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Boston Restaurant Blog -- December, 2006

Below are blog entries from December, 2006. 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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Friday, December 29, 2006
Restaurants to Check Out in 2007

The end of 2006 is just about here, and, as usual, I did not even come close to checking out all the restaurants I wanted to this year. So I'm hoping that I will be able to get to some of these dining spots over the course of 2007.

There are a few restaurants in particular that I want to get to as soon as possible, since I have heard so much about them. One of them is Grotto on Beacon Hill in Boston. From what I hear, Grotto has some amazing Mediterranean and Italian dishes, all served up in an intimate, cozy atmosphere. Another restaurant that I need to get to soon is Casey's Diner in Natick, since I hear that their hot dogs are about the best in the Boston area. Yet another restaurant I didn't get to in 2006 that I need to try is Firefly's in Framingham, mainly because some people say that their BBQ is as good as that of the Blue Ribbon in Arlington.

There are many others to visit, including Hemenway's in Providence, Chef Wayne's Big Mamou in Springfield, the Tanner Tavern in Woburn, and Xinh Xinh in Boston's Chinatown district. If I can get to even a few of these in 2007, I will definitely be a happy man.

Happy Near Year, everyone! Here's hoping that 2007 will be a great one for all.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006
Restaurants and Christmas Festivities in Cooperstown, NY

As if the Kennebunkport festival wasn't enough, we decided to head to Cooperstown, NY to enjoy the pre-Christmas activities out there. We left from Boston last Friday, stopping at a truck stop off of the Mass. Pike in Chicopee called the Fifties Diner. Now this was not your typical bright, touristy, cheerful diner; rather, it was a bit gloomy and tired-looking. But the waitress was terrific (very cheerful and funny), and the food was very good, albeit extremely unhealthy. The turkey plate was swimming in white gravy, and the double cheeseburger was easily the greasiest burger I have had anywhere. But the diner food was definitely satisfying, and the price was right.

photo of Portabello's, Fly Creek, New York We arrived in Cooperstown around sunset, checked in, then drove around a bit, eventually ending up in Fly Creek, an attractive village on a hill just outside of Cooperstown. There, we ate at Portabello's, which we had been to a few years back. Portabello's is the type of classy, elegant restaurant that you might not expect to find in a tiny rural town such as Fly Creek. It almost feels like a speakeasy, with large ceiling fans, old-fashioned wall lamps, and hardwood floors. Our veal margherita and salmon entrees were both very satisfying, and the salads and sides were excellent, too. Plus, our waiter was a terrific guy who knew his beers, so he steered us toward some excellent ones from the local breweries (more on that later).

photo of Danny's Main Street Market, Cooperstown, New York On Saturday morning, after a delicious waffle breakfast at our bed and breakfast, we wandered around Cooperstown, enjoying the decked-out shops and the beautiful old tree-shaded side streets of the village. We were going to head to Oneonta for lunch, but found a wonderful old place in the center of town called Danny's Main Street Market. Danny's looks a bit like Mr. Gower's soda fountain in the movie "It's a Wonderful Life," complete with a tin ceiling, a few booths for lunchgoers, tiled floors, and a window that gives views of the village center. We ordered pastrami and roast beef sandwiches, both of which were lean, tasty, and relatively inexpensive. After reading the local newspaper while hanging out at one of the booths in Danny's, we went to two brewers in the area: Brewery Ommegang and the Cooperstown Brewing Company, picking up various beers at each place. I particularly liked the Cooperstown Brewing Company, as the folks there talked my ear off about beermaking (which I have been doing for awhile now).

On Saturday night, a large group of us drove down to Oneonta to have dinner at Brooks' Bar-B-Q, which is a huge place featuring a neon sign out front of a farmer chasing a chicken with a hatchet. Having seen this with mouths dropped open, we went inside the place and viewed hundreds of people gobbling down ribs and chicken like there was no tomorrow. We ordered several dishes, including bbq chicken and the bbq beef dinner, and also took a trip to the salad bar. All in all, I was not all that thrilled with the food, as the chicken had a strange smell and taste, and the bbq sauce on the beef was extremely sweet, but everyone else in the restaurant seemed to be loving their food, so I will give Brooks' BBQ the benefit of the doubt.

photo of Mexican Radio, Hudson, New York After another terrific breakfast at the bed and breakfast on Sunday morning, we hit the highway, heading east toward Boston. Along the way, we took a detour to the charming town of Hudson, NY for lunch. Our lunch stop was an attractive two-story restaurant called Mexican Radio. And while the food was tremendous (the Mexican fondue was amazing, as were the cheese enchiladas rojas and the chicken burrito verde), the service at Mexican Radio was unacceptably poor. The staff there did not seem to care all that much about their patrons; one nearby diner was given sour cream after asking to have it left off the dish, only to have the waitress explain that he wouldn't taste it much anyway, and our appetizer took forever to arrive (it came just before our meals). It is a shame, since the food at Mexican Radio really was outstanding, but I really don't see myself going back there. We headed back to Boston with happy stomachs but were still talking about the poor service as we hit Route 128.

photo of Whisperin' Pines Chalet, Cooperstown, New York Before signing off, I'd like to give a quick hats-off to the bed and breakfast that we stayed at. The Whisperin' Pines Chalet is truly one of the greatest places I have stayed at in all my travels. Situated in a hollow deep in the woods a few miles south of the village, the inn has almost an alpine feel to it, with a bubbling brook alongside the place, and a real stone fireplace in one of the rooms that fills the area with aromatic woodsmoke. Plus, you would be hard pressed to find nicer people than the family who owns the Whisperin' Pines Chalet. This was the second time we have stayed there, and it surely won't be the last.

Related Blog Entries: New York restaurants

Thursday, December 14, 2006
Uriah Heep, Thunderclap Newman, and Pizza and Beer at the Waterfront Cafe, Boston

After a few failed efforts, we finally got over to the Waterfront Cafe in the North End of Boston last night. The Waterfront Cafe is not the type of place you ordinarily think of when going to the North End for dinner; unlike the cozy, romantic trattorias and bistros that line Salem Street and Hanover Street, the Waterfront Cafe is more like a salt-of-the-earth joint you might find somewhere in Dorchester, Southie, or Somerville. When we went last night, bands such as Blackfoot, Thunderclap Newman(!), Uriah Heep, and Led Zeppelin were blasting from the speakers of this dark and moody tavern. The Celtics game was on the TV (with the sound down so we could hear Uriah Heep), but it was quickly taken off so folks could watch ultimate fighting while enjoying their burgers, steak tips, pizza, and beer.

About the pizza: It was really, really good. A large 16-inch traditional New York-style pie with lots of cheese, sauce, and corn meal, with a thin crust that was not doughy at all. It was a little like the pizza at the Paddock in nearby Somerville, but not quite as good. Another dish that was good at the Waterfront Cafe was the broiled haddock. It was smothered in olive oil and tasted fresh. Other items I saw on the menu that I want to try at some point include the steak tips, the burger (huge, from what I hear), and the veal limone.

I love the Italian restaurants of the North End, but sometimes I just like to grab a pizza and a beer and watch a game (or ultimate fighting!). There are few places in the North End that have this type of atmosphere; the Waterfront Cafe is surely one of them. And because this is such a hidden, little-known spot, it may end up being featured on Boston's Hidden Restaurants in the near future, depending on how good the other items are there (and as long as they keep playing Thunderclap Newman songs).

Related Blog Entries: Boston bars, Boston restaurants, North End restaurants

Tuesday, December 5, 2006
A Few Restaurants in Ogunquit, Wells, and Kennebunkport, Maine

We headed up to southern Maine last weekend to check out the Christmas festival in Kennebunkport. The festival was a terrific time, and the weather held out for us. Along the way, we also tried a few restaurants I had never been to, with mixed results.

photo of the Maine Diner, Wells, Maine We got to Wells just in time for dinner. After driving around for a bit, we finally ended up at the Maine Diner a famous restaurant a couple of miles north of the center of Wells. The diner is a classic, with a main room complete with a counter and stools as well as a handful of tables, and a side room with a few more tables. Our meals were decent; the macaroni and cheese with a hamburger patty on the side(!) was pretty tasty, and the haddock was very good, too.

We went back to the Maine Diner on Saturday morning, but were a bit disappointed, as the corned beef hash was watery and the home fries were a bit bland. It wasn't a bad meal, but it wasn't great, either. We had planned to have lunch there, but decided we would try something new instead.

photo of the Hurricane Restaurant, Kennebunkport, Maine After breakfast, we wandered down to Perkins Cove, a beautiful spot just east of Ogunquit on the Atlantic Ocean. Then we headed up to Kennebunkport, and had a late lunch in the center of town at the Hurricane Restaurant. Everything about this place, from the rustic decor to the well-off clientele to the stunning views of the water indicated that this would be a special restaurant, and it was, to an extent. The chicken Caesar salad was marvelous, with tangy cheese and perfectly cooked chicken, and the fries were about as good as I've had anywhere. The turkey panini sandwich was not so good, though, as the turkey was gristly and tough. To give them their due, the place was absolutely jammed because of the festival, so they were probably unable to make sure everything was done right. I definitely want to try the Hurricane Restaurant again during quieter times to see how good the place really is.

By the time we finished lunch, it was nearly 4:00, so we decided we would have a late dinner outside of Kennebunkport. We wandered around town for awhile, ducking in and out of stores and viewing the lighting of the Christmas tree. Then we headed back to Wells to relax for awhile before going out to dinner.

photo of Five-O, Ogunquit, Maine We drove to Ogunquit for dinner, ending up at an attractive place called Five-O, which was just east of the center of town on the road to Perkins Cove. The inside of Five-O was cozy and intimate, with mostly couples dining there. We were impressed by the menu, which had many regional dishes, as well as some upscale New American and Mediterranean cuisine. Our meals, however, were so-so, as the steak tip salad had chunks of steak that were tasteless and lukewarm, while the veal, pork and beef lasagna was decent, but nothing special. The wines were excellent, though, and the dessert--a peanut butter mousse of some sort--was phenomenal.

After dinner we toyed with the idea of grabbing a drink at one of the pubs in the area (Poor Richard's Pub in Ogunquit looked especially fine), but tiredness from the long day ultimately took hold, so there was no drink to be had that night.

photo of Bintliff's, Ogunquit, Maine On Sunday morning we decided to look for a breakfast place on the way back to Boston. We didn't have to go far, as we saw a place that was packed with cars just before the center of Ogunquit. There was a reason why Bintliff's was so crowded; it was truly outstanding, perhaps the best breakfast I have had since the Lafayette Room within the Hay-Adams Hotel in Washington, DC, earlier in the year. The Tuscan French toast was absolutely delicious, and the Belgian waffle was every bit as good. The hash browns were perfectly cooked with just enough butter, the thick pieces of smoked bacon were addictive, and the coffee was close to perfect. And the atmosphere at Bintliff's can only be described as exotic. The dining rooms had beautiful lamps, curtains, and artwork, and the place looked like a restaurant that you might find in the French countryside. All in all, a tremendous experience.

So yes, it was hit-and-miss as far as restaurants we went to in southern Maine over the weekend, with some disappointments as well as a surprise or two. One thing I do know: If I get back to Bintliff's this winter for dinner and the meal is as good as their breakfast was, there might just be an Ogunquit dining spot featured on the Boston's Hidden Restaurants site as soon as I return to Boston!

Related Blog Entries: Maine restaurants, Ogunquit restaurants

Friday, December 1, 2006
Boston-Area Restaurants That Have Closed in 2006

Well, the year 2006 is winding down, and 2007 is just around the corner. A lot of good (and not-so-good) restaurants have closed in the past year, with some being particularly missed, since they were beloved places to many Bostonians. Below are some of the Boston-area restaurants that I have been to that have closed in 2006 (or late 2005), in no particular order:

New Taste of Asia, Brookline
Niko's, Brookline
Buteco, Boston
Cafe Marliave, Boston
Dedo, Boston
Olive Branch, Arlington
Bangalore Cafe, Arlington
Sepal, Watertown
Wish, Cambridge
Biltmore Cafe, Newton
Zeppy's Bagels (store only), Randolph

There are many other restaurants that closed that I never got to, such as Rouge, Istanbul Cafe, Argana, and the Claremont Cafe. If you can think of some others, feel free to post them here!

As a side note, it appears that some other restaurants may be closing in the future. The building housing Eastern Pier II and the Seaport Bar and Grill on the waterfront was sold, and it looks like luxury condos and new restaurants may go there. That could be awhile, however. Also, Caffe Umbra a favorite of upscale Boston diners, will be closing around the end of this year, and the Quiet Man Pub in Southie may also be closing soon, depending on whether the building is torn down to put up (what else?) luxury condos. Stay tuned!

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