Category Archives: food

Two quick restaurant reviews: Yakitori Zai and OAK

A couple of places from this past week that I need to get off my blogging queue before getting on a plane to Israel for most of the rest of the month.

OAK Long Bar and Kitchen is the latest incarnation of The Oak Room at the Copley Fairmont hotel. I like the redesign of the space. It feels younger, hipper, more fun, but it’s still fundamentally a gorgeous big room with some nice old architectural touches. Overall, a good balance.

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LBK board and the (finished) scallop crudo appetizer.

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Clambake.

We had a clambake and the LBK board, a charcuterie and cheese board. Both were very good. The ambiance and atmosphere were very good. The noise level was a little high but no big deal. The only really strange thing was the service. Our waitress was older (60ish it appeared), hard of hearing, and gruff. My friend had been to the redone OAK once before, and she said she had a different server that time, but with the same qualities / characteristics. I wonder why that is.

All in all, a good time, and I can definitely see myself going back there.

Then at Yakitori Zai, in the South End, I also had a great time. We ordered a variety of yakitori (skewered meats and vegetables, grilled in a particular Japanese manner), some recommended by the server, and some that are yakitori staples to compare apples-to-apples.

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L->R: chicken thighs, chicken “oysters,” black cod.

The chicken thigh skewers with Japanese scallions were delicious, as were the black cod (unusual), and the grilled shishito peppers with bonito flakes. We  had some good sake to go along with the food, and it’s a nice small romantic place. It felt pretty authentic to me, and it was packed, most of the other diners appearing Asian, a good sign at an Asian restaurant.

Last week was busy but fun

Quick recap of last week, which ended up being slightly busier than planned, and as usual, made awesome with stellar company.

Went to the new Belly wine bar / gastropub in Kendall Square on Monday with a friend. We’re both foodies and she’s also industry, so we showed up early a day after they opened, chatted a bunch with the staff, and had a great time. I love their idea, want less Beaujolais on the menu, and wish they took reservations.

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Belly before the crowds.

The charcuterie and cheese options at Belly were very good.

After that I met another friend for dinner at Vejigantes, the Puerto Rican place in the South End. There too the food was delicious, and the Coronamea was a fun drink combining a margarita with a Corona. I didn’t drink too much, since I had a 5:30am wakeup the next morning to run the stairs at Harvard Stadium.

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A Corona – Margarita combination…

The November Project is one of my new favorite things in Boston. I actually joined before my trip, but it’s become a regular thing now for me, and the group has grown a lot too. It’s free, open to the public, friendly, welcoming, and has many fun folks. Three workouts a week at 6:30am, rain or shine, all weather, all seasons, and they’re each hard. I don’t do the Monday morning one, but Wednesdays at Harvard Stadium and Fridays at Summit Ave are a ton of fun.

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I started and finished before the main group, which you can see above.

Last Wednesday I set a new personal best for the “full tour,” i.e. once around the entire Harvard Stadium, which always feels great. It’s a brutal workout, maybe the hardest one I do all week. It has not been getting much easier. I wonder how many people will drop as the weather turns wintery.

On Thursday after some morning business, I joined a friend down in Newport, Rhode Island, for an afternoon of polo. I had never seen it in person, and it was interesting, entertaining, and fun. I forgot that each player has multiple horses, or ponies as they’re called, leading to a whole bunch of horses being around waiting for their turn to play.

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Gaucha, a friendly well-trained horse.

While I can’t ride well and can’t play polo well at all, this was still a fun experience, especially observing my friend play. Unfortunately I had to leave early-ish to drive back to Boston, missing the post-match BBQ.

I had dinner that night with another good friend and business colleague at Myers & Chang in the South End. I hadn’t been in a while but remembered how much I liked the braised pork belly buns. Having just been to Hong Kong (more on that in an upcoming #rtw2012 post), I wanted to compare — and these stacked up very well.

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The next morning, Friday, brought another 5:30am wakeup for the November Project. This time we ran up and down Summit Ave, one of the steepest streets / hills in the Boston area. Years ago I had a tough time walking up this hill, and for a long time I couldn’t run up it. On Friday I helped pace a bunch of people on it, which felt great. Progress is being made…

Brogan’s pic, not mine, from the hill on Friday morning.

That evening the big event was Paul Oakenfold at Royale, but we grabbed some tequila and dinner at Tico first. I love their crispy pork bellies — so good! And a nice selection of tequila as well.

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Oakenfold was excellent. He’s become a bit more mainstream, a bit more Guetta-ish in style over the years, but his technical skills and track selection, as well as crowd reading and reactions, remain top-notch. Without much advanced planning, I’ve now seen him, Paul van Dyk, Tiesto, Armin van Buurden, and John Digweed live this year, plus a handful of other notable DJs. It’s been a great year in that regard.

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After Royale closed out, we stopped by Rise, the private after-hours club, for a bit of harder trance. That was fun, as always. (And as usual, I didn’t take pictures inside of rise.)

The next day, a Saturday, I went for a short run that turned into a 10K, and then a 5K row in the Charles river, taking advantage of the beautiful weather. Unfortunately I only did this on 2.5 hours of sleep, so it was more of a challenge than usual, but perhaps a good simulation for Ironman conditions.

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Another gorgeous September day on the Esplanade.

After that I met a couple of my best friends for lunch at Xinh Xinh, the lovely authentic little Vietnamese place in Chinatown. I had some excellent pho-type noodles, #33 on their menu, a seafood special stew noodle thing.

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From there I met up with another crew for the Michigan football game, at Sweet Caroline’s near Fenway Park. I didn’t realize this was the “home bar” of all Boston-area (or even wider…) Michigan alumni and fans. It’s official, with banners and people dressed up and everything. I caught a good video of some cheering after a touchdown, and enjoyed the game atmosphere, even though I have no particular connection to Michigan.

After the game we went down Boylston Street to Sweet Cheeks, as I was craving BBQ. Like any good Jew, I got pork ribs, pork bellies, and pulled pork. We also shared some awesome biscuits. One member of our party, the guy who had the best role in this week’s HubSpot “Gangnam Style” video, is from the southern US, and he testified as to the quality of the food at Sweet Cheeks.

Saturday night needs to stay off this blog, I think 😉 At least for now.

But then Sunday was also great, as I went with a friend to the Patriots home opening game. We had solid seats down near the field, and it was a beautiful day. Unfortunately the Pats lost in an upset 😦 They deserved to lose, and I hope they learn some lessons, improve fast, and win the rest of their games. This week at Baltimore will be tough.

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Whew, it was a busy week. I did get about 45 hours of work in, too, including a bunch of open-source contributions. Sunday night I slept for about 11 hours straight 🙂

A couple of quick restaurant reviews: Oishii, Strip T’s

Although I’m mostly writing about my round-the-world trip (see #rtw2012 posts) right now, I don’t want to develop a big backlog of other activity-related items. Hence a couple of quick reviews.

Salmon on fire at Oishii

Oishii Boston was the first sushi restaurant I went to once I landed back in the US. It was delicious and beautifully-presented, as always.

The “salmon on fire” is worth getting, if only for the presentation. The maki were good, and I didn’t go omakase this time (since I was sharing the food with a friend who said she wasn’t that hungry…).

The sake selection has room for improvement, but overall, I really enjoyed this place. It comes the closest to Tokyo out of all the places in Boston, easily.

Nice desserts at Oishii.

Earlier this week I went to Strip T’s, a small restaurant in Watertown, out of the main culinary areas of Boston. The place had been getting much press and traction thanks to a new chef, who used to be a chef at one of my all-time favorite restaurants, Momofuku Ko in New York City.

Japanese eggplant banh mi

I had been there before, but didn’t review it apparently. I don’t know why. I had the same appetizer as last time, the Japanese eggplant banh mi, because it’s so good.

This time I also tried their buttermilk fried chicken, although I hardly ever order fried food, based upon a friend’s a recommendation. It was good. My friend has the smoked rainbow trout entree, and I think that was better.

Smoked rainbow trout — delicious.

The service was great, as before. They make you feel like family, in a good non-pushy way. The place is very very loud, which I don’t mind, though some might.

A few more quick hits: West Bridge, Sweet Cheeks, Caseable, Juniper Ridge, Tupelo…

In another round of clearing away my blogging backlog, here’s a handful of quick recent hits.

West Bridge opened earlier this week, and I was there for dinner last night with a friend.  We had a great time, and I think the place will do well.  The food was delicious, including their signature “egg in a jar” and the desserts we’ve tried.  Service is still getting going, but the wine list has good options by the glass, the ambiance is nice, I bet their outdoor seating will be fun, and the manager was kind enough to take us into the kitchen for a tour and a chat.

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“Egg in a jar” at West Bridge

Sweet Cheeks has been open for a little while, but every time I tried to go it was packed.  I finally had a chance to stop by last weekend, and it was delicious.  Their pork belly and pork ribs were both really good, and the ambiance is fun.  I think the “mason jars for all drinks” trend is overdone, particularly for beers, but other than that, it’s a fun place.

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Pork belly, mac and cheese, etc at Sweet Cheeks

Tupelo is not new either, but I just went there again with some friends this past weekend, and realized I hadn’t written it up.  It’s a nice, authentic place on Cambridge Street.  Although it’s a “southern comfort food” place I actually had mussels frites last time, and they were delicious.  A huge portion, as you can see below.  Also, if they have the pork belly “corn dogs” special, get it, because it’s amazing.  Service was just OK, the decor is underwhelming, and the drink options are a little disappointing, though.

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Mussels frites with tabasco aioli at Tupelo

The reason I went to Sweet Cheeks (above) was that I was in the area for appetizers at another new place, Michael Schlow‘s “Happy’s Bar and Diner,” also in the Fenway neighborhood where I used to live.  This place was just OK, not amazing, but then again they’re still figuring their act out, and diners are not my typical favorite kind of restaurant.  The tacos were kind of bland, but the spicy meatballs were good.

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Tacos, meatballs, charcuterie at Happy’s

Onto another note, two fun recent products.

I got a new custom laptop sleeve for my MacBook Air from Caseable, and it’s great.  It fits like a globe, the graphics look good, it was built quickly, shipped quickly, and I’m very happy with it.  For only about $20 than a boring standard case from the Apple Store, you get something unique.  I also put my contact information in huge font as the “image” on the back side, obviating the need to stick business cards in there.

And last but not least, a friend got me a couple of gift sachets from Juniper Ridge, and they smell amazing.  Really nice.

Whew, it feels good to be making progress through my backlog!

7 (!) quick restaurant reviews: Woodward, Trade, Lone Star Taco Bar, Marc Forgione, Minca, Chacareros, Rosa Mexicano…

You know I’m really far behind in my blogging backlog when I need to cram multiple restaurant reviews, normally one of my favorite blogging topics, into one quick post.  And yet, the past month or so has been insane, with almost no time to write, so here we go.

Woodward at Ames: happening little place in a downtown hotel.  The entrance could be better, as you think you’re just entering a small hotel lobby.  I was there on a Friday night, and it was packed, with a good vibe.  Good-looking crowd, decent-looking menu.  Nothing too crazy, all fairly crowd-pleasing items, and reasonably (not amazingly) executed.  Service was decent, the wine selection just OK, so overall this was fun, but no rush to go back.

Trade: new restaurant from Jody Adams (of Rialto fame) near South Station.  It, too, was busy while I was there, but not packed.  The location seems like it would be tough beyond the after-work crowd, i.e. into late hours, and on weekends.  The menu had a variety of items, including some good-looking flatbreads.  Service was decent, and most of the food was good, not great.  Chef Adams was there while we were there, which was cool, and I would hope to see that in a new place: the owning chef should be there to help improve service, get feedback directly, and improve things rapidly.  No particular dish sticks out as amazing, but I’d like to check it out in a couple of months.

Lone Star Taco Bar: love, love, loved this placed.  I actually went there twice on consecutive days, May 4th and 5th (Cinco de Mayo), with different people.  On May 4th, we were there for dinner before a live music show, had a bunch of tacos and some tequila (and mezcal), had a blast, and it was packed.  On May 5th, I was there with friends from a 5K outdoor obstacle race, in the middle of the day, it wasn’t quite as busy, and the food was again delicious.  In both cases, the spicy beef and fish tacos stood out, among the best tacos we’ve ever had, as did the El Diablo margarita.  (And my dinner companion that night is as much a connoisseur of these two categories as I am.)  I’ll be going back here multiple times in the future.

Marc Forgione is a restaurant in NYC with 1 Michelin star, named after the co-owner and chef, also known as “the Forge” after his Iron Chef (America) victory a couple of years ago.  It’s a romantic restaurant whose food and service were both excellent — as expected from a place of this caliber / rating.  The wine selection was very good, as was the presentation.  My friend and I agreed that although we enjoyed this place a lot, it did nothing badly, but with so many restaurants in the City, it’s not clear whether we’ll be going back.

Bonus: after Marc Forgione, we went to Ward III for drinks, and they were pretty amazing.  However, we already had a bunch of wine with dinner, so I think my judgment was probably a little impaired, and there’s no point writing a lot about this place.

Image from Fermented Adventures: thanks!

Minca is a small but amazing ramen restaurant in New York City, where I spend some of the past few days.  I’ve been trying more ramen recently ahead of an upcoming trip to Asia (more on that shortly), in order to establish a baseline for comparison to ramen in Japan.  Minca was exceptional.  I had the spicy pork ramen and it was the best I’ve ever had, so far 😉

Chacarero is a tiny lunch place in downtown Boston, specializing in its namesake, Chilean sandwiches.  They’re really good 🙂  Get the BBQ beef or chicken with extra hot sauce, and you’ll thank me.

Rosa Mexicano is (yet another) new upscale Mexican restaurant on Boston’s waterfront.  I went there last night, roughly 36 hours after they opened to the public.  It was packed, which was a surprise, and service was just OK, which was expected.  I’m sure they’ll improve that in the near future.  What disappointed me a little bit was the food quality, as well as one of the drinks.  But the El Mezcalito drink was excellent, and the concept of a matching taco and tequila flight (3 of each, paired) is really nice.  Overall, not a bad place, but not near the top of my list.  See above for a better taco and tequila place…

Whew…

A couple of quick restaurant reviews: Xinh Xinh and Moksa

Xinh Xinh: sketchy-looking place but best pho in Boston.  Hat tip to my friend Sam, an Asian food fan,  for sharing.  Also some really interesting juices you can only get in Chinatown.

Moksa: fun, creative new place in Central Square, serving Asian-style tapas.  Really fun menu, lots of good options, and good, interesting cocktails.  It’s a new place so both food and service execution leave something to be desired, but I think it will be ironed out in a matter of weeks.  Really nice outdoor dining option in Central Square, too.

These photos are from the Yelp links above, uploaded by various Yelpers, not mine.

Barrio, a vegan Afro-Cuban popup dinner

A couple of weeks ago I went to a fun popup dinner (small group dinners typically put on by pro or semi-pro chefs in places not typically used for this purpose, i.e. not a restaurant).

It was put on by Wheeler del Toro, a chef and very cool guy I got to meet that evening.  The theme was  vegan Afro-Cuban street food, which may sound strange, as well as challenging for the chefs, but was absolutely delicious.

You can click on these pics to see bigger versions.

Because demand for these dinners exceeds supply by a wide margin, they’re a little underground, in that they don’t advertise much (if any), and often have questionnaires or other things you need to do to earn an invitation.  And they often let people know the location at or near the last minute.  I think it all adds up to a fun sense of adventure.

My friend D and I got the location, and got there on time, to find a converted ice cream shop, all lit up with candles, and set up to serve a small dinner.  We grabbed seats and met a few of the other guests (there weren’t many).

One of the other fun factors about such dinners is that they attract industry folks, people who work in the restaurant business.  We met several other chefs and managers from area restaurants, places we know and love (e.g. Neptune Oyster, B&G Oysters), so that was a treat.

Guests are often welcome to help with prep work, which we did not, but we kept the chefs company and chatted about various foodie experiences.

All in all, it was a blast.  I do these every now and then, but I don’t always have time to write about them. Unfortunately I don’t see more writing time becoming available…

You gotta eat 🙂  Might as well have a ton of fun with it.

Restaurant review: Coppa (again)

I love this little place in the South End, Coppa, but I hadn’t been there in a couple of years (first review).  It’s tiny, usually impossible to get a seat, and parking is a challenge as well.  But it’s so worth it 😉

I went with a friend last week, on a week night, without a reservation, just because we were in the area.  We were lucky and got the last two available seats at the bar.

We ordered a variety of small plates, and everything was great.  The tuna crudo (pictured above) and the vegetables (!) stuck out in my mind as exceptional.  Specifically, the Cavolfiore (Marinated cauliflower with shallots, thyme, Ricotta Salata and sea salt) and wood-roasted Brussels sprouts with horseradish and pecorino were amazing.

This is probably the first time on this blog that I single out vegetables in a particular menu, but these were worth it.

The drinks, atmosphere, service, and prices are all very good.  Highly recommended.

Restaurant review: the Gallows

Last night I had dinner at the Gallows, in Boston’s South End neighborhood (map).  It’s a fun, small, local place, with excellent drinks.

The food was good too.  We had some of the poutine, their specialty, as well as roasted beets, shrimp, and fried oysters with runny egg on brioche, which was delicious.

But the drinks were really good.  My favorite, continuing a recent theme for me, was a cocktail based on Scotch Bonnet-infused vodka, which had a really nice kick, but stayed well-balanced.

Service was good, the ambiance nice, and there’s plenty of free parking on the street, at least around dinner time.

All in all, a fun local place.