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Boston Restaurant Blog -- August, 2009

Below are blog entries from August, 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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August, 2009

Friday, August 28, 2009
2009 Trip to the Adirondacks and Upstate New York

Two weeks ago, several of us made yet another trip to the Adirondacks and Upstate New York, hitting a handful of familiar spots along the way (Hardtimes Cafe in Eagle Bay, Northern Lights in Inlet, Buffalo Head in Forestport, White Pine Bakery in Inlet). We also tried a couple of restaurants we had never been to before, including an outstanding dining spot in Old Forge that features broasted chicken, and an impressive Mexican restaurant in Saratoga Springs. Since I have talked about the "repeat" places several times within this blog over the years, the focus of this entry will be the two restaurants that we went to for the first time.

photo of Randy's Restaurant, Old Forge, NY Restaurants that feature broasted chicken are generally pretty hard to find, perhaps because of the equipment needed to cook it. That is one reason why we were looking forward to trying Randy's Restaurant in the Southwest Adirondack town of Old Forge, since broasted chicken is the main focus of this dining spot. And was it ever worth it, as the chicken was crispy on the outside, yet moist on the inside, and it was not greasy at all because of the broasting process used, which entails pressure frying. But Randy's is not just about broasted chicken; indeed, their mild yet flavorful chili was probably the best I've had since The Grog in Newburyport (my personal favorite), the turkey sandwich was loaded with real turkey slices, the baked cheese sandwich with tomatoes was delicious mainly because of the homemade bread used, and both the sweet potato fries and regular fries were tasty and not too limp or greasy. The place itself, which used to be a bakery, has a pleasantly rustic feel to it like so many spots in this rugged resort town, and it almost seems like being in someone's home. Add to this the rock-bottom prices and incredibly friendly service (Randy and his family make everyone feel welcome) and you have a place that, if it were closer to Boston, would be the perfect restaurant to feature on this site, as it is about as much of a hidden gem as you will find out there.

photo of Cantina, Saratoga Springs, NY The other restaurant that we went to for the first time - Cantina in Saratoga Springs - couldn't have been more different from Randy's, as it was a bustling, noisy place in a city that can often get overrun with cars and people. The restaurant was no less appealing, however, and the food was really quite good. Located on the city's main drag, Cantina is one of countless restaurants in Saratoga Springs, and it was catering not only to viewers of horse racing when we went, but also to music lovers who were in town for a big concert. When we arrived, it was well after the lunch hour but the place was still packed. Fortunately, we were able to get a seat right away, and were immediately struck by the historic charm of the restaurant, with its pressed tin ceiling, exposed brick, hardwood floors, and use of dark woods throughout. In a way, Cantina reminded me a bit of Doyle's in Jamaica Plain, with its cozy nooks and crannies and bar area that was full of character. And the food was no less impressive, with crunchy homemade tortilla chips that came with a deliciously chunky tomato and onion salsa; an "SF Mission" burrito that was loaded with both dark and white meat chicken as well as rice, beans, and salsa; and a spicy beef enchilada that included soft, white, and mild Chihuahua cheese as well as a hearty red sauce. And everything we tried had a good amount of cilantro, which may not be a good thing to some people, but this cilantro lover was certainly very happy. Service was prompt and friendly, and prices, while a bit high, were probably in line with other restaurants in the area, as Saratoga Springs is not exactly a place filled with cheap eats.

Both Randy's in Old Forge and Cantina in Saratoga Springs were places I liked very much, albeit for much different reasons. Randy's, especially, was a place I won't soon forget, and would encourage anyone going to the Southwest Adirondacks to try to make a trip to this special dining spot at some point.

Related Blog Entries: Adirondack restaurants, New York restaurants

Tuesday, August 18, 2009
Saturday Evening at Three Cod Tavern, Marblehead

I typically get to Marblehead about two or three times a year, usually hitting such restaurants as The Landing, Pellino's, or The Barnacle. But after hearing some good things from family members about a local spot called the Three Cod Tavern, we decided to give the place a try.

photo of Three Cod Tavern, Marblehead, MA The Three Cod Tavern is located in an old building near the center of Marblehead, just far enough from the quaint Old Town section of the community to be rather quiet and uncrowded. From the outside, the restaurant looks like it might be a townie joint that is full of charm and character, and while it is certainly a local hangout, the place has been renovated to the point of looking rather plain inside, with a suspended ceiling seeming particularly out of place here. The dining area is spacious and comfortable, however, with wooden tables and chairs spaced nicely apart from each other, and carpeting that helps to keep the noise level down. The main dining area takes up the left part of the space, while the bar takes up a smaller section along the right half in a separate room (and is quite a bit more boisterous than the dining area).

We began our meal with a chowder and a salad, and while the chowder was outstanding with a traditional thin broth and plenty of clams, the Three Cod salad was a bit of a mess. It consisted of a wedge of iceberg lettuce swimming in an excessive amount of blue cheese, with crispy bacon on top and tomatoes around the lettuce. The salad probably would have been fine with half the amount of blue cheese, and as it turned out, it did taste quite good after I scooped much of the cheese aside. A very short time after we received our chowder and salad, our meals came out, forcing me to put the salad aside until later. And our server tried to take the chowder away even though it was still being worked on, which is about as big a no-no as bringing meals out immediately after soups and salads.

Fortunately, the entrees pretty much made up for the initially negative experiences at the Three Cod Tavern, as the fried flounder was simply wonderful, with a delicious batter used to cover the huge piece of fish that had no waste on it whatsoever, while the crabmeat stuffed sole had a perfect mix of sweetness from the crab and a pleasantly mild flavor from the sole. These dishes were at least as good as similar seafood dishes I've tried at other spots in Marblehead, if not better. Prices were reasonable, and service seemed to settle down a bit as the evening went on, and to be fair, our server was friendly and low-key.

While the Three Cod Tavern seems to be a little-known spot in Marblehead, I'm not quite prepared to say it is a hidden gem. The food was mostly good, but the atmosphere wasn't all that memorable and we did have some issues initially with the service. But if you are looking for decent seafood in this North Shore town and don't want to deal with the crowds that places nearer the water sometimes get, the Three Cod Tavern really isn't a bad option at all.

For those who want the address and phone number for the Three Cod Tavern, here it is: Three Cod Tavern, 141 Pleasant Street, Marblehead, MA 01945; the phone number is (781) 639-3263.

Related Blog Entries: seafood restaurants

Wednesday, August 12, 2009
Excellent Southern Cuisine at Tupelo, Cambridge

When Magnolia in the Inman Square neighborhood of Cambridge closed awhile back, I was pretty sad to hear the news, as Boston doesn't have all that many options for Southern-style cuisine. But when I heard that a new place called Tupelo would be opening in its spot, my spirits lifted and I vowed to try the place as soon as it opened. Well, I wasn't able to get to the place until recently, but the delay was worth it, as the meal we had at Tupelo easily ranks among my top 10 of 2009 so far.

The layout of Tupelo is fairly simple, with a squarish room containing a bar and a decent number of tables, including a couple of window seats on both the right and left side of the dining area. The bar, which is along the right side of the room, is a bit close to some of the tables, so when it gets crowded (as it did the night we were there), it can get a little claustrophobic to both diners and drinkers. The overall space itself is rather attractive, with old-fashioned hanging lights and a wall mural above the bar, a tile floor, copper tables, and wooden chairs with cushions.

photo of Tupelo, Cambridge, MA As soon as we were seated at Tupelo, one of the servers brought over some cornbread, which was quite good (not too sweet but not lacking in flavor, either), and our main waiter brought over a couple of excellent beers, namely an Allagash White and an Abita Amber, which is a Louisiana beer not typically found in the Boston area. There were some great options for appetizers, including the spicy turkey meatballs, which was the app we went with. The meatballs had a nice mix of herbs and spices and came with both a tasty sauce and some French bread. But as good as the meatballs were, the entrees were better, with the crab etouffee being perhaps the best item of the night. There were all kinds of vegetables, herbs, and spices thrown into the dish along with small pieces of crab meat, and there was an underlying heat to it all, which resulted in a mild but noticeable burn throughout the meal. The other entree - the champagne crepe plate - was very nearly as good, with cheesy, chewy crepes filled with a mix of smooth ricotta cheese and sweet basil, and the fresh radicchio salad and zesty herb tomato vinaigrette that came with it was just icing on the cake. I also ordered a side of red beans and rice, and this was another dish that had a slow burn, though unlike the etouffee, this burn was a bit more obvious, and combined with the uncomfortably hot dining room, resulted in a fairly unpleasant end to an otherwise terrific meal. The red beans and rice were pretty impressive, however, with a nicely balanced mix of beans, rice, herbs, and spices.

Heat aside (the heat of the dining room, that is, not the heat of the red beans and rice), our meal at Tupelo was something special. Based on the crowds the night we were there (and it was a night in the middle of the week) - and based on all the reviews I have seen online about the place - Tupelo isn't exactly a hidden gem, even though it hasn't been around very long. But it does indeed seem to be a great place to go for Southern-style and Cajun food, and one that I really can't recommend enough. Now if they could only do something about that air conditioning....

For those who would like the address and phone number for Tupelo, here it is: Tupelo, 1193 Cambridge Street, Cambridge, MA 02139; the phone number is (617) 868-0004.

Related Blog Entries: Cambridge restaurants, Southern restaurants

Thursday, August 6, 2009
Dinner and Drinks at Joe Sent Me, Cambridge

Joe Sent Me in North Cambridge is another one of those places that I used to go to all the time several years back, but had kind of forgotten about it of late. A shame, as this neighborhood restaurant and bar has food that is a cut above that of your basic watering hole. And what always impressed me most at Joe Sent Me was the plate of steak tips, as the marinade was tangy and delicious, and the tips themselves were lean and tender. Ironically, in a recent return to the place a couple of weeks ago, the steak tip plate was the one dish that I thought was the least memorable, but hopefully it was an off-night for them. The rest of the food? Very, very good indeed.

photo of Joe Sent Me, Cambridge, MA If the name "Joe Sent Me" brings to mind the prohibition years, there's a reason for that; according to the restaurant's Web site, the term was actually a password that people used to get into speakeasies during that era. And Joe Sent Me does have a bit of that feel, with its dark and moody interior, exposed brick, black and white floor tiles, and pressed tin ceiling. A bar takes up most of the left side of the place, while the right side has a small dining area up front and another area with tables toward the back.

On our recent trip to Joe Sent Me, four of us grabbed a table toward the back, as the front room was full. We skipped appetizers, though we did order some beers, including an excellent local brew called Rapscallion Honey. Our server soon brought our dinners over, and as I said earlier, the steak tip plate was the one item that clearly didn't impress. The tips themselves were tender enough, but the marinade was virtually nonexistent, making for a rather bland meal. Oddly enough, the turkey tips were loaded with flavor, thanks to a zesty teriyaki marinade, and there was no waste whatsoever on any of the tips. Perhaps the best dish of the night was a sandwich called Joe Montana's West Coast Wrap, which was stuffed with those same turkey tips, as well as bacon, spinach, mushrooms, and a delightful guacamole. The char-grilled swiss burger was also impressive, as were the moderately-salted handcut fries. Prices were certainly reasonable, with dishes hovering a little above and below the $10 mark, and service was fine from start to finish.

Other than the nondescript steak tips (again, this was a total surprise), everything at Joe Sent Me was satisfying, and I would surely recommend the place to anyone looking for simple comfort food and drinks at a decent price. I may try the steak tips once again at some point, just to see if it was indeed an off-night, but there are so many good dishes from which to choose at Joe Sent Me that I may ultimately decide against going this route. Stay tuned....

For those who want the address and phone number for Joe Sent Me, here it is: Joe Sent Me, 2388 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02140; the phone number is (617) 492-1116.

Related Blog Entries: American restaurants, Cambridge restaurants

Saturday, August 1, 2009
Boston and New England Restaurants on Twitter

Twitter is becoming more and more of a tool used by businesses to promote a product, service, etc. And restaurants are certainly jumping onto the site, realizing what it can offer them. For instance, dining spots can post weekly or daily specials, notify people of special events, or perhaps see what folks think of a particular dish that they offer.

Because so many Boston-area and New England restaurants have joined Twitter of late, we have decided to create a couple of lists of restaurants that are on Twitter, complete with live links to the specific Twitter pages. One of our lists includes Boston-area restaurants, while the other list includes restaurants throughout the rest of New England. (The lists are within our Facebook Fan page, but anyone can view them.)

The lists are given below.

Boston list:

List of Boston-Area Restaurants on Twitter

New England list:

List of New England Restaurants on Twitter (not including Boston)

Both lists are updated as often as possible, but if you know of any restaurants that we have missed, please contact us to let us know about these places. Thanks!