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Boston Restaurant Blog -- December, 2009

Below are blog entries from December, 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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December, 2009

Tuesday, December 29, 2009
First Visit to Barlow's, South Boston

It isn't often that a restaurant opens up in a section of Boston that basically has no dining spots. Such is the case with Barlow's, a new restaurant and pub we visited a few days ago that is located between the main section of the Fort Point neighborhood and the West Side (or Lower End) of South Boston. And sure, there are restaurants within a mile of Barlow's, but it sure doesn't feel that way, as the place is in what used to be a no-man's land of mills, warehouses, and factories that is now becoming increasingly popular with artists and young professionals.

photo of the Barlow's, South Boston, MA Barlow's is located in a big old mill building that is actually dwarfed by some of the enormous factory buildings surrounding it. The brick front of the restaurant has a classic old-Boston look (not unlike Doyle's or Jacob Wirth) with an attractive stenciled sign on one of the front windows and warm lights emanating from the dining room at night. The interior of Barlow's is also quite appealing, with lots of exposed brick, beams that go from floor to ceiling, exposed pipes along both the walls and ceilings, old-fashioned hanging cylindrical lamps in the dining room, sconces along the walls by the bar, and a hardwood floor in the bar area. And speaking of the bar, it is huge, extending from the middle of the restaurant to the back, with plenty of seating on both sides. An outdoor patio along the left side of Barlow's (where the entrance is) promises to only add to the capacity of the restaurant, which, when all is said and done, could have room for more than 250 people.

Our meal at Barlow's was mostly good, but with one resounding dud (more on that later). Being a part of the Superior Dining Group, Barlow's upscale gastropub-style menu seemed instantly familiar to me, with a number of dishes one might find at the group's other restaurants (Devlin's and Porterbelly's in Brighton, the Warren Tavern in Charlestown, and Orleans in Somerville). After trying some of their tasty herbed bread to start, we ordered a butternut squash soup and a red pear cranberry salad. Both were wonderful, with the soup having pepitas floating on top, giving some added flavor and texture to it, while the salad came with a delightful mix of bacon, walnuts, arugula, blue cheese, and frisee (which is a type of chicory), all mixed with a sweet and spicy maple vinaigrette. As good as the starters were, the main dishes faltered to various degrees, unfortunately. The stuffed chicken breast had some great tastes coming from the walnut, sausage, and spinach stuffing, but the gnocchi was overly salty and a bit too tough and chewy. And then there was the fig and prosciutto pizza--this was the first dish I have tried in a long time that was literally inedible, with figs (possibly fig jam?) so overly sweet that they dominated the dish, detracting from the saltiness of the prosciutto and gorgonzola and the bitterness of the arugula. And the crust was crunchy and tasteless, with big parts of it being completely devoid of any toppings at all.

We told our server that we were unable to eat the pizza, and she was very apologetic about it. As she walked away with our plates, a person who was perhaps the general manager was going from table to table, asking folks how they liked their food and what they thought of the new spot in general. When he came to our table, we told him about the pizza and he said that he would definitely take it off the bill, mentioning that the kitchen was still going through some growing pains. He then chatted with us for a good 10 minutes about the opening of the restaurant, their plans with the downstairs area (which is currently not being used), the outdoor patio, and other related items. The fact that he was so nice to us (as was our server) and really seemed to care about what we thought of the food earned some big points from us, and should certainly be a lesson to those in the industry who don't bother to interact with customers.

So our meal at Barlow's was a mix of good and not-so-good, but the atmosphere was terrific and the people who worked there were great. And these last two points will probably help lure us back to this charming and unique restaurant on the edge of the Fort Point district, though we may indeed wait a little bit as it does seem that they still need to work a few kinks out.

For those who are looking for the address of Barlow's, here it is: Barlow's, 241 A Street, South Boston, MA 02210; the phone number is (617) 338-2072.

Related Blog Entries: American restaurants, South Boston restaurants

Tuesday, December 22, 2009
2009 Trip to Kennebunkport and Ogunquit, Maine

Each December, I head up to the Christmas Prelude in Kennebunkport, Maine, which is always a great time. And this year, I also got to check out the smaller (but equally fun) Christmas by the Sea celebration in nearby Ogunquit. We also made our way to several restaurants on our recent trip up to the area, including four that we had never been to, with mostly good results.

photo of Blue Sky, York Beach, ME On our way up to the Perkins Cove section of Ogunquit Saturday morning (where we were staying), we had a leisurely lunch at an upscale but casual spot in the heart of York Beach called Blue Sky. Located on the second floor of the beautifully-restored Atlantic House Hotel, Blue Sky had a cozy and romantic feel, with a wood-burning fireplace, a rambling old outdoor porch, an attractive bar area, and several sections for dining, including a small space toward the back that had a particularly elegant feel. Being that this was a Lydia Shire restaurant, we were pretty excited to try the food, and it certainly did not disappoint. We started with an outstanding Caesar salad that had ground pepper placed all along the side of the dish and a dressing that had a ton of flavor. Our entrees were similarly impressive, with a pink meatball, scamorza cheese, fennel root, and fennel pollen pizza being a bit unusual, but the ingredients worked perfectly together, as the texture of the pork and veal meatballs, the saltiness of the cheese, and the mild licorice taste of the fennel made for an array of flavors I won't soon forget. The blue label burger with North Country bacon was juicy on the inside and nicely charred on the outside, and it came with excellent homemade fries and onion rings that were almost tender enough to cut with the edge of piece of paper. The overall bill was a bit high but well worth it, as the combination of the food, atmosphere, and service (which was great throughout) made for one of the best dining experiences I've had in a long, long time.

After a meal like the one we had at Blue Sky, we knew it would be tough to top, but a visit to Angelina's in Ogunquit (after spending some time at the festival) made me remember why I liked this place so much on our first visit to the place last year. The Caesar salad didn't quite match up with the one we had at Blue Sky earlier in the day, but it was still very good, while the penne pesto had a nicely rich pesto mixed with a tender and slightly chewy pasta. The chicken Angelina was probably a tad better than the pesto, with a sweet basil and olive oil marinade adding a lot of flavor to the chicken breast. Because we had to sit in the bar area, the noise level was rather high, but not particularly surprising given how crowded the restaurant was. Service was excellent, and the gracious owner came over and chatted with us for a little bit. Overall, it was another nice meal at this underrated spot just north of the center of Ogunquit.

photo of Alisson's Restaurant, Kennebunkport, ME On Sunday morning, we had breakfast at the place in which we were staying, then drove up to Kennebunkport for the Christmas Prelude, which was just starting to wind down. Because there were relatively few people in town, we were able to try a restaurant that had always been of interest to me, but had constantly been packed during the festivals. But this time, Alisson's was a bit busy but not too bad, with the homey, cozy little neighborhood spot (that has been around for more than 35 years, by the way) having a few tables available. We sat in the room to the right that shared part of its space with a bar (which was good, because the area had several TVs with the Patriots game on) and soaked in the pleasant atmosphere of the place while sipping on a couple of beers before ordering. I started with an order of slightly spicy pumpkin soup, which was perfect for the rather raw, chilly day--and so hearty that it almost could have been a meal unto itself. We went with sandwiches at Alisson's, including a reuben that was stuffed with lots of lean corned beef and smothered in rich-tasting Russian dressing and sauerkraut. The prime rib sandwich (called the Ribert DeNiro, by the way) included nearly a half pound of tender prime rib on a torpedo roll and had a sharp-tasting garlic and herb mayo. Service was generally efficient (though we did have to wait a bit for the check) and prices were slightly high, with the sandwiches being $9 and $13, respectively, but not bad considering the prices of other restaurants in this very wealthy town.

photo of East Restaurant, Wells, ME After spending a little more time in Kennebunkport, we headed right back to where we were staying at Perkins Cove, as a major storm was heading up the coast. Fortunately, our dinner plans were at a place pretty close by near the Ogunquit/Wells border, so we didn't have to make any last-minute changes due to the storm. Our destination was an Asian restaurant on Route 1 that has gotten some high praise from food critics, including one magazine that put among in the top 100 Chinese restaurants in the entire country. With this in mind, we drove up to East Restaurant anticipating another truly memorable experience like the one we had at Blue Sky in York Beach the day before. And while our dinner at this cavernous yet elegant restaurant didn't quite make us forget about some of the better restaurants in the Chinatown section of Boston, the meal was pretty decent for the most part. We began with hot and sour soup, which had a deeply rich taste, yet little in the way of heat. Our entrees went down the same path, as both the sweet-tasting basil chicken and the spicy Singapore chow mei fun were full of flavor, but neither had much heat at all. And the house fried rice had a nice mix of ham, pork, shrimp, and chicken mixed in, but the rice itself was on the mushy side, as if it had been simmering too long. All in all, the food we had at East was adequate, and definitely better than most of the Americanized takeout food that I have had at various Boston-area restaurants, but I didn't feel like the food was quite up to the standards of, say, Qingdao Gardenin Cambridge, East Ocean City in Chinatown, or Shanghai Gate in Allston.

photo of Bessie's, Ogunquit, ME Monday morning came around and we decided to head out a little early so we could spend some time in Kittery and Newburyport on the way back. So we went to a family-style diner in the center of Ogunquit called Bessie's for a quick breakfast. The place felt a little dark and gloomy (especially since nearly every table was empty) and other than the music in the background, there was almost an eerie silence. The food was just ok, with the chocolate chip pancakes having some flavor to them, the eggs being a little on the overcooked side, and the home fries being dry. On the plus side, our server was incredibly nice with a constant smile on her face, and the prices were dirt cheap.

We ended our trip with a stop at one of my personal favorites, namely The Grog in Newburyport. I have said it before and I'll say it again--the chili at this comfortable old watering hole is probably the best I have ever had, and the rest of the food (including the burger, monte cristo, BLT, and turkey club) isn't so bad, either. As was the case on our trip to Maine two years earlier, hitting The Grog was the perfect way to end a great weekend, dawdling in a creaky, well-worn tavern while eating great food and drinking craft beers. Hopefully I'll be able to make another trip up to The Grog before next December, and I also really hope that I can get up to Blue Sky in York Beach again soon, as that was undoubtedly the culinary highlight of the entire trip.

Related Blog Entries: Kennebunkport restaurants, Maine restaurants, Ogunquit restaurants

Friday, December 18, 2009
The 2009 Best Boston-Area Restaurants List Is Here

Our fifth annual "Best Boston-Area Restaurants" list is out, and this year it includes a number of new categories, a few restaurants that are repeat winners, and a few first-timers.

If you would like to see the list, please go to our Best Hidden Restaurants in the Boston Area, 2009 page to see all the dining spots that were picked as number 1 in their respective categories.

Next year, we may be adding a new feature that allows our readers to pick their favorites, so stay tuned!

Related Blog Entries: best Boston restaurants

Thursday, December 10, 2009
A Few Updated Restaurant Reviews

It is no secret that restaurants change over time, which is why we try to return to dining spots that we have featured on the Boston's Hidden Restaurants site as often as possible. Over the past few months, we have returned to a number of such restaurants, with some spots being no different at all, while others having some changes here and there. Aside from looking for changes to these places, we also like to return to them in order to try other dishes, of course. And we found some great ones among the "repeat" restaurants over the summer and fall.

So what are some of the dining spots that we have returned to and "re-reviewed"? Well, they include Genki Ya, a Japanese restaurant on Harvard Street in Brookline; Winthrop Arms, a family dining spot within an historic hotel in Winthrop; Strip-T's, a cafe-style restaurant in East Watertown; Village Sushi and Grill, a Japanese restaurant and sushi bar in Roslindale Village; Martin's Coffee Shop, a coffee shop just outside of Brookline Village; Riccardo's, an Italian restaurant in the North End of Boston; Jake's Seafood Restaurant, a seafood place near Nantasket Beach in Hull; and Toraya, a Japanese restaurant and sushi bar in Arlington.

We have returned to many other restaurants over the past year, but this is just a sampling of places we have gone back to at least once or twice more of late. We will certainly be heading back to more restaurants that we have previously reviewed, so keep checking for updates!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009
Our Winter 2009/2010 Newsletter Is Out

Yesterday, we wrote a blog entry about some general information concerning our restaurant newsletters. Well, today the newsletter for the winter of 2009/2010 came out. In it are links to a few of our latest restaurant reviews, some info on the Boston Restaurant Talk blog, a brief note about our Romantic Restaurants page, and a question centering around restaurants with good chicken pot pies. Here is a link to the latest newsletter: Winter 2009/2010 Restaurant Newsletter

As mentioned yesterday, if you would like to receive email updates on when the latest newsletters come out (the next will be around March 1), please send us your email address via the window below and we'll add you to our newsletter list. (NOTE: As stated yesterday and in our privacy policy which can be accessed from our home page, we will never sell your personal information.)

For access to older newsletters, here is that list of links to the earlier restaurant newsletters that we have archived. Thanks again!