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Boston Restaurant Blog -- September, 2012

Below are blog entries from September, 2012. 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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September, 2012

Thursday, September 27, 2012
First Trip to Zenna Noodle Bar in Brookline

I tend to gravitate toward Vietnamese cuisine as the temperatures get colder (soups and spicy foods are big on my list during the fall and winter months), so on a recent evening that was rather chilly, we made our way over to Zenna Noodle Bar in Brookline, with this being my first time at this Vietnamese-Thai fusion spot on the western edge of Coolidge Corner. And our experience was a solid one (though it didn't quite reach the greatness of my favorite Vietnamese and Thai places in and around Boston), with impressive food, a nice atmosphere, good service, and reasonable prices.

photo of Zenna Noodle Bar, Brookline, MA Zenna Noodle Bar is pretty easy to overlook, being on a stretch of Beacon Street that doesn't get as much foot traffic as the heart of Coolidge Corner. (It doesn't seem to get much press, either, though the reviews I have read have mostly been good ones.) But it is a very pleasant spot, with a serene, tranquil, and quiet interior that is a nice oasis from the constant noise coming from the trolleys and cars just outside the door. The track lights and shiny hardwood floor add a modern and almost trendy feel to the dining room, though the earthy colors throughout help give a peacefulness to the place at the same time. Two columns of seating can be found in the smallish space, with the tables on the left side of the room having a bench seat that extends from front to back.

Among the items that we tried at Zenna Noodle Bar was a wonderful chicken satay dish that featured tender strips of chicken (complete with grill marks) on sticks and a sweet-tasting peanut sauce on the side. The chicken had a richness that indicated the use of a number of herbs and spices in their marinade, and the strips were moist and juicy. Our main dishes included a classic Thai item--drunken noodles--that had piece of chickens, wide rice noodles, and plenty of fresh veggies and herbs, and the sauce, while not hot right off the bat, seemed to get hotter with each bite, though not enough to overpower the dish. Another main dish--noodle soup with beef--was basically Vietnamese pho that included organic ingredients and was quite tasty, though the flavor combinations didn't quite match those that I've had at such places as Pho So 1 or Pho 2000 in Dorchester. Drinks included a Vietnamese coffee that was extremely potent (but a marvelous drink nonetheless) and a sweet-tasting and creamy Thai iced tea. Our server was friendly and professional, and the prices were certainly reasonable, with many items on the menu being at or just under $10 (including the dishes that we ordered).

While maybe not quite in the upper echelons of memorable Asian fusion restaurants in the Boston area, it is nice to see that this spot in Brookline does put out some very good dishes on both the Vietnamese side and the Thai side. I'm looking forward to heading back there sometime later this fall, hopefully trying their chicken mango curry or their vegetarian pad Thai.

If you would like the address for Zenna Noodle Bar, here it is: Zenna Noodle Bar, 1374 Beacon Street, Brookline, MA, 02446. Phone: (617) 566-0566

Related Blog Entries: Brookline restaurants, Thai restaurants, Vietnamese restaurants

Thursday, September 20, 2012
Five More Road Trip-Worthy Restaurants

photo of Eaton's Sugarhouse, South Royalton In the spring of 2011, a blog entry on five road trip-worthy restaurants in New England was posted here, and toward the end of last year a slideshow on ten dining spots in scenic locations was posted as well. Well now, with foliage season just around the corner, I figured that it might be a good idea to create a "Part Two" of the road trip-worthy entry, with one place from the aforementioned slideshow included. The five spots are all close enough to Boston to be part of a day trip of leaf peeping, though one of them (the Silvermine Tavern) would probably be a better option as part of an overnight trip, as it is about three hours away from the Boston area. And now, on to the five, in no particular order:

1) Putney Diner, Putney, VT
The southeast corner of Vermont is one of the most beautiful sections of the state for foliage, with picture-perfect villages, valleys filled with sugar and swamp maples, and lightly-traveled roads that wind through the high hills and low mountains of the region. Outside of Brattleboro, there aren't a lot of restaurants in the area, but the little town of Putney has a good one in the Putney Diner. If you like stick-to-your-ribs dishes in an old-fashioned greasy spoon environment, this place is made for you while on a leaf-peeping trip. (Note: The maple walnut pie may be the best thing on the menu.)

2) Eaton's Sugarhouse, South Royalton, VT
Further north in Vermont (but probably easier to get to from Boston) is another old-fashioned eatery, with this one having outstanding foliage views right from its front door. And Eaton's Sugarhouse has "classic Vermont" written all over it, as it is a combination maple sugarhouse, country store, and restaurant where you'll see farmers and truck drivers dining on eggs, pancakes, chicken-fried steak, and other comfort food items. There isn't a whole lot to do in the immediate area, but with gorgeous towns such as Woodstock, Barnard, and Norwich nearby (and oh, by the way, South Royalton isn't too bad, either), Eaton's Sugarhouse is a good center point for a fall foliage tour in East-Central Vermont.

3) Old Timer Restaurant, Clinton, MA
Much closer to Boston--but in a wonderful area for fall foliage--is this cozy restaurant and pub in the old mill town of Clinton. While by no means a tourist destination, Clinton is in the picturesque Nashoba Valley region of the state (and the heart of apple country), with numerous hills bursting with foliage in mid-to-late October. The Old Timer is a great place to stop while apple picking or wandering around the narrow country roads in the area, with its charming old interior (it looks a little like an old church), pub grub, and hearty American dishes.

4) Silvermine Tavern, Norwalk, CT [NOTE: Restaurant Closed As Of Now]
Too many people think of Connecticut as a traffic-filled state that should be driven through as quickly as possible while traveling from Boston to New York City. And yes, while Route 95 between New Haven and the NY border can easily give you that impression, much of the state is rural, with some of New England's most beautiful areas found in the western part of the state. The northern section of Norwalk is proof of this, with its Currier and Ives feel (rolling hills, deep woods, winding lanes), and right in the heart of it is a rustic dining spot called the Silvermine Tavern. This creaky old spot is a true gem, with a fireplace, Colonial paintings on the walls, and a mill pond and waterfall next to the structure. And the regional New England food is excellent, with the honeybuns being one of many standouts.

4) Parker's Maple Barn, Mason, NH
Speaking of Currier and Ives, there is a section of New Hampshire just over the Massachusetts border that is often called "Currier and Ives Country." And it is a lovely area, with some of the best foliage in all of New England and roads that don't seem to have all that much traffic, even in the height of the foliage season. And in the eastern part of the region is a charming old restaurant called Parker's Maple Barn that is literally in the middle of nowhere, sitting on a narrow, twisting road that is difficult to find if you don't know the area. Breakfast is the main thing at this barn-like spot in the middle of the woods, with eggs, pancakes, bacon, and sausage being popular items here (and you can get all on one plate with the popular Parker's Special).

What are some of your favorite road trip-worthy restaurants in New England, especially in the fall during the foliage season? Tell us about them in the comments section here, thanks!

Related Blog Entries: road trips

Thursday, September 13, 2012
Reviews of Four New England Restaurants

Over the past few weeks, I have taken several trips around New England, checking out a number of restaurants along the way. And four dining spots seemed to stand out among the rest, with a couple of them being among the best places I've tried in 2012. One is located out west in the southern part of the Berkshires, with the other three being in Rhode Island, with reviews of all four below.

photo of Barrington Brewery, Great Barrington, Massachusetts In August I took a trip to Monterey in the western Berkshires, with stops in Stockbridge and Great Barrington as well, and Great Barrington is where we had a terrific dinner at a microbrewery called the Barrington Brewery and Restaurant. Its location alone nearly made it worth the trip, with peaceful views of meadows and fields behind it, along with views of the hills and mountains of the Southern Berkshires in the background. The interior of this classic farm-to-table restaurant included a rustic main dining area, a slightly more plain-looking front dining room, and an attractive bar toward the back, as well as a large outdoor patio behind the place. We were seated in the main dining area and started out with a sampling of "solar-brewed" beers made by the place (the Vienna was fairly light and sweet, while the pale ale was hoppy and full-flavored) and enjoying a creamy cheddar ale soup and a chowder that was full of fresh seafood. Our meals included a black pepper fettucini that came with a hearty red sauce and a juicy, griddled grass-fed burger that was easily the best burger I've had all year. To finish the meal, I had a deliciously rich-tasting maple pecan pie that included real maple syrup. Service was decent enough, though our server seemed to disappear for long stretches of time, and prices were relatively reasonable, with the burger being around $10 (a steal considering how good it was).

photo of Commons Lunch, Little Compton, Rhode Island Around the time that I was in the Berkshires, I also made a separate trip to the rural southeast corner of Rhode Island, which is a food and drink lover's dream (farmstands, a vineyard, specialty food retailers, an ice cream stand, etc.). And in the tiny village of Little Compton sits an old-fashioned dining spot called Commons Lunch, which features items that seem to be the "signature" dishes of Rhode Island and the South Coast of Massachusetts (more on this in a minute). The restaurant has a warm and inviting layout, with counter seating and a number of tables inside, and a private-feeling outdoor deck that also doubles as the entrance to a tiny gift shop. Since it was a beautiful day, we sat outside and soaked up the quiet atmosphere of the eatery and Little Compton in general (which may be the most picturesque town in all of Rhode Island). As mentioned earlier, once glance at the menu showed that all of the local specialties were here, including jonny cakes, quahogs, meat pies, and calamari, though much to my dismay, they had stopped serving jonny cakes because the lunch hour had begun. We started with a plate of the calamari, and it was tremendous, with tender rings and tentacles mixed with pieces of banana peppers and a zesty red dipping sauce om the side. Among the meals, the meat pie was every bit as good as the calamari, with it being literally a wedge of pie that was filled with a delightful mix of seasoned beef and pork. Another item we had was the chicken tenders plate that consisted of crispy strips of breaded chicken, and were nothing like the limp, bland tenders you get in your typical local pub. Our server was terrific from start to finish and the prices were very cheap, making our stop at Commons Lunch a fantastic overall experience.

photo of the Fastnet Pub, Newport, Rhode Island A separate trip to Rhode Island was taken around the beginning of this month, with this one being mostly in the Newport area. And our dining stop here was at an Irish spot just above Newport's main shopping area called the Fastnet Pub. I had been to this cozy bar previously a couple of times for drinks, but never for dinner until this time around, and it was quite impressive; the fish and chips (which they seem to be known for) were lightly battered and fall-apart tender, while the steak tips were marinated in an excellent teriyaki sauce and were also very tender and fairly lean. We also ordered a side of onion rings, and they were good, with a crispy batter and just enough grease to add some extra flavor. Beers included a Boddington and a Newport Storm, and while I have heard that the Fastnet does a nice Guinness pour, we didn't have a chance to try one as we were heading to the nearby Hotel Viking for mixed drinks immediately afterward. Our server inexplicably kept walking out of the pub to wander up the street then come back in, but she seemed to always be there when we needed something, and the prices were good (especially considering that we were in Newport, which can be a very pricey place for good and drink).

photo of Coco Pazzo, Providence, Rhode Island The final restaurant is a fairly new one in the College Hill section of Providence, but unlike the others, I had eaten here once before (when it first opened), and also unlike the others in RI, this was actually a stop on the way back from a Connecticut trip. Coco Pazzo is a chic-feeling Mediterranean restaurant and tapas bar connected to a British pub below it called the English Cellar Alehouse. The combination trendy tapas bar/casual pub space is a bit odd, but it somehow seems to work, and as was the case the last time I was at Coco Pazzo, both places were quite crowded. Even though it is considered a tapas spot, Coco Pazzo's signature dish seems to be pizza, with their white-hot wood-fired Mugnaini oven cooking the pies extremely quickly. And the pizzas are good here, though I felt like the pizza on our first visit was better, so much so that I felt it could be in the running for top 10 pizzas I've had over the past couple of years. The pizza was still impressive this time around, but there seemed to be a bit of a dropoff, especially with my bianca with basil, mascarpone, and shaved potatoes, which seemed watery of all things (perhaps from the potatoes). The prosciutto and mushroom pizza with mozzarella and pomodoro sauce seemed better, though still not up to the level of the pepperoni pizza from the previous visit. We did have an excellent small plate while we were there, with the basil-stuffed tomatoes having a wonderful mix of flavors (including a real zing from the gorgonzola). Service was fine from start to finish at Coco Pazzo, drinks were decent (the sangria was above average), and the prices were pretty decent considering the upscale feel of the place.

Out of the four restaurants I tried while on various trips around New England over the past few weeks, I would have to say that Barrington Brewery and Commons Lunch were the standouts, with the grass-fed burger at the former being the best specific dish at any of the places. Have you been to any of these four spots? Let us know via the comments section here, thanks!

Related Blog Entries: Rhode Island restaurants, road trips

Thursday, September 6, 2012
Ten Dishes for College Students in the Boston Area

photo of hot and sour ramen from Sapporo Ramen, Cambridge, MALast month we posted a couple of blog entries that focused on Boston-area restaurants that college students might want to check out. Now we have created a photo slideshow that focuses a bit more on specific food items from dining spots that students may want to try. All of the dishes shown here are inexpensive, with most of them being from places that have quick service and/or takeout. And most are within walking distance of various colleges and universities in and around Boston, with the concentration being on Boston, Cambridge, Brookline, and Somerville.

Go to the link below to check out which food items we have included in this latest slideshow. More of these slideshows will be coming, so keep checking back!

Slideshow for Ten Dishes for College Students

Related Blog Entries: slideshows