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Boston Restaurant Blog -- January, 2011

Below are blog entries from January, 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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January, 2011

Friday, January 28, 2011
Our Rule-Breaking Dates Picks (Via HowAboutWe)

Occasionally I do some guest writing for other websites, with my latest guest post getting put up on a truly fun site called HowAboutWe. Based on New York City, HowAboutWe is basically a social networking site that revolves around dating and some of the endless fun ideas for dates, including places to go to, sights to see, and restaurants to eat at. It is this last category, of course, that I got involved with on the HowAboutWe site, posting lists of "Eat With Your Hands Dates" (including places like Addis Red Sea in Boston's South End and Chez Henri in Cambridge) and "Cheap Dates ($15 or Less)" (including Shanghai Gate in Allston and J & J Restaurant in Somerville).

If you would like to see our list of picks within the HowAboutWe site, here is the link: HiddenBoston Uncovers Some of Boston's Best Rule-Breaking Dates

Related Blog Entries: Boston restaurants, Romantic restaurants

Thursday, January 20, 2011
First Visit to Tamarind Bay Coastal Indian Kitchen in Brookline

When Casa Mexico closed in Cambridge's Harvard Square several years back, I was pretty sad, since the basement spot was one of my personal favorites, and one that I went to with a variety of friends and family. But the hurt was lessened somewhat when I heard that the eatery that replaced it--an Indian spot called Tamarind Bay--was getting some really good reviews. Well, oddly enough, I still haven't gotten to the place since they opened in the old Casa Mexico spot, but I was able to check out their newer sister restaurant, an eatery called Tamarind Bay Coastal Indian Kitchen, in Brookline recently, and the experience was a terrific one overall.

photo of Tamarind Bay Coastal Indian Kitchen, Brookline, Massachusetts Tamarind Bay Coastal Indian Kitchen, which is located in the Washington Square section of Brookline, has a rather upscale and trendy feel to it. The soft glow of the backlit bar along the right wall and the circular recessed ceiling section dominate the space, which also has a number of traditional Indian art pieces along the walls. The left side of the room includes a long bench seat, while most of the rest of the space has tables for two to four diners each. A mix of mostly chic music plays through the speakers, adding to the sleek overall vibe of the restaurant.

While the Brookline location of Tamarind Bay focuses on coastal cuisine from India, this doesn't mean that the menu focuses completely on seafood. But it was a slightly different looking menu from what you might see at most other Indian restaurants in the Boston area, with no sign of such dishes as chicken saag, lamb vindaloo, or dosas. There are a few popular Indian dishes on the menu, however, and we decided to try a mix of familiar and not-so-familiar items. We started with an appetizer called tandoori hara aloo, which consisted of baby potatoes stuffed with a mild cheese, nuts, raisins, and bell peppers. The smokiness of this dish was wonderful, with the tandoori oven imparting a lot of flavor into the potatoes. Soup was also ordered, and the cilantro chicken shorba may have been the highlight of the entire meal, as the bright flavors of the cilantro and lemon went perfectly with the cumin-flavored broth, and the slightly hard and rough composition of the chicken bits added some nice texture to the soup. The basket of plain paratha had some nicely charred pieces and a crispness not always found with this type of bread. Along with our starters, we were also given some addictive "chips" made of lentil and rice flour, and served with plum sauce and mint-cucumber sauce (I could have eaten the chips all night). For our meals, we tried a particularly rich (and slightly hot) chicken tikka masala and a warm and spicy matki dum murgh. The tomato cream sauce that came with the tikka masala was one of the best I have tried in the Boston area, though the mint, onion, mace, and cardamom-based sauce that came with the matki dum murgh was marred a bit by an excessive oiliness that came close to overpowering the cubes of chicken (though the curry was indeed delicious and aromatic). For drinks, we had a Kingfisher (terrific barley taste and little bitterness) as well as a warming and mild malbec.

While perhaps not the best Indian meal I've had over the past year (that would probably have to go to the superb Kabob and Curry in Providence), we were certainly impressed by what we had at Tamarind Bay Coastal Indian Kitchen. There are a number of other dishes I saw on their menu that I would like to try (including a slightly scary-sounding "aloo capsicum"), so another trip to this upscale spot in Washington Square will certainly be in the cards over the coming months.

For those who want the address for Tamarind Bay Coastal Indian Kitchen in Brookline, here it is: Tamarind Bay Coastal Indian Kitchen, 1665 Beacon Street, Brookline, MA, 02445. The phone number is (617) 277-1752.

Related Blog Entries: Brookline restaurants, Indian restaurants

Tuesday, January 11, 2011
A Return Trip to Sicilia's in Providence

Because I go to so many different restaurants, there are relatively few that I return to multiple times. One such place is located in the Federal Hill section of Providence, which is considered the city's "Little Italy." Now it may indeed seem strange that I go to Sicilia's Pizzeria again and again, considering there is a second location right here in Boston (near BU). But there are a few reasons why I go there fairly often; one is that I find myself in Providence more than nearly any other city in New England, and another is that the Boston location is a bit on the generic side--and gets mixed reviews for their pizza. And the one in Providence is a total throwback, a no-frills pizza joint that is a bit rough around the edges, yet has some really good pies, including a thin-crust version, a regular, and a rather interesting deep-dish pizza that is stuffed with any number of ingredients. On our recent trip to Sicilia's, we tried two of these three pies, and as always, they were both very satisfying.

photo of Sicilia's, Providence, RI Sicilia's Pizzeria is located at the eastern edge of Federal Hill, within sight of the gateway arch which contains (depending on whom you ask) either a pine cone or a pineapple on it. Walking into the eatery, the first thing you see is a tiny bar to the left and a sub shop-like counter area to the right. And while many people indeed order their pies at the counter for takeout, if you walk past the counter and the bar, the long, narrow space opens up into a dining room out back with a number of booths and tables of various sizes, including some really long tables for big groups. The atmosphere is plain but not unattractive, with wood paneling, a tile floor, a large wall mural of Venice in the back, and a mix of old-fashioned lamps and track lighting. Service can range from friendly to gruff, depending on the day (and the server), but the gruffness only adds to the old-school atmosphere of the place.

On our most recent trip to Sicilia's, we started with a Caesar salad that was a bit on the watery side but otherwise all right (and it came with a boatload of anchovies on the side). For our meal, we decided to go with a thin-crust pepperoni pizza and a regular-crust hot pickled pepper pizza. The thin-crust was, as usual, cut up into various geometric shapes instead of triangular slices, and was very good, with a nice mix of flavors coming from the slightly oily crust, hearty tomato sauce, greasy cheese, and spicy pepperoni. The regular-crust pizza was a bit better, mainly because the cheese seemed to have more flavors coming out of it, including nutty, bitter, and earthy tastes, making the cheese on the thin-crust seem almost bland in a way. And the peppers added a real kick to the regular-crust pizza without adding a watery consistency to the pie (which can often happen when you add pickled peppers as a topping). Service this time around was very good, with our server being friendly and efficient throughout. Prices were cheap, with our fairly good-sized pizzas being about $8.00 each.

Sicilia's has always been one of my favorite spots in New England for pizza, not because it rivals such standouts as Regina's in Boston's North End, Santarpio's in East Boston, and Pepe's in New Haven, CT, for quality, but because walking into the place feels like a slice (no pun intended) of yesteryear. Providence may entail quite a bit more driving for me than the Boston University area, but for a combination of food and overall atmosphere, I think it's worth the trip.

For those who want the address for Sicilia's, here it is: Sicilia's Pizzeria, 181 Atwells Avenue, Providence, RI, 02903. The phone number is (401) 273-9222.

Related Blog Entries: Italian restaurants, pizza places, Providence restaurants, Rhode Island restaurants

Monday, January 3, 2011
Comfort Food and Beer at Deep Ellum in Allston

I've always wondered what the difference is between a "gastropub" and a "beer bar." I guess in my mind, a gastropub may concentrate a bit more on high-quality food than a beer bar does, as a beer bar focuses more on high-quality beers. But who knows, really--both definitions seem to be overused anyway these days, and the term "gastropub," especially, seems to be heard everywhere right now. So having said that, we finally made it over to a little spot in Allston that features great beers and decent food, and whether Deep Ellum should be referred to as a gastropub or a beer bar, well, who cares, really; all I know is, we ended up liking the place a lot.

photo of Deep Ellum, Allston, Massachusetts If you didn't know anything about the place, you might think that Deep Ellum is just another dive bar or college beer joint, with its tiny storefront on the relatively quiet western edge of Allston, its plain signage out front, and its rather stark and unassuming appearance from the outside. And its interior--until you look at the food and drink menu, that is--might not do much to change your opinion of the place, as it is narrow and dark, with nothing more than a row of tables on the right and a long, narrow bar on the left (there is outdoor dining out back, however). A high ceiling gives the tiny spot a bit of a cavernous feel, while exposed brick along the wall, which often gives places a trendy look, doesn't add much trendiness to Deep Ellum's somewhat bare-bones room. To me, the whole overall vibe is that of a place where serious drinkers go, and perhaps some do, though like I mentioned earlier, one look at the upscale comfort food on the menu and the impressive array of craft beers and cocktails will convince most that this is anything but a dive bar.

Our recent trip to Deep Ellum was on a very slow weeknight--being that we went during Christmas vacation, not many college folks could be found in Allston, which is usually one of the most popular neighborhoods in Boston for students. We sat at a table toward the front door and were immediately greeted by our server, who clearly wanted to talk about all of the different beers available. This was fine with me, since I am a beermaker in my spare time and love getting tips from people who are in the know, and this person was definitely that. He sold me on the cask beer that night, which was a Williams Brothers Scottish Session Golden Ale. The light-tasting and slightly fruity beer had almost no bitterness, so for hops lovers, it is probably not a good choice, but I loved it, so much, in fact, that another beer we tried that night--Pretty Things Jack D'Or, which is one of my favorites--seemed like a step down after having the Williams Brothers beer. Along with a round of beer, we also ordered steamed pretzels with mustard to start (the pretzels were soft, slightly greasy, and delicious) as well as a cup of chili (also excellent, with lots of ground beef and beans, as well as heat from the peppers that had a real kick on the back end). Our dinners were just as good, with the Moules Frites (an appetizer, really) having a zesty lemon garlic aioli adding much flavor to the PEI mussels, and the duck confit macaroni and cheese being incredibly rich--perhaps a bit too rich--due to the heart-stopping combination of duck meat, duck fat, and cheddar cheese (the cubes of butternut squash offset some of the greasiness and oiliness of the dish). More beers were ordered with our meals, including the aforementioned Pretty Things Jack D'Or and a Pretty Things Saint Botolph's Town that was dark, malty, and slightly smokey, with some spices adding an overall warmth to the drink. Prices for the food and drink were in line with similar items at competing Boston-area spots, though it seems like about half of the cost of the evening came from the drinks, which is how things tend to be when you go to beer bars or gastropubs.

I'm not quite sure that Deep Ellum is a hidden gem (it definitely isn't if you're a college student), but it is certainly a place I'd return to again. Unlike The Publick House in Brookline or Highland Kitchen in Somerville (two places that I love, by the way), Deep Ellum seems very laid-back and low-key, and because it's small, the place has an almost intimate feel to it. A very big thumbs-up for this gastropub, er, beer bar, er, whatever, and I would strongly recommend it to anyone who loves craft beers.

For those who want the address for Deep Ellum, here it is: Deep Ellum, 477 Cambridge Street, Allston, MA, 02134. The phone number is (617) 787-2337.

Related Blog Entries: Allston restaurants, Boston bars, Boston restaurants