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Boston Restaurant Blog -- October, 2008

Below are blog entries from October, 2008. 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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Monday, October 27, 2008
Impressive Meal at Orinoco, Brookline

Earlier this month, I went over to the second location of Orinoco in Brookline Village to see how it would compare to the original spot in the South End of Boston. When I first tried the original Orinoco, I was greatly impressed by the place, as its Venezuelan cuisine was absolutely top notch, and the slightly cramped but rather cozy interior on a tree-lined corner of the South End was something that I still remember. The only thing I didn't like about the original Orinoco was the difficult to nearly impossible parking situation, which was partly what made me so excited to hear about the newer location in Brookline. And the verdict? A big thumbs up for the Brookline spot, as the food was outstanding, the atmosphere was attractive (though the room was a bit noisy), and the service was excellent.

photo of Orinoco, Brookline, MA When we first arrived in Brookline Village to try Orinoco, I wasn't sure we were actually on the right part of Harvard Street, as I didn't even see the restaurant. It turns out the sign is virtually invisible and the restaurant almost looked like an extension of Pomodoro, which is next door. But we indeed figured it all out, and waited a minute or two for a table (the place was packed, even early on a Wednesday night) before sitting near one of the front windows.

We started with an appetizer of empanadas (three types--black bean, shredded beef, and whitefish). The black bean empanada was just ok, but the shredded beef empanada was truly amazing, with a rich, sweet taste to the shredded beef that reminded me of some of my best meals in San Diego over the past several years. The whitefish empanada was nearly as good as the shredded beef, as it had a mild taste that didn't overwhelm the other ingredients. We soon moved on to our entrees, which included a dish called cordero (New Zealand lamb chops encrusted with pistachio, brown sugar, and plantains, with a watercress salad on the side) and an entree called pabellon criollo (shredded beef with black beans, rice, and plantains on the side). Both dishes were memorable, with the lamb being meaty and delicious with little fat or gristle, and the beef having that same sweet taste that the empanada had. The watercress salad, rice, and beans were all tasty, but the plantains were too oily and greasy for my liking. We washed our meals down with some refreshing passion fruit juice and lemon juice and ended the evening with a sinfully rich molten chocolate cake that was made with 100% Venezuelan dark chocolate.

Aside from the noise level and the greasy plantains, our experience at Orinoco in Brookline was nearly a perfect one; the waiter was terrific, the food was fantastic, the prices were pretty good, and the parking across the street was free. I do, however, have reservations about adding a featured review for the Brookline Orinoco onto our site. The reason? It seems to have been discovered already; indeed, based on the unbelievable crowds we witnessed on a recent weeknight, Orinoco seems to be anything but a hidden gem. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't go; on the contrary, this may have been one of my top 5 dining experiences in 2008, and I would certainly go back in a heartbeat.

If you would like the address for Orinoco in Brookline, here it is: Orinoco, 22 Harvard Street, Boston, MA, 02445. Phone: (617) 232-9505.

Related Blog Entries: Brookline restaurants

Tuesday, October 21, 2008
Martini's Restaurant: A Roadhouse in Weymouth

I love a good roadhouse. It seems that whenever I travel to another part of the country, I'm able to find a loud, boisterous place filled with locals that is completely unpretentious and has decent food and drink. But the Boston area has few of these often tacky and cheesy roadside joints, and it seems that the number is getting less and less each year. That is why I was happy to get to Martini's Restaurant in Weymouth a couple of weeks ago. It is about as close I've seen to a true wild and wooly place in the Boston area, and while the food was a mix of good and not-so-good, it was certainly a memorable experience.

photo of Martini's Restaurant, Weymouth, MA Martini's is located in a nondescript blink-and-you'll-miss-it type building on a similarly homely section of Route 53 that is overloaded with commercial and industrial buildings. We actually drove right by it and had to turn around, pulling into the lot and grabbing the last space among a throng of pickup trucks and SUVs. Upon entering the restaurant, we were greeted by a large number of people at the huge bar to the left singing mostly out of tune to a song by Journey. The first thing I noticed (after the song) was how huge the bar area was compared to the rest of the place, and indeed, the little semi-partitioned dining area in the right rear corner almost seemed like an afterthought. In front of the dining section was an empty area that looked like it might be used for dancing and/or bands, but when we were there, it was just a big, empty spot.

We were brought over to one of the few booths in the back dining area and started out with an interesting appetizer called garlic parmesan chicken tenders. Basically it was a plate of chicken tenders smothered in a white wine garlic cheese sauce, and it was actually quite good in a sinful, rather unhealthy kind of way. While waiting for our entrees, one of the servers brought us a big salad bowl to split between us, and it was pretty decent overall, with a basic but tasty salad dressing. The meals soon came out, and with mixed results. The chicken pesto panini had a terrific mix of flavors, with grilled chicken, pesto, sweet vinegar peppers, and mozzarella cheese slapped between two delicious pieces of toasted bread. Unfortunately, the bar pizza was not nearly as good as the panini sandwich, as it had a bland, bloated crust and a moderately tasty sauce that nonetheless could have been seasoned a little better. I had my hopes up for the pizza, as the menu had specifically called it a "bar pizza" (and I do love my bar pizza), but in the end, it was just a basic, ordinary pie.

Pizza aside, I did like Martini's Restaurant, as the atmosphere was unique (to Boston, anyways), the servers were gruff but friendly, the beers were cold, the music was sufficiently cheesy, and most of the food was pretty good. When I have a chance, I'd like to get back here to try another one of their sandwiches or perhaps their steak tips or scrod. Hopefully the food will be closer in quality to the panini than the pizza; if so, you may be seeing me there singing out of tune to Journey songs at least a few times in the not-so-distant future.

If you are looking for the address for Martini's, here it is: Martini's Restaurant, 450 Washington Street, Boston, MA, 02188. Phone: (781) 337-5800.

Related Blog Entries: bar pizza, Italian restaurants, Weymouth restaurants

Wednesday, October 15, 2008
First Time at Taiwan Cafe, Boston (Chinatown)

A few weeks ago, I needed to be at South Station by 6:00 in the evening, so I had little time to grab a bite to eat, especially since I had to park relatively far from South Station. Dining at one of the food stands in the train station was out (I have had several poor meals there), so I decided to make the 7-minute walk to Chinatown. And after toying with the idea of grabbing takeout at King Fung Garden, I decided to try a place that I had never been to before, namely the Taiwan Cafe.

photo of Taiwan Cafe, Boston, MA Hidden away from the hustle and bustle of Chinatown on Oxford Street (yet only feet from the main drag), the Taiwan Cafe seemed like a bit of an oasis in the often-crowded Chinatown neighborhood. Walking up the stairs to the restaurant, I noticed even before walking inside the place that it had a more peaceful, calm environment than your typical Chinatown restaurant. Since I was ordering takeout, I didn't have a chance to soak up the atmosphere of the restaurant, but it seemed quiet and peaceful, and the dishes I saw people ordering looked very good.

After debating whether to get a full dinner or a couple of appetizers, I decided on the apps, especially since I was running out of time. I ordered the steamed vegetable raviolis and the scallion pancakes, took a short walk while waiting for the order, then went back, grabbed my food, and raced back to South Station to find a table in the train station. As it turns out, the results were mixed. The veggie raviolis were outstanding, with finely chopped fresh vegetables wrapped in fresh dough, and an excellent ginger-soy dipping sauce on the side that added lots of flavor. The scallion pancakes, however, were dripping with grease and had a harsh and stale taste to them. It took awhile to get the taste of the scallion pancakes out of my mouth, but the exquisite raviolis more than made up for it.

My first trip to the Taiwan Cafe wasn't really a good indicator of the quality of the Taiwanese food here (appetizers rarely are). I do plan to return to the place over the next few months to try one or two of the main entrees on their menu. When I do, I'll post another entry on the site.

If you would like the address for Taiwan Cafe, here it is: Taiwan Cafe, 34 Oxford Street, Boston, MA, 02111. Phone: (617) 426-8181.

Related Blog Entries: Boston restaurants, Chinatown restaurants

Thursday, October 9, 2008
White Mountains Trip, Fall 2008

We headed up to New Hampshire a couple of weekends ago, although the trip almost didn't happen due to the horrendous weather. But I'm glad we got to go because the weather wasn't as bad up in the White Mountains, and we got to try several restaurants, most of which were good spots.

photo of Wild Willy's Burgers, Rochester, NH Our destination was Jackson, so we drove up Route 16 on Friday morning, stopping in Rochester, NH, for lunch. Our lunch stop was Wild Willy's Burgers a place I have been trying to get to for some time now, though granted the one I was hoping to try is in nearby Watertown, MA. The Wild Willy's in Rochester had a real frontier feel to it, with wooden floors, tables, and chairs, an old rifle on the wall, and other Western touches that make me feel like we were somewhere in Colorado or New Mexico. We tried a couple of different burgers--the roundup, which had mushrooms and Swiss cheese, and the Rio Grande, which had roasted New Mexican green chiles and cheddar cheese. Both of these burgers were charbroiled to perfection, with most of the juices retained in the burgers. The handcut fries were also good, though they had very little seasoning on them, making them just a bit on the bland side. I also had my first Sioux City Sarsaparilla, and it was outstanding. If I had to rate the burgers at Wild Willy's, I would probably put them in my top 20 for New England, which is saying a lot because I've had many, many burgers throughout the region.

photo of the Dana Place Inn, Jackson, NH After lunch, we continued north on Route 16 until we reached Jackson, then wandered around the area for a few hours before settling down for dinner at the Dana Place Inn. This comfortable old lodging and dining spot is nestled between Jackson and Pinkham Notch, and has a sedate, old-money feel to it. The dining room was quiet and comfortable, and had large windows looking out at the fields and woods outside of the inn. We started with a fresh, tasty salad and a thick, hearty potato leek soup, then received our entrees. The 8-ounce filet mignon was tasty and came with a delicious bearnaise sauce, while the special--chicken with pasta--was also very nice. But perhaps the best item of the night was the molten chocolate cake, a sinful, decadent dessert that was so rich that I could barely eat the following day. I did have room for a scotch and soda, however, so we went to the Wildcat Tavern in the center of Jackson for a drink while listening to some live jazz and blues over the Red Sox game.

photo of moose near the Pontook Reservoir, Dummer, NH Saturday turned out to be a surprisingly nice day (it was supposed to downpour all day), so we took advantage of it by hiking around Pinkham Notch--including the spectacular Glen Ellis Falls--before heading north on Route 16 to the equally spectacular Thirteen Mile Woods. Just as we entered the area, we saw a moose on the side of the road, so we (and many other people) stopped to take some pictures of it by the side of the reservoir before heading west. We stopped in Whitefield for lunch at Grandma's Kitchen, one of my favorite places in New Hampshire. And this little family diner impressed once again, as their griddled burger, tuna club, and handcut fries (better than Wild Willy's by the way), were all satisfying, and very reasonably priced. There are fewer and fewer roadside food joints like Grandma's Kitchen in New England, making it a special, unique spot in my mind.

photo of the Black Bear Pub at the Bernerhof Inn, Glen, NH We spent the afternoon winding our way through Crawford Notch, eventually ending up back in Jackson, where we spent a couple of hours before driving over to Glen for dinner at the Black Bear Pub. This homey little put is located within the elegant, classy Bernerhof Inn, and the food at the pub reflected the Swiss and German roots of the inn. We started with a delicious salad that included an outstanding balsamic vinaigrette dressing, then dug into a couple of classic north-central European dishes. The wiener schnitzel (thinly sliced breaded veal with spaetzle and spiced red cabbage) and jaeger schnitzel (similar, but with a burgundy wine, shitake mushroom, and onion sauce) were among the best dishes we had on the trip, and both dishes were completely gone in no time. We had a little room for dessert, so we ordered a warm gingerbread with ice cream, which wasn't bad, though the gingerbread was a little dry. My desire for scotch must have spilled over from the night before, as we ended up at the piano bar within the Wentworth and had three shots of scotch: Highlands (good), Lowlands (excellent), and Islay (undrinkable--in my opinion anyways!).

photo of the Country Spirit Restaurant, Henniker, NH Sunday turned out to be a rainy, raw day, so we drove along the Kancamagus Highway (making only a couple of stops) before taking Route 93 south all the way to Concord by late morning, since there was no real reason to take country roads with the rain coming down as hard as it was. We got off the highway in Concord and headed west for awhile, ending up in Henniker for lunch. I had read a little about a place in Henniker called the Country Spirit Restaurant earlier this summer, and it sounded like a cozy rustic place, so we decided to try it. Honestly, I was a bit disappointed because it didn't have the rustic feeling I thought it would, and in fact the place seemed like it was confused as to whether it should be a rural country diner or an upscale restaurant. Service was friendly, though the restaurant was out of several items so she had to repeatedly apologize to us. As for prices, they seemed a bit high for such a small town in the middle of the country, again, making me wonder if they were trying to make this an upscale dining destination. Nevertheless, it was pretty comfortable inside, and our food wasn't all that bad (the pasta and meatballs had a rich, zesty tomato sauce and the chicken francaise also had a very nice sauce).

The Country Spirit Restaurant more or less marked the end of our trip, and we were back in Boston within a couple of hours. It was another fun trip to New Hampshire, and hopefully the first of a few trips up north over the coming weeks and months.

Related Blog Entries: New Hampshire restaurants

Sunday, October 5, 2008
A Cooking Demonstration from Helene's Custom Cuisine

A couple of weeks ago, I had the pleasure of meeting Helene Spoto, the owner of a personal and business culinary service called Helene's Custom Cuisine. I was able to attend one of her on-site "healthy cooking" demonstrations at a company north of Boston, where she showed folks how to make zucchini soup as well as pasta chicken and artichokes. Both items were absolutely delicious and relatively easy to make. And it is this last point that she seemed to stress, showing that healthy meals made from scratch do not necessarily need to a difficult and frustrating chore. Indeed, in talking to Helene after the demonstration, she reiterated the fact that cooking food should be fun, and that it really doesn't take much to create excellent dishes.

Helene was a joy to talk with, as she discussed some of her personal favorite dishes that she makes, and mentioned her interest in various chefs and celebrities on the Food Network, particularly Alton Brown (who is perhaps my favorite of the bunch). And like Alton Brown, Helene understands the importance of combining the art and science of food creation with the "fun" factor to help make cooking a memorable experience.

I will probably be attending another one of Helene Spoto's cooking demonstrations in a few weeks and honestly, I can't wait. She is a personal chef who really seems to knows what she is doing, and unlike some people in the culinary business, she understands the importance of adding humor and personality to cooking in order to make for a thoroughly enjoyable experience.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008
Good Sandwiches, Subs, Pizza at Georgianna's, Braintree

As we continue to look into creating a new section on good sub shops and takeout restaurants in the Boston area, I have been trying out a few such places over the past few weeks. Some have been better than others, of course, with one of the best being a sub shop and pizza place in Braintree that I have now tried a few times. And while it is basically just a takeout joint, Georgianna's in Braintree is fast becoming one of my favorite places to go to when I need a quick bite to eat.

photo of Georgianna's, Braintree, MA Most sub shops don't look like much, and in the case of Georgianna's, this is certainly the case. Situated at the end of a well-worn parking lot in a semi-industrial part of Braintree near the Randolph line, Georgianna's ain't pretty, but no one goes here for the atmosphere. Within this rather homely brick structure is a friendly, reasonably-priced takeout spot that has good Italian-style pizza, tasty wraps, and excellent subs and sandwiches. The latter includes a hearty turkey sandwich with cranberries, stuffing, and mayo, and a delicious sandwich called the International Harvester, which has corned beef, roast beef, turkey, and Swiss cheese. One item that isn't on the menu but is worth requesting is their steak and cheese wrap, which is very fine. Georgianna's also has good soups and salads, including Italian wedding soup, clam chowder, and chicken salads with all white meat.

It is easy to lump all of the sub shops and sandwich joints in the Boston area together since it is (incorrectly) assumed that the quality of these places is mostly the same. Georgianna's certainly disproves this theory, in my opinion, and is worth trying if you happen to be looking for a place to get a quick bite to eat while south of Boston.

If you would like the address for Georgianna's, here it is: Georgianna's, 611 Pond Street, Braintree, MA, 02184. Phone: (781) 849-4700.

Related Blog Entries: Braintree restaurants, take out restaurants