Below are blog entries from June, 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.)
Thursday, June 25, 2009
Late-Night Dinner at Spazio, Braintree
A couple of years ago, I went to the now-closed Spazio FX on Granite Street in Braintree, and was always wondering how the original Spazio (which remains open) was for food and atmosphere. Well, about two weeks ago, we had a rather late dinner there, and found the restaurant to be pretty impressive, though different from Spazio FX in that it felt a bit more intimate, not quite as upscale, and more focused on Italian cuisine.
Spazio is in a little strip mall along Route 53 (a road that has countless little strip malls). It is not a huge restaurant, but does have three separate areas, including a cafe to the right, a sleek bar in the entrance room, and a neat, modern-looking dining room to the left. The dining room (at least when we were there) is very dark and intimate, with candlelit tables and a tile floor that seemed to make the place a bit on the loud side.
We started out with what may have been the best dish of the night, namely a prosciutto and fig plate that had a near-perfect mix of sweet and savory flavors. The Caesar salad which came out at the same time was fresh and tasty, with a moderately zesty dressing. Our main entrees were a mix, as the wood-fired mushroom pizza was absolutely delicious, with a slightly chewy (and slightly charred) crust and a hint of bitterness in the cheese. The pasta bolognese, however, was not quite up to par, as the sauce was a mix of watery tomato sauce and large chunks of veal, beef, and pork (some of which seemed a bit hard and dry). For dessert, we tried a falling chocolate cake which had some decent flavor, though it was rather overcooked and dried out. Service was excellent, as our waitress was talkative and personable, and the prices were about average for what we got.
The prosciutto and fig plate alone would make me want to return to Spazio, but the food overall seemed just a bit inconsistent. Based on the meal we had at Spazio, I certainly think it is better than the disappointing Viola in South Braintree and the now-closed Giamatti, which used to be just up the street from Spazio. But it is still tough to beat Ecco in Weymouth and Gennaro's in Quincy, two excellent Italian restaurants that aren't very far away.
The address for Spazio in Braintree is: Spazio, 200 Quincy Avenue, Braintree, MA, 02184. The phone number is (781) 849-1577.
Related Blog Entries: Braintree restaurants, Italian restaurants
Posted by MH, Boston's Hidden Restaurants, on June 25, 2009.
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Monday, June 22, 2009
Become a Facebook Fan of Boston's Hidden Restaurants
As many of you probably know the Boston's Hidden Restaurants site as well as the Boston Restaurant Talk blog can now be followed on Twitter. But did you also know that Boston's Hidden Restaurants also has a Facebook page? It was created within the past month or so, and is now fully up and running. The advantage of this page over Twitter is the fact that we can post photos as well as longer status updates, and we can more easily communicate with people on a day-to-day basis.
If you are on Facebook and would like to become a fan of our page, please go to the Facebook Page for Boston's Hidden Restaurants and click "Become a Fan." Then you will be able to participate in any discussions, status updates, etc., with us and any other viewers of the fan page. Thanks!
Posted by MH, Boston's Hidden Restaurants, on June 22, 2009.
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Tuesday, June 16, 2009
Weekend Eats at Demos, Waltham
Earlier this month, I had mentioned being very disappointed in a meal from Sweet Chili in Arlington after having a number of decent meals from them in the past. Well, a similar situation came up at Demos in Waltham recently, but this was perhaps more of a case of sadness than disappointment, for reasons I'll get into below.
I used to go to Demos a lot years ago, and while the atmosphere was never a warm and fuzzy one, the decent food usually made up for the total lack of atmosphere. But this time, it seemed different; everything about the place, from the glum workers to the dank dining area to the uninspiring food, added up to an experience that was anything but pleasant. When we arrived, it was almost dusk but the overhead fluorescent lights were off, giving a gloomy aura to the nearly-empty place. Our food was brought over after a short wait, and other than perhaps the satisfying Greek salad, nothing really stood out. The gyro was bland and dry, while the moussaka was a greasy block of eggplant and beef that didn't seem fresh at all. The rice pilaf had a nice sauce on it, but much of the rice was dried out and clumpy. And the baklava that we had for dessert seemed a bit stale and had very little flavor. Smiles were tough to come by at Demos throughout the evening, as the folks who worked there seemed to be simply going through the motions.
I am really hoping that our trip to Demos came on an off-night for them. I'm not sure I'm willing to give them another chance, however, as there was nothing (food, atmosphere, service) that gave me any reason to return to this place, especially with such great Greek restaurants as the Farm Grill in Newton and Greek Corner in Cambridge fairly close by.
The address for Demos in Waltham is: Demos, 146 Lexington Street, Waltham, MA, 02452. The phone number is (781) 893-8359. There is also a Demos in Watertown, which is the original location.
Related Blog Entries: Greek restaurants, Waltham restaurants
Posted by MH, Boston's Hidden Restaurants, on June 16, 2009.
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Tuesday, June 9, 2009
Food Trip to Lowell, Manchester, and More
After a nine-month break, we returned to the road once again, going on a food trip through Northern Massachusetts and Southern New Hampshire this week. And this may have been the best overall trip since the very first one about three years ago (a truly memorable trip through Connecticut).
Our first stop was for an early lunch at a fairly well-known pizza place and sub shop in the Pawtucketville section of Lowell. Suppa's, a plain-looking joint with an old-fashioned brick front and some formica booths inside, is located near UMass Lowell in a rather congested, mostly working-class neighborhood. It has made a name for itself with its fat chicken sub (chicken parm with mozzarella sticks and French fries layered within it) and its steak stick (steak and cheese inside deep-fried pizza dough). Since we were to hit several places in a relatively short period of time, we skipped the fat chicken and opted instead for the steak stick. And it was pure heaven, with a slightly greasy, rough-textured crust and high-quality steak and gooey cheese inside. This may have been the best individual food item of the trip, though not by much as you will see later. By the way, the name "steak stick" seems to confuse some people, but think of it as basically a deep-fried steak and cheese calzone.
From Suppa's, we took a short drive west on Pawtucket Boulevard (Route 113) to a pleasant-looking restaurant and ice cream stand across from the Merrimack River called Heritage Farm. I had read earlier that Heritage Farm seemed to be known more for its ice cream than for its food, and after trying both, I would tend to agree; the cheese dog came with a grilled bun and was decent enough but nothing really special, while the fries were very basic. The cheeseburger wasn't bad, as it was griddled and greasy, with a high fat content giving it some nice flavor. But the ice cream stole the show--the moose tracks ice cream that I tried was firm, rich, and filled with a terrifically flavorful fudge. Perhaps the nicest part of our whole experience at Heritage Farms, however, was the atmosphere, as we sat at a picnic table on the shaded front porch and enjoyed the views of the river and green space across the street.
We left Lowell after finishing up at Heritage Farms, continuing on Route 113 west into more rural areas. Eventually we made it to Pepperell, stopping at a tiny little roadside food place called Sandy's Lunch Box. This was the type of place that road trips are made for, as it is in the middle of nowhere, has picnic tables along the side, a pond out back, and features cheap comfort food. Sandy's serves a number of items including chili, fries, egg salad sandwiches, burgers, and a chicken melt. It really seems to be more of a hot dog stand than anything else, though, with knockwurst, kielbasa, and an interesting variety of dogs, including a chili dog with a moderately hot mix of ground beef and beans, a cheese dog, and something very unique--a decadent deep-fried hot dog wrapped in bacon (and with a cheese option as well). The combination of flavors was almost too good to be true for this latter item, since deep-fried hot dogs are so delicious to begin with. Of all the places we went to on this trip, Sandy's Lunch Box was a true hidden gem, and one that may be featured on our site very soon, so check back to find out more about this great little roadside spot.
We had a bit of a ride from Pepperell to our next stop, a hot dog joint in Merrimack, New Hampshire, called The Dowg Shack. First impressions weren't that memorable, as the place is located in a generic strip mall and the dank, cavernous interior of the spot indicates that it might have been a liquor store or convenience store in a previous life. But The Dowg Shack was anything but generic, starting with the outgoing, affable person behind the counter who was apparently the owner. He described a number of the options, asked if we had any questions, and was an overall pleasure to deal with from start to finish. The dogs themselves were good to outstanding, with the Southwestern Dog (chili, cheese, sauce, onions) having so much on it that the taste of the hot dog was lost a bit, but the classic grilled foot-long cheese dog was about as good as you'll find, with the Old Neighborhood frank having a very slight snap and an incredible amount of taste. The corn dog was also a big hit, with about as much flavor as the foot-long, and a corn batter that was pretty impressive. The foot-long hot dog was certainly up there with the steak stick at Suppa's, making this a place that is easily worth a repeat visit.
Usually the law of diminishing returns applies to food trips, as all the tastes, atmospheres, etc., start to blur together, but on this trip, it seems that the best was saved for last in some ways. Indeed, the Red Arrow Diner in Manchester, NH, was the complete package, with outstanding food, service, and atmosphere. In fact, it would not be an exaggeration for me to say that it was the best diner I have ever been to (and I have been to some good ones). So yes, there is a reason why politicians, musicians, actors, and so many others come here, and restaurant-wise, I actually felt like I was in the presence of greatness, much as I felt in my first visit to the transcendent pizza joint Pepe's in New Haven, CT--it was that good. We arrived at the Red Arrow around mid-afternoon, so we were able to grab one of the few window booths in the front of the diner, rather than sitting at the rather cramped-looking counter. We ordered a few items, including an American chop suey that Guy Fieri from "Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives" fell in love with, and so did I. Unlike other versions of this dish, the macaroni was tender and not dried out, the meat was fresh, and the peppers, onions, and tomatoes were bursting with flavor (the herbs and spices definitely helped). Another dish--the macaroni and cheese--was not made the way I typically like it (boiled pasta with cheese sauce rather than baked), but it was a buttery-tasting extravaganza that made me want to bring a quart of it home. The Monte Cristo sandwich was also something special, with real turkey used, and a lot of it. Finally, the homemade twinkie was a hit, with a sweet, non-chemical taste, and the one I tried had a raspberry filling that was rich but not overly so. Our server was funny and friendly, and the total price was tough to beat. Overall, going to the Red Arrow Diner was a great way to end a nearly perfect food-based road trip.
There are more food trips planned over the coming months, with perhaps a South Shore bar pizza trip in the works, and perhaps another Pioneer Valley journey, with this one concentrating on the Springfield area. So stay tuned, as we should be hitting the road once again shortly!
Related Blog Entries: diners, hot dogs, Lowell restaurants, Manchester NH restaurants, New Hampshire restaurants, road trips
Posted by MH, Boston's Hidden Restaurants, on June 9, 2009.
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Friday, June 5, 2009
Sunday Takeout from Sweet Chili, Arlington
Over the past few weeks, I have been to several restaurants that, while mostly not regular haunts for me, are places that I have been to a number of times. And two in particular were notable in terms of my changing views of them. In one case, I was simply blown away by a restaurant (Jasper White's Summer Shack in Cambridge) that I had generally liked but not loved. And in another case, I was rather disappointed in a longtime favorite of mine a couple of miles away (Sweet Chili in Arlington). The focus of this blog is the latter (the Boston Restaurant Talk blog has my Jasper White's Summer Shack review), and one that I am almost pained to write about.
Sweet Chili is one of the older Thai restaurants in the Boston area, and one of two in Arlington Center (the excellent Thai Moon being the other). Like Thai Moon, it is a tiny place that does a lot of takeout, though the dining room is comfortable enough so that I tend to mix it up between doing takeout and sitdown dinner there. The last time I went, which was a few weeks back, I ordered takeout for me and a family member, calling in the order and driving down to pick it up about 15 minutes later. Out of the three dishes, we got, only one was even remotely impressive--the pad Thai, which always seems to be decent there. But the greasy, limp Thai-style vegetable dumplings were literally inedible, with an unpleasant consistency to the veggies inside and so much grease coming off the outer part that I could only take a bite or two before throwing the rest away. The hot basil fried rice was better, but not by much, as there was no heat whatsoever coming from the dish (I am used to the spices of this entree burning my insides a bit) and the rice seemed overcooked and bland. I did finish this dish (unlike the dumplings), but it simply wasn't very impressive.
Because I have had several good meals in the past at Sweet Chili, I may give the place another try at some point. This is not a given however; with Thai Moon only a few short blocks up the road and the very good Patou in Belmont Center just a hop, skip, and a jump away, I'm not really in any rush to get back here.
For those who want the address for Sweet Chili, here it is: Sweet Chili, 470 Massachusetts Avenue, Arlington, MA, 02474. The phone number is (781) 646-2400.
Related Blog Entries: Arlington restaurants, Thai restaurants
Posted by MH, Boston's Hidden Restaurants, on June 5, 2009.
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Monday, June 1, 2009
Two Nights at Orleans Restaurant, Somerville
It is strange that sometimes you end up at a restaurant or bar repeatedly within a short period of time after not being there for awhile. And in the case of Orleans in Somerville, I took this to the extreme, hitting the place twice in a 24-hour span last week after not being there for maybe six or seven years. And like the times I went there long ago, it was impressive for its beer list and atmosphere, and the food was mostly decent (with one real standout, by the way--more on that later).
Orleans is located in a strip of funky stores just northwest of Davis Square (on the road to Teele Square). The restaurant has a full bar in the front, a dining area partly partitioned off toward the back, and a relaxing area complete with comfy couches by the windows to the front and left. Orleans has a rather dark, Spartan feel inside (especially toward the back) and the hard floor brings up the noise level somewhat, but there are enough upscale touches to keep the place fairly attractive. For those who don't know, Orleans is one of four restaurants owned by the same folks, including Devlin's Bistro and Porter Belly's Pub (both in Brighton), and the Warren Tavern (in Charlestown).
My first trip to Orleans was strictly for a couple of rounds of drinks, and we were able to grab some of the aforementioned couches in the front, enjoying some truly excellent beers including one of my favorites (Leinenkugel Sunset Wheat, which actually tastes a bit like liquid Fruity Pebbles). The following night, we stopped by Orleans for dinner, getting there early enough to have nearly the entire place to ourselves. After being served some tasty bread with a very nice garlic spread, we ordered an Asian dumpling appetizer which was just ok, though the deliciously sweet chili sauce more than made up for the somewhat bland dumplings. Our meals soon came out, and included a gnocchi dish that had a somewhat acidic tomato sauce, a lot of sliced onions (too many, in my opinion), and whole tomatoes, which only added to the rather harsh acid taste. The other dish--a gourmet pizza with olives, broccoli, spinach, and feta cheese--was simply outstanding, as the thin crust was dry and slightly charred on the bottom, the vegetables seemed fresh, and the cheese had a nice hint of bitterness (it was a white pizza, with no tomato sauce). Unfortunately, we had no room for dessert. Overall prices weren't too bad, with both dishes being in the teens.
I have never been completely in love with Orleans, but I do like the place enough to return again (this time not waiting six or seven years to do so). When I do go back, my guess is that I may opt for the pizza, since it really was something special.
For those who want the address for Orleans, here it is: Orleans Restaurant, 65 Holland Street, Somerville, MA, 02144. The phone number is (617) 591-2100.
Posted by MH, Boston's Hidden Restaurants, on June 1, 2009.
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