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Boston Restaurant Blog -- February, 2009

Below are blog entries from February, 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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February, 2009

Tuesday, February 24, 2009
Two Dinners at Coop's Bar and Grill, Quincy

Quincy is becoming more and more known for its varied restaurant scene, with nearly every kind of cuisine available. It also seems to have countless bars, some of which actually serve pretty good food. And over the past few weeks, I got to try one of these places--called Coop's Bar and Grill--a couple of times, with mostly good results.

photo of Coop's Bar and Grill, Quincy, Massachusetts Coop's, which is in a long flat building with few windows, doesn't look like much (and is in a section of Quincy that is a little on the gritty side), but it is a bit nicer on the inside than it is on the outside. There is a basic sports bar on the left, though unlike many sports bars I have been to, the people there seemed pretty quiet and well-behaved both times I went. To the right is a medium-sized dining room which is where we ate on both of our trips there. The dining area is quiet and family-friendly, with comfortable tables and hardwood floors, though the paneled ceiling, recessed lights, and Keno in the corner are reminders that Coop's leans more toward being a bar than a restaurant.

The menu at Coop's is pretty straightforward with a mix of pub grub and basic American fare, though there are some twists here and there. We sampled a number of items in our two trips to Coop's, with the boneless buffalo wings perhaps being our favorite. They were crisp and buttery (much like those at Cambridge Common in Cambridge, which are my favorite in the Boston area), and the medium sauce had just enough of a kick to make things interesting. Aside from the boneless wings, the bar pizza is also excellent, with a perfectly crispy crust, a moderately zesty sauce, and a slightly greasy but flavorful topping of cheese. Steak tips were decent, though you can find better ones within Quincy (the ones at nearby Cronin's are the standard-bearer here). As for some of the other items, well, the veal parm sandwich was not all that great, as the veal was a little on the tough side and it just didn't have much taste. And the fried macaroni and cheese was crunchy, dried out, and also lacking in taste. Service was very good at Coop's, and the prices were about as low as you'd expect at a place like this.

I like Coop's and will definitely be heading back there soon. But I feel that you have to pick and choose when it comes to ordering food here, as it appears that some items are better than others. I could eat their boneless buffalo wings all day long, for instance, and their pizza is quite impressive. I may try some other dishes, however, the next time I go, just to see what else might stand out there. In the meantime, I feel that Coop's, while not quite a gem, isn't all that bad, either, and is certainly worth going to for bite to eat and a beer or two.

If you want the address for Coop's Bar and Grill, here it is: Coop's Bar and Grill, 520 Washington Street, Quincy, MA 02169. The phone number is (617) 472-2667.

Related Blog Entries: Quincy restaurants

Friday, February 20, 2009
Trip to Fairfield and Westchester Counties

I recently went on a trip to Fairfield County in Southwest Connecticut (including a side trip for dinner in Westchester County, NY). The trip also included stops in Southwest Rhode Island and the Northeast Corner of Connecticut. Along the way, I got to try three restaurants for the first time, as well as two places that I had been to before.

We started out with a stop for lunch at Boucher's Wood River Inn, which is in rural Wyoming, Rhode Island (heading toward the southwestern corner of the state). I will be writing more about this spot as it will be a featured restaurant within the site, but I'll just quickly mention here that the Wood River Inn is a real hidden gem, and one of the few dining spots near Route 95 between the Providence area and the Connecticut border (where Westerly lies). It is a rustic old spot that feels more like a restaurant in, well, Wyoming than in Rhode Island (sorry about the play on words here!). I ordered the bistro burger, which was a double burger with a tower of onion rings on top and a huge portion of fries on the side. The burger was excellent and the fries were good as well. The rings were a bit greasy, but by then I was rather full anyway, so it was no big deal leaving some of them. More on this restaurant to come, so stay tuned...

photo of Mulino's, White Plains, New York We soon got back on the highway, arriving in the charming town of Fairfield in the middle of the afternoon. Fairfield was our base for the three-day trip, but we didn't stay long, as we had a dinner reservation at a place called Mulino's, a high-end restaurant in White Plains, NY (just over the Connecticut border). Located below street level in a quiet part of the city center, Mulino's is a beautifully elegant restaurant with white tablecloths, impressive paintings and old-fashioned sconces on the walls, a piano off to the side, and a waterfall that can be seen through the side window. As soon as we sat down, the waiters started bringing over bits of food such as pepperoni, aged parmesan cheese, and all kinds of bread. We started with an excellent Caesar salad (one of the best I've had in awhile) and glasses of wine, then moved onto our main courses, including a truly amazing risotto with porcini mushrooms in white truffle butter and a memorable veal scallopini that also came with porcini mushrooms and white truffle butter. For dessert, we had an interesting dessert that I wasn't sure about initially, but the dish they called the renaissance (almond meringue, chocolate and mocha butter creams, sliced almonds, and whipped cream) was quite good, though we struggled to finish it since we were so full. All in all, this was one of the best restaurants I have been to in the past year, and definitely worth checking out if you happen to find yourself in Westchester County.

photo of the Sugar Bowl, Darien, Connecticut On Saturday morning we had a quick continental breakfast at the hotel we were staying at, then made the rounds through Fairfield County, passing through such charming towns as Weston, Ridgefield, and New Canaan. Around lunchtime, we stopped in the little town of Darien to have lunch at a place called the Sugar Bowl. From the outside, the Sugar Bowl looks like it might be a rather faceless, generic coffee shop, but it is actually a completely unpretentious greasy spoon joint with a grill in the back, counter seating along the side, lots of colorful plastic chairs throughout, and lots and lots of families with kids (at least when we were there). As far as old-fashioned luncheonettes go, the Sugar Bowl seems to be a good one, as everything we had there was well above average. My hot corned beef sandwich with Swiss cheese on rye wasn't quite New York-caliber, but it was very, very good, while the egg salad sandwich was a good-sized portion and absolutely delicious. The curly fries were also decent, though it tasted like the grease used to cook them may have been a tad old. Prices were dirt cheap and service was excellent, making the Sugar Bowl quite a satisfying place for lunch.

After lunch we took a drive around Southport (gawking at the Victorian houses and the ocean views), then drove along the water in Fairfield before stopping at an erstwhile coffee house in the center of town called the Las Vetas Lounge. Then it was off to dinner at a restaurant that I have been to before, and which I absolutely love, called the Silvemine Tavern. This restaurant is located in an historic old building in a deeply wooded part of Norwalk that is classic Currier and Ives country. This time, we went at night so we couldn't see the waterfall or the bubbling brook that cuts through the property, but it had a particularly special charm after dark, with an absolute stillness in the air and warm lights coming from the creaky old building. We had a couple of prix fixe meals, with the highlights being the crab-stuffed fillet of sole with tomato spinach risotto in a lobster reduction sauce, the lobster risotto with a parmesan crisp, and the filet mignon with roquefort bordelaise sauce. After all that food, the hot fudge sundae was icing on the cake, so to speak, though again, we were pretty full by this point. It was another great meal at a truly underrated restaurant in a very nice part of the state.

Sunday morning soon came around, and after another quick breakfast at the hotel (and coffee at Las Vetas in Fairfield Center), we hit the road to head back to Boston. We ended up making a brief stop at one of my personal favorites in New England, namely the Vanilla Bean Cafe, a quirky little spot in the Northeast Corner of Connecticut. We grabbed a chili, Italian wedding soup, and a couple of sandwiches, with the chili and soup being the highlights of the meal. I also picked up several pieces of their excellent pies to take home with me. I do hope to get back to the Vanilla Bean in the coming months for dinner, as they have all kinds of great entertainment at night (including jazz, folk, and blues acts).

Fairfield and Westchester Counties were mostly very nice places that I hope to visit again sometime in the future. And because both are on the way to New York City, perhaps it won't be too long before I'm able to stop at another restaurant or two in the area. Perhaps May or June? We'll see...

Related Blog Entries: Connecticut restaurants, New York restaurants

Wednesday, February 11, 2009
Burger Heaven at Five Guys Burgers, Dedham

Last weekend I had a burger that almost literally knocked my socks off.

I went to Five Guys Burgers in Dedham with fairly high expectations, as I have heard so many good things about the burgers there--some people compare them to In-N-Out Burger, a highly regarded hamburger chain that is mostly on the West Coast and has no branches anywhere near New England. Well, I have been to In-N-Out Burger, and in my opinion, Five Guys Burgers is right up there in quality, and may in fact be even better, though that is certainly up for debate.

photo of Five Guys Burgers, Dedham, Massachusetts Five Guys Burgers has the look and feel of a chain, with cheap tables and hard chairs, lots of red and white colors, and a hard floor that does little to dampen the noise level. An open kitchen is in the back, with workers frantically making burgers, cooking fries, and bagging orders. The counter service seems mostly efficient, though when we arrived, it was so crowded that the the line was snaking along the inside wall clear outside the door. Fortunately, it did move quickly and we were able to order about 10 minutes after getting in line.

We ordered a couple of fairly simple burgers (one with mushrooms and cheese, the other with lettuce and cheese) and two small orders of handcut fries. I was surprised to see that a pair of griddled patties are used for each order rather than just one, but since the patties are flat and a bit on the small side, it isn't a huge amount of food. Even if it was, however, I don't think I'd have a problem finishing one, as the meat is as fresh and can be, the cheese is melted perfectly, and the buns are toasted just enough to add to the festival of flavors. As for the fries, one of the signatures at Five Guys is filling a cup with them, putting the cup in a bag, then tossing more fries into the bag, so a "small" is anything but. Indeed, we had so many fries that we couldn't come close to finishing, though they were very good (a few were limp and undercooked but the rest were fine). On a side note, I also ordered a hot dog, but it was not good at all--it was undercooked and had an unappetizing baloney-like taste to it.

So it seems that burger lovers in the Boston area have another option in addition to places such as O'Sullivan's in Somerville, Mr. Bartley's and Flat Patties in Cambridge, UBurger in Kenmore Square, and a few other top spots. Personally, I may have to put Five Guys Burgers above them all, though UBurger comes awfully close in quality, as does Mr. Bartley's.

If you want the address for Five Guys Burgers, here it is: Five Guys Burgers, 170 Providence Highway, Dedham, MA 02026. The phone number is (781) 326-1158.

Related Blog Entries: Dedham restaurants, hamburgers

Wednesday, February 4, 2009
Manhattan Trip, February 2009

This has been about the longest stretch between trips to New York City in many years. The last time I was in the Big Apple was way back in March 2008, so I was overdue. Last week, I spent two full days in Manhattan (mostly in Midtown East, Greenwich Village, and the Upper West Side) and ended up making first-time trips to three restaurants, in addition to a couple of repeats.

I started out the trip having lunch at Viand Cafe, an Upper West Side diner that is one of the few places in the city that I have been to multiple times. (See the Mid-Winter Weekend in Manhattan blog from 2008 for more information on Viand Cafe.) We had a good, solid lunch there, including an unusual shiitake mushroom burger that I ordered, along with sweet potato fries. Service was friendly, prices were pretty reasonable, and the place was actually fairly quiet throughout our meal.

photo of Mr. K's Restaurant, Manhattan, New York After spending some time in Rockefeller Center and a few other spots around Midtown East, we walked over to the corner of Lexington Avenue and E 51st Street to have dinner at a high-end Chinese restaurant called Mr. K's. Upscale, elegant, and beautifully decorated, Mr. K's is not your typical Chinese restaurant. From the pinks and pastels throughout the place to the white tablecloths, sconces, and carpeting to the porcelain vases, nearly everything about Mr. K's was classy and refined. One nice touch was that whenever I needed to stand up or sit down, one of the servers would actually pull my chair out (or push the chair in) for me--a nice touch. As for the food, well, it was nothing short of extraordinary, including steamed green vegetable dumplings, bean curd soup with watercress, sizzling black pepper filet mignon, and prawns. Even the sherbet that was served just before the main course was delicious. Perhaps the only misstep at Mr. K's was the rather bland tiramisu, but it was a misstep on my part, not the restaurants, because frankly, tiramisu is not exactly a Chinese delicacy. Overall, an outstanding experience at one of New York's true hidden gems.

photo of Pier 72, Manhattan, New York After having a surprisingly tasteless bagel at H and H Bagels in the Upper West Side early the next morning (I usually like their bagels), I took a a walk through the neighborhood and parts of Central Park, then spent some time relaxing before heading to Pier 72 at the corner of West Side Avenue and W 72nd Street for a late breakfast. Like Mr. K's, Pier 72 is a little-known jewel, but the two places couldn't be more different; while Mr. K's is a dignified Chinese restaurant, Pier 72 is a neighborhood diner whose atmosphere comes solely from the characters who both work here and eat here. The food at this Upper West Side greasy spoon joint was very good, with both the banana walnut buckwheat pancakes and the oat bran waffles with chocolate chips being delicious and (relatively) healthy. The home fries were decent as well, as they had paprika and caramelized onions giving them a boost in the flavor department. And while the atmosphere at Pier 72 was pretty basic and straightforward, the photos of Manhattan on the walls, the attractive tile floor and brick beams, and the large picture windows looking out at the street added a nice overall feel to the place.

photo of Gaetana's, Manhattan, New York Because we had such a late breakfast, we decided to skip lunch and opt for an early dinner instead. So we spent part of the afternoon wandering around Greenwich Village (mostly the West Village), hitting some of my favorite spots, including McNulty's Tea and Coffee Company where I stocked up on more tea. Soon we found ourselves down near the water, where we had dinner at an Italian place called Gaetana's. Located at the corner of Christopher Street and Greenwich Street, Gaetana's is a bit out of the way and is indeed just far enough from busy Bleecker Street to keep the masses from finding it. We were quite impressed by the interior of the restaurant, as it was dimly lit and warm and cozy--a perfect spot for a chilly winter day. And this was another place that was full of characters, including our waiter who was inexplicably dressed in a hoodie, jeans, and sneakers. The food we ordered was mostly excellent, including some outstanding fire-roasted red peppers, a thick and hearty lentil soup; a serviceable pumpkin ravioli that came with a butter and sage sauce that I thought was too watery; and a tremendous chicken pomodoro that was served with some of the best sauce I've had in awhile. And the tiramisu, as you might expect, was much, much better than the one I had at Mr. K's. This is a restaurant that I fell in love with, and would like to return to sometime in the future. Aside from the slightly disappointing ravioli, I thought that everything about the place was really memorable.

Because of time constraints, I actually hit the road immediately after leaving Gaetano's and was back in Boston less than 4 hours after finishing my dinner in the West Village. Perhaps I'll be able to spend a bit more time in the city the next time I go, and if I do, I'll certainly hit more restaurants, so stay tuned...

Related Blog Entries: Manhattan restaurants, New York restaurants

Sunday, February 1, 2009
Options for a Romantic Dinner

Valentine's Day is fast approaching, so if you are looking to go out to eat that night, it may be time to start making plans. And even though the economy is struggling and people aren't going out to eat as much, this may be offset by the fact that February 14 is on a Saturday this year. So reservations are definitely a good idea, and soon if you plan to head out that night.

If you are not sure where to dine for Valentine's Day, feel free to check out our Romantic Boston and New England Restaurants for Valentine's Day page within the Boston's Hidden Restaurants site. Here you will find a number of options for romantic dining in the Boston area and beyond, with each listing including the address and phone number of the dining spot, as well as a brief description.

Here's hoping for a great dinner for those who head out that night. Happy Valentine's Day!

Related Blog Entries: romantic restaurants