I would say that the views and the beers were my favorite parts of Federal Jack's, though to be fair, we didn't get to try any of their more substantial dishes; perhaps on another trip...

So what were some of the "repeat" restaurants that we went to on our recent trip to Southern Maine? Well, we had dinner at Jonathan's in Ogunquit the first night, and it was every bit as good as last year, with the roasted artichoke hearts, jaegar schnitzel, and stuffed haddock all being memorable and the service being friendly and professional. On our second night in the area, we had dinner at Angelina's in Ogunquit, and it was about as good as Jonathan's, with the mushroom tortellini being sublime, while the tagliatelle with marinara and house-made meatballs was almost as good, hampered only by a slightly watery sauce. (The German chocolate cake was wonderful, by the way.) And on our last morning, we went to Bintliff's (also in Ogunquit) for breakfast, and it was a great meal once again from this outstanding place. The caramel pecan waffle was perhaps better than anything I had all weekend, while the hearty mushroom omelet was something special as well. Service was about as good as you can ask for at a restaurant, and prices weren't terribly expensive, though a bit higher than you might expect for breakfast.

I usually get up to Southern Maine three or four times a year, so expect reviews of more restaurants in the area over the coming months. I do hope to get back to When Pigs Fly Pizzeria to try another pie or two from the place, and Bintliff's is a must, along with the Ogunquit Lobster Pound, though this last place is a seasonal spot that sadly won't be open for several months.

Related Blog Entries: Kennebunkport restaurants, Maine restaurants

Friday, December 2, 2011
Five More Best Food Dishes of 2011 (Plus One Bonus)

photo of fried mozzarella from Allora Ristorante, Marlborough, MABack in August, we posted our very first food photo slideshow, with the topic being five of the best food items that we had tried so far in 2011. Well, the end of 2011 is now just around the corner, and we have had enough great dishes in the latter part of the year to be able to create a "Part 2" of the slideshow. Once again, there are many more than five items that we could have included here, but considering it is now getting cold out and people are perhaps seeking out comfort food, we focused mainly on that category for this slideshow. [Ed note: We added one more "bonus" photo, a dish that we recently tried in Southern Maine.]

Below is a link to the slideshow, with photos including some truly amazing onion rings from a restaurant in the western suburbs, a low-priced twin lobster plate from a South Shore spot, and more. We may be able to squeeze one more slideshow in before the end of the year (topic still to come), so check back with us soon!

And now...on to the slideshow.

Slideshow for SIX More Top Dishes of 2011

Related Blog Entries: slideshows