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Ruth’s Chris Steak House

This Friday night we ventured to Ruth’s Chris Steak House in Waltham, located just off the route 128 exit at Totten Pond Road.  We missed the entrance at first, partly due to construction and partly do to the understated signage.

When you venture to an iconic steak house like Ruth’s Chris, knowing the prices you are going to pay, you expect top-notch service and dining. The complimentary valet was ready and waiting to assist us, with both doors being opened for us simultaneously.  The attendant took Jerry’s cell phone number and sent a text with a link.  We were instructed to hit the link 5 minutes before we were ready to leave and our car would be waiting.  Nice use of technology.

As we entered, there was an attendant to open the first door – no one for the second door, nor was there a coat check.  Now I am not adverse to opening my own door but as I stated earlier, you expect top-notch service when paying top-notch prices.

Our table was waiting and we were seated promptly.  We were shown the table but again no one pulled out the chair.  I’m not trying to sound like a princess, again the prices dictate the type of service we should expect.

The dining room itself was quite lovely with recessed lighting behind wall panels as well as chandeliers with beaded trim that offered soft lighting.  The seating was comfortable.  The dining room was large but you never felt like you were sitting on top of each other nor was it overly loud.

We both opted for the prefix dinner.  For $59 it included an app, main, side and dessert.  This is actually a bargain for Ruth’s.  The petite rib eye, which was my choice for a main from the prefix, was $49 on the regular menu and that is for just the steak.  Everything is a la carte.

Side note, I thought it interesting that the Ruth’s Chris web site has the full menu – minus the prefix – including the full wine menu, but not a price was listed for anything.  Perhaps they don’t want to scare people away.

Jerry and I each started with a salad. I opted for the Caesar while he went with the steak house salad.  We both enjoyed these. They were light and fresh and not overly dressed.

As I stated earlier, for my protein, I opted for the petite rib eye.  The waitress described this as their tastiest cut of meat. She wasn’t kidding, these flavors are ones you want to savor in your mouth.  It was served, of course, sizzling on their signature 500 degree plate.    Jerry opted for the ahi tuna.  His option too was well seasoned with a “spirited sauce with hints of ginger, mustard and beer”.  It was served rare and the portion was generous.  It too was served sizzling on a hot plate.

Our sides of garlic mashed potatoes and broccolini were served in hot serving dishes but the both sides were just warm and there was nothing special about them.  The brussel sprouts, on the other hand, were yummy!  They are roasted with honey butter and tossed with crispy bits of bacon.

Ruth’s has several handcrafted cocktails that looked tempting but we opted for a bottle from is extensive wine list.  They listed their wines from least to most expensive making it easy to find a wine in your price range.  I found it interesting that they did not have a sommelier and the waitress didn’t seem too interested in what wine we might choose. (I did notice another waiter explaining several different wines to another party.)

The prefix came with an apple cheesecake with a crumble topping and served with vanilla ice cream.  It was really an original kind of dessert with chunks of apple mixed in the cheese cake and “the crumble” was really like crispy pieces of short bread.  It is not something I might have ordered for myself but I really enjoyed it.  O.k, I’ll admit it, I had to restrain myself from licking the plate!

I had to catch the waitress to order to ask for a cappuccino, she forgot that sometimes people like hot drinks with their dessert.  It took quite a long time to get that drink.  We had to take another look in Jerry’s espresso cup to be sure there was really anything in there;  perhaps the machine ran a bit short.

It took even longer to get someone to take the credit card to pay the bill.  Once the bill was paid, Jerry hit that link sent to us earlier.  As we walked out our car was brought out and parked facing out so all we had to do is drive away.

Tonight’s date night was a nice experience since Ruth’s Chris Steak House is iconic but there are other restaurants that I have enjoyed more and have cost half what we paid here tonight.  Ruth’s Chris earned three and a half cheers.

cheerscheerscheershalf-a-cheer

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Catalyst Restaurant

Catalyst Restaurant (not to be confused with Catalyst Cafe) is in the heart of Technology Square, near the MIT campus.  Located in Davis Square, Cambridge, it is surrounded by a concrete jungle of technology buildings where you know wicked smaht people work.  In fact, at least 85% of the people there tonight were under 30 and carried a backpack.

As you entered, you immediately noticed the bar.  The entire wall behind the bar was of reclaimed barn board plus shelves lined with bottles of liquor backed up with smokey mirrors. To the left of the welcome desk you’ll find  a see-through 6 foot long fire-place  surrounded by cozy seating, making it a great place to hang with friends. The bar was huge with addition tables for groups to gather.  You could tell this was a place for lunch and after dinner drinks for the thinkers in the neighborhood.

There were two dining areas.  Each had its share of reclaimed wood found on the table tops and overhead as they sot to lower the 30′ ceilings to make it a bit more cozy and absorb the sound.  Lighting was very modern blown glass orbs made to look like molecules.  Perfect for this science savvy crowd.

We sat in the atria dining room with floor to ceiling windows.  This area sat about 35 and the other chef’s dining room over looked the semi-open kitchen with about the same number of seats. The dining areas were not overly crowded unlike the bar that was crowded when we arrived but emptied out by the time we left.

To start, Jerry ordered a Manhattan that was well made.  I ordered the “can’t decide” which left the decisions up to the bar tender.  Jerry’s drink was well made and served in the latest and greatest martini glass which is actually rounded so servers have a little easier time getting it to the table without spilling it.  My drink was something made with mescal. It had a real smokey flavor to it.  While it was o.k., it wasn’t something I would order again.

For an appetizer we opted for the Stracciatella (di bufala) from Wolf Meadow Farm in Amesbury.  This is a mozzarella cheese before it is formed into a ball.  It was served with warm Focaccia Croutons, peperonata which is basically a red pepper relish, and extra virgin olive oil. What a great way to start the night.  Holy cow this was good!  The focaccia crouton wasn’t your run of the mill crouton.  The “crouton” was large like a normal piece of bread but it was toasted with olive oil so that the outsides were crispy but the inside was still soft.  It is one of those dishes that is meant to eaten together.  The Stracciatella alone was rather boring but atop the focaccia with a dollop of peperonata ~ oo la la!

A basket of bread with butter was brought to the table.  The bread was good but the butter was mixed with olive oil and was missing salt.  It was really bland and not worth the calories!

For dinner I opted for the salmon.  The sides offered with the salmon were not my favorite but the sides served with the chicken were my favs so I asked if I could trade.  This was no problem  so I was able to have the pan seared salmon served with herb spaetzle, creamed kale, and crispy sunchoke.  The serving size of the salmon, I thought, was rather skimpy, a 3″ square but it was cooked perfectly.  the kale on the other hand was rather salty.  It was lightly seasoned with nutmeg and cream.  If they had layed off the salt it would have been really tasty.  Spaetzle is one of my favorite sides and this dish didn’t disappoint.

Jerry went for the pan roasted blue cod (who knew cod came in colors!).  It was served with bacon  – really smoky bacon – oil crushed potatoes, mussels and local clams in a chowder herb nage (nage is the term used for a flavored liquid used for poaching delicate foods like seafood). It is obvious this place knows how to cook fish.  His was crispy on the outside, moist and tender on the inside.  The nage – which is much like a chowder made the dish and had that wonderful smokey flavor from the bacon.

A bottle of wine was enjoyed with dinner.  The selection was plenty and I was pleased to spy a wine closet where the wine was properly chilled.

For dessert we shared a chocolate bread pudding served with a bourbon ice-cream.  I really wanted to hate this dessert so I could avoid yet more bread but sadly, I did not.  This bread pudding was one of the breast I ever had.  It had a lightness to it, and the chocolate was not overdone – yes it is possible to overdo chocolate.  It had a firmness not associated with pudding and very little of a pudding texture.  The ice cream has just a hint of bourbon flavor and was a delicious creamy compliment to the pudding.

The espresso and cappuccino were well prepared. The service was good, not over bearing.  It was nice to see everyone working as a team.

There was no valet, but there was a parking garage a short walk away.  Parking will cost you $24(!) which I thought was excessive especially since it was a nearly empty garage.  (during the day, I would get the cost as I am sure every spot is taken but really? $12 per hour?)

It was an enjoyable evening.  I would rate Catalyst 3 1/2 out of 5 cheers.

cheerscheerscheershalf-a-cheer

 

Alto Forno

Sometimes you walk into a restaurant and before you even taste a single thing on the menu you know you like the place.  That is how I felt after just a few minutes at Alto Forno.  Located across the street from the North Shore Mall in Peabody – next to Long’s Jewelers – Alto has been opened just under a year.  Touting itself as an urban bar and lounge, that description is accurate.  You almost felt like you were in a restaurant in Boston.

inside-photo

My first impression of the newly built restaurant is that it was sleek and warm.  The twenty-foot high ceilings were lowered with decorative sound barriers and some really funky chandeliers encompassed in metal orbs.  As you entered the parking lot, the complimentary valet attendants were ready and waiting.  The lobby was welcoming with a coat check behind the hostess table and a wall of birch tree limbs that separated it from one of the two dining areas.

As you entered the main space, the first thing you noticed is the long bar with a small oyster bar attached.  Behind the bar is a wall of wine bottles. Above this is a wall that is created from the wood of wine crates – complete with a variety of wine vineyard labels.  The bar itself seats about 20 comfortably.   In front of the is the middle section of the restaurant.  I loved the layout.  Imagine the restaurant divided in thirds.  This middle section featured a long high-rise table that could be shared by about 14 (think high-top elegant picnic table) with a bench on one side and several single chairs on the sides and front.  Behind this were a couple of rounded booths with extra chairs on the outer edge – these booths could comfortably seat six. We figured this to be the bar over-flow and dining for those without reservations.

Flanking each side of the middle section, divided by half walls encased in granite were the main dining areas.  Mirror images of each other, each section seated about 20.  This was a relatively small restaurant but it never felt cramped, in fact it felt open and airy. Our only complaint with the atmosphere was the background music.  Their web site claims it as “not so subtle dinner music”.  I guess it was not subtle but we found the electronic whatever to be somewhat annoying.

We wanted to start with an appetizer and decide to share the lobster flatbread.  Fortunately Dave and Elena were with us so that we could order this as an app.  This flatbread was served with lobster, roasted corn and shallots.  It also had arugula scattered across the top.  This was a delicious way to start, although personally I would have liked a thinner  crust and a bit more lobster.

Before our main course, each couple decided to share a Caesar Salad.  This was no ordinary Caesar.  It was a combination of Romain, kale, and Brussel sprout leaves with toasted hazel nuts, crusty parmesan and really fresh anchovies.  It was probably one of the best Caesar salads I have ever had.  It was really tasty and different but still kept traditional flavors.

For our main course, the menu was not huge but each choice sounded so good, it was hard to decide!  Jerry opted for the Garganelli pasta served with red wine braised duck, Tuscan kale, dried cherries and pine nuts.  I tasted the house made pasta, it was cooked al dente and was absolutely delicious.  Jerry’s only complaint was that the duck, while very tasty was somewhat dry not enough to ruin the dish but still enough to notice.

In contrast, Dave and Elena each opted for the Sicilian spiced duck breast served with Arborio rice, apricots, kalamata olives and red wine jus.  I sampled their duck and there was not a bit of dryness.  It was moist and succulent.  It was not at all greasy, which is often my complaint about duck.  Dave, who travels to China often, (a place where they know how to cook duck) claims this was the best duck he has ever had served state side.

I opted for the fish special, an herb encrusted halibut served with pan seared artichoke hearts, cherry tomatoes and a white beans. I let Jerry try a piece and he exclaimed, “OMG, that is so good, it melts in your mouth!”  Agreed!  Truly tasty and I loved the artichoke hearts.

When the waitress presented the desert menu, we truly wanted to try several of the drink offerings, they sounded so good!  There were four different teas that were served as after dinner drinks like the chai mojito tea.  We want to come back solely for the opportunity to sample from this menu.

We decided to share a couple of desserts – there were only four choices but each, with the exception of the cheese cake, sound really interesting and different.  One was a flourless chocolate cake served with a salted caramel ice-cream.  O.K., I know this sounds normal but it was extraordinary to say the least.  The second dessert that we shared was a bread pudding surrounded by a caramel sauce and topped with a dollop of whipped cream.  Let’s just say there was nothing left over.  The cappuccino and espresso served with dessert were tasty and well made.

We also had a couple of bottles of wine with dinner.  The waitress was knowledgable and made several recommendations offering descriptions of each.  Each also was served by the glass so she brought samples to the table for Jerry to try before we purchased the full bottle.  The Barolo that we bought was brought to the table and decanted without having to be asked.  I will say the wine probably should have been chilled a little more but at least it was not warm.

This restaurant isn’t exactly cheap, it would be like going to a good restaurant in Boston, but with the quality of food, and the superior service, it was well worth the expense.  Our waitress was well-trained.  She was knowledgable, attentive but never intrusive.

My two complaints for the restaurant – 1. there is only one bathroom per sex.  This building was built for this restaurant, it was not fitted into an existing building, so you would have thought that they could have put in at least two restrooms.  2. music – as noted above, it was on the verge of annoying, the only saving grace is that it didn’t take over the space.

I really liked Alto and can’t wait to return!  It has earned 4 out of 5 cheers!

 

cheerscheerscheerscheers

 

Strega Prime Italian Steakhouse

Tonight was supposed to be a double date night but our dining companions decided to stay in Florida a little longer, and who can blame them with this frigid weather!? Arriving at Strega in Woburn tonight, you could tell it was an exceptionally cold night.  The valet attendants were no where in site, not that we needed them as there were plenty of open spaces right out front,  but if there had been any elderly diners you wouldn’t want them to have to walk across the arctic tundra that was the parking lot.

Upon entering the restaurant, again, it was apparent people were hibernating as there were plenty of open tables.  We were seated at a cozy table for two next one of three gas see-through fireplaces that lined one wall and offered both warmth and a view of the kitchen.

We were promptly asked if we preferred still or sparkling water.  We opted for sparkling.  The attendant poured us both a glass and disappeared with the bottle.  I didn’t think much about this as the trend in restaurants seems to be to have their own “soda” maker, adding bubbles to still water.  Later in the meal when he asked if I wanted to refill my glass, again I thought nothing of it, that is until we got the check and realized we were charged for two bottles of water for which we got a total of three glasses of water from.  Now this may seem a minor grievance but when you pay, on average, forty dollars per meal (at least), the dam water should be free and if you are going to charge for a bottle, you treat like you would a bottle of wine, you pour the glasses and leave the bottle on the table.  Yup, still a little irked by this.

Once our water was served we were each served a lovely pop-over or Yorkshire pudding. This was enjoyable but apparently only per customer is allowed since as soon as the pop over was gone, our bread plate was removed. I appreciated having the table cleared but would have like to have the chance to say no thank-you one was enough.

We opted for a bottle of wine to go with our dinner.  It was not an easy choice – they had two and a half pages of pinots alone.  We opted for a Chianti Classico which was light and refreshing but served room temperature if not a little warm.  You would think a restaurant known for its wine collection would serve wines at the correct temperature.

For an appetizer we tried the Tuna Tartare served with a spicy ginger sauce, avocado and sesame aioli crackers.  The presentation was beautiful.  The tuna was fresh and avocado was an excellent accompaniment but as served it was really hard to access the sauce at the bottom of a shaped bowl with no spoon.

For dinner I was hoping to try the halibut but alas, with the storm, no delivery was made.  I asked about the wagyu, what was the market price and guess what?  Yup, not an option.  Jerry and I decided that since this was a steak house, we should try the meat.

Jerry opted for the rack of lamb served with mint jelly.  This is always taking a chance because, in our family, there are two chefs who can prepare an amazing rack of lamb.  Strega too can cook a mean rack of lamb, well seasoned, cook to perfection and an ample amount of those luscious lollipops.

I tried the Prime long bone-in Delmonico steak.  It was seasoned perfectly and served with a house truffle butter.  They cooked it perfectly to order.  The only problem was the steak itself was tough as anything.  I shared a portion with Jerry and he agreed.  The steak itself was huge (28 oz. with the bone) so I brought enough for another meal home.  This was one of the more expensive meat offerings so I thought for that price that steak should have melted in my mouth.

When you order from the meat section your sides are a la carte.  We shared the exotic mushroom risotto and the creamed spinach.  We wanted to try the risotto to see how they would prepare it – we do a pretty mean risotto at home too, but never get to add mushrooms as the kids won’t eat it.  The risotto was good but the mushroom flavor overtook the dish even for us ‘shroom lovers.  The creamed spinach was good but maybe a little heavy on the nutmeg.

Jerry wanted to try a dessert and opted for the Strega Signature dessert which was a chocolate cake layered with dolce di leche and was encased in a chocolate ganache.  It was surprising lighter than it looked, although a few bites was more than enough.  We opted for an espresso and cappuccino to accompany our dessert.  Both were very good.

Our service was good, attentive but not overbearing.

This restaurant, for the price you pay for a meal, should be at least a four/four and half cheer restaurant but our experience tonight made for only three cheers.

cheerscheerscheers

Sycamore

On this frigid Friday before the New Year, we ventured a little farther from home, to Newton Center, to try a little restaurant called Sycamore.  Sycamore is one of many a restaurant in this section of town.  While there is no valet parking, there is a public lot just a half block away. (Tonight at 4 degrees the walk seemed like a mile!). It was helpful to have a second person in the car to look for the restaurant as the signage was skimpy, just a lettering on the flap of the awning, nothing on the door or window.

The first impression of the restaurant is just how small the space is. Located in what looks like two boutique size store fronts, you enter in the bar side where there are just four small tables and seating at the bar for about 15.  On the opposite side the main restaurant features just 17 tables for two that can be pushed together for larger parties.  Benches run along the three interior walls allowing a little more space for diners.  While the kitchen was not open, three large windows along the back wall allowed us to watch the chefs create their magic in what looked like a tight kitchen.

We arrived at Syc at 6:00 and left a little after 8:00.  The restaurant was busy the entire time with people waiting for tables even at 8:00.  This is partly due to this being a great little neighborhood eatery (we would be there often if we lived nearby!) but also because this is a creation of two former chefs from Craigie On Main (Cambridge).  Craigie on Main must be a great training ground for chefs.  Every restaurant that we have visited that was created by former chefs of Craigie have been terrific. Sycamore is no different with multiple awards and a consistent appearance on the top ten list of best restaurants outside of Boston.

As small as this brick walled restaurant was, the menu was equally as tight.  There are 6 drafts and 6 bottle beers, all craft brews, no Bud to be found here.  There are about 12 specialty drinks that looked very interesting.  While we didn’t get any mixed drinks, I did hear others diners comment on their drinks, one claiming it to be the best she ever had.

The dinner menu was equally as concise with just 5 entrée’s with one additional special.  The menu starts with what they call “snacks” which include things like marinated olives or pickled vegetables.  Next they have “starters” which include a couple of pasta dishes that can be ordered as an appetizer or as a main.  We shared the house-made charcuterie  which included a pork and pork liver terrine, smoked copa (Italian cured pork butt), spiced chicharrónes (basically spicy pork rinds) and some cheddar cheese.  Accompany this was some stone ground mustard and a sweet sauce maybe apple butter?  The ample slice of terrine was plenty for the two of us and with apple butter it was the perfect combination of sweet and savory.  We wished there was a little more copa and cheese.  The chicharrónes were great with the spread, adding a wonderful crunch to the paste of the terrine.  Basically a wonderful dish.

For my main course I chose the grilled atlantic swordfish served with swiss chard, bean ragoût, harissa (a chili pepper paste), castelvetrano olive tapenade.  The best part of this dish was the lentils with the swiss chard. As a kid I never really like swiss chard but this was not my parent’s version (sorry mom and dad). The sword fish itself was seasoned well and was tasty but was slightly overcooked – not enough to send back but enough to notice.  I had Jerry try the lentils first and his response was OMG!  It really was a wonderful set of flavors.

Jerry opted for the one special veal Osso Bucco.  The veal was moist and tender. You didn’t need a knife to cut it, it was that tender.  It lay on a bed of celery puree and mixed vegetables.  Again, this was a wipe the plate clean meal, full of flavors and absolutely delish!

As small as the menu was, the wine list on the other hand was ample. With a full-page of whites and another of reds, we were able to find a wonderful bottle to accompany our meal.

Despite coming off the Christmas over indulgence, we felt compelled to try a dessert.  No espresso of cappaccino served here so we opted for regular old coffee – theirs was a strong rich version.  For dessert we had what they called a gooey caramel pudding served with crem fresh ice-cream.  Pudding was the wrong name for this dish.  It almost tasted like ginger bread set in a caramel syrup. Together with the ice-cream it was a delicious dessert, something very different from the norm but nowhere near the consistency of pudding.

The service at Sycamore was attentive but not overbearing.  It is obvious that they work as a team.  It was a wonderful way to spend a frigid night.  I would give Sycamore three and half cheers!

cheerscheerscheershalf-a-cheer

Les Sablons

Every once in a while Jerry and I torture ourselves and drive into Cambridge on a Friday night.  Tonight was one of those nights but when you are rewarded with a meal like the one we experienced tonight, it makes the trek worth while!

Tonight we ventured into Harvard Square to Les Sablons a French restaurant located on Bennet Street across from the Charles Hotel in the old Conductor’s Building.  No valet parking but there are a couple of parking garages near by.  The building itself was constructed by The BERy (Boston Elevated Railroad) to serve as the headquarters for its 7th division.  It is a narrow two-story brick building – 144 feet long by just 20 feet wide.

You will have to look hard for the restaurant itself – the signage is discreet to say the least (but now that you know it is an old skinny building you should be able to pick it out).  You enter the building on the first floor, home to its wine bar.  The maître d’ station was on this floor with several people ready to help us.  We were 20 minutes late for our reservation but the staff didn’t bat an eye, they must be used to people fighting the traffic.  After taking our coats, we were escorted upstairs to the main dining room where our table was waiting.  As you can imagine, from the dimensions mentioned above, the diningroom was long and narrow.  The bar situated on the right was made of marble.   Both levels of the restaurant used smart dropped panels to lower the ceiling giving a more intimate feel.  The subtle lighting complimented that feeling.  As we walked in, we noticed a lovely pastel wall at the far end, as we got closer, the wall revealed itself as a display of different colored play-dough containers that formed a large frame around a picture of David Bowie.  The dining room palette was clean and modern as was the background music.

Water – sparkling or still – were brought to the table, no extra charge for the bubbles.   Hearty wheat rolls with essence of citrus were also brought to the table with a whipped butter made with goat’s milk.  If you like goat’s cheese you will like this butter but if you are not a fan of goat’s milk this will not be your thing.

We started our meal with the Salmon Lox appetizer.  This was served with deviled eggs – made more like a sauce than something you would pick up and eat- caviar, cress (an edible herb related to cressnut) and finely diced pickled red onion.  The lox was sliced oh so thin.  It was served with croutons that were light as air. The combination created a party in your mouth – light in textures but full of flavors.

For our main course I got the Persillade Cod served with du puy lentils (Du Puy lentils are the small, blue-green marbled lentil grown in the volcanic soil of the southwest of France) parsnip and lobster.  The cod was cooked well and was moist and tasty.  The bountiful lentils were delicious.  This was served with lobster – a small scattering of mostly knuckles.  This was a really tasty combination but left wanting a bit more lobster to accompany my lentils.

Jerry opted for the Braised Rabbit Ragout.  I think he felt compelled to compare this to the other french restaurant we visited this month, Bastille.  This rabbit was served with chanterelle mushrooms a slippery oyster type mushroom and quail egg raviolo; hint the quail egg is inside the raviolo.  It was also accompanied by celeriac which is basically celery root cut into cubes.  I tried Jerry’s rabbit in both restaurants and this one blew away Bastille.  The other was somewhat mushy and needed the other things on the plate to complete the flavor but this rabbit could stand alone being moist, tender and full of flavor.

The service here was superior – attentive but not intruding.  My water-glass never went empty, we never had to pick up the wine bottle to refill our glasses.  More importantly, they didn’t clear the plates until we were both done.  We never felt rushed.

For dessert we tried the Salted Honey Tart topped with fresh figs and coffee ice-cream.  This was a delightful dessert with a perfect contrast of sweet from honey and figs and salty from sea salt.  There was also something crunchy on this dessert but not sure what, perhaps hazel nuts?  Whatever it was it was really good.

The wine menu was well stocked with varietals of all price ranges.  This is a French restaurant so if you are drinking wine, be prepared to drink a French wine, they stayed true to their them.

Seating was pretty tight together and waiters had to be quite strategic in order to clear the table next to us without out giving us a faceful of butt! It would have been nice to have just a bit more space but I’ve experienced worse.

If you go here, give yourself extra time to walk the neighborhood.  Harvard Square has lots of fun shops to go to and across the street from the restaurant in the Charles Hotel was a cool little wine bar called Noir that looked and sounded like it was bumping!

All in all a great night. The review Jerry read stated that if Julia Child was still alive, this is the place she would eat.  I believe him!  I would give Les Sablons 4 1/2 cheers!

cheerscheerscheerscheershalf-a-cheer

Tempo

Friday night date night was pushed to Saturday this week, giving a little space between Thanksgiving and another dining experience.  Tonight we ventured to Waltham to Moody Street to try out a new restaurant and spend some time with a favorite uncle.  Tempo is part of a very active Moody street.  Moody street has, I thought, a very funky vibe.  Every other retail spot is a restaurant.  If you can’t find a place to scratch your hunger itch, you’re not looking hard enough.  Mixed among the restaurants were little stores that didn’t seem to go with the trendy eating spots.  Stores like a family dollar, Amazing (intimate essentials), global thrift shop, and outer limits comic book store.  There doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of neighborhood planning.  Street parking is a commodity too.  We drove a couple of blocks past the restaurant, went up a side street two blocks and then back toward Moody with no luck.  We went across to Chestnut Street and found a public lot that was free after 6:00 p.m.  We got lucky and found a spot in there.  There were no street signs directing you to the parking.

Tempo has a warm, contemporary feel, with a window that overlooked the kitchen.  There was plenty of dining space as well a large bar with additional table seating.  We were welcomed by our server who took our drink orders and brought rolls?muffins?  not sure what there were, whatever they were, they were tough.  The butter? that came with them was very spicy but not very tasty, not worth the calories.  Drinks were brought to the table and Uncle sent his martini back – he asked for it to be “very dry” and it was not made properly.  My drink was a tasty Cosmo – although our server never asked if I had a vodka preference.

For apps we had the calamari with hot cherry peppers and served with “Shanghai’ Dipping Sauce”. They were also served with a pesto sauce.  I liked the pesto sauce but thought it was an unusual paring.  I was not a fan of the Shanghai’ sauce.  The Calamari however, was fresh, light and delicious.  Uncle got the oysters served with the traditional Champagne Mignonette and Cocktail Sauce.  These were fresh, local oysters and were slurped back with ease.

For dinner I had the pan roasted Scottish salmon served with butternut squash, cranberry and sage risotto and wilted kale served with and apple cider beurre blanc. I was told by the waiter that they usually serve this medium-well.  I asked for medium instead. I thought the salmon was a little overdone.  It was still tasty and well seasoned but just a little too crispy and dry especially on the outer edge.  The risotto was amazing.  I am definitely going try to recreate this at home.  The kale was cooked just right with a wonderful flavor.

Jerry had the fish special of the evening, mash potato encrusted haddock served with shrimp risotto and spinach.  The potato formed a thin crust on the haddock.  This place definitely knows how to do risotto!  The spinach was a nice side. His fish was cooked perfectly.

Uncle and his wife had the pan seared New Bedford sea scallops served with turnip and leek mashed potatoes, local mushrooms, roasted tomatoes and baby spinach seasoned with white truffle oil. The scallops were served over a “log” of mashed potatoes.  I personally thought that was a lot of potatoes for the dish.  The scallops were cooked correctly and the mushrooms and spinach were a nice side.

Uncle also ordered a roasted beet and goat cheese salad made up of local red and golden beets, baby arugula, puffed quinoa topped with a maple vinaigrette. I never detected the quinoa.  Jerry sampled it and stated it was not very good.  This is hard to judge since neither of us like beets but it didn’t look like anyone was eating it.

A sundae was ordered for the table to share.  Ice-cream was made in-house and was served with some sort of brownie (texture of brownie, taste of Oreo). While it was good, let’s face it, we were coming off of Thanksgiving and you can’t beat home-made pies.

Tempo has a list of wines that were half price for the evening.  There were several rose’s, and whites but only two reds.  We chose a red from Sicily that was light and delicious.

Service was good;, attentive but not overbearing.

Overall, it was a good night with good food and great company.  I would give Tempo 3 out of 5 cheers.

cheerscheerscheers

The Borgata Hotel Casino and Spa

This weekend we didn’t have date night but instead we had a weekend away as we took care of rehearsal dinner plans for an upcoming wedding.  We were lucky enough to get a whole weekend at Atlantic City, staying at the Water Club at the Borgata Hotel.  We enjoyed many a great meal this weekend.  Rather than write a full-page review for each restaurant, I thought I would give a little synopsis of our dining experiences.

We arrived at the Water Club just after noon.  Leaving our car with the valet we checked into our room.  No need to wait until 4:00 p.m. – if your room is ready so is your key.  We decided to stay close by for lunch eating in the Sunroom.  The Sunroom is just that, with lush greens, waterfalls, a fire-place and comfortable seating.  We each ordered a quick sandwich.  Jerry also order warmed nuts.  I thought he was nuts for ordering nuts until I tried them! A variety of nuts warmed and slightly sweetened, they were worth the price of admission. My cuban was just o.k. but the truffle fries made up for that.

That evening we dined at Bobby Flay’s.  We thought it was a good choice since Bobby was in town for cooking classes (he was teaching not taking).  It also happened to be restaurant week in AC so we were in luck.  We (5 of us) ordered from the pre-fix dinner.  The salad was just a salad, not noteworthy not bad just not memorable – We ate here about 12 years ago and I remember the caesar salad from then so this was a disappointment.  The crab and lobster cake on the other hand was something dreams are made of!  Honestly, I have never had a crab cake that was that good!  Jerry and I shared entrees.  I ordered the filet, which melted in your mouth.  It was served with what I thought would be a steak sauce, it looked like a steak sauce but it tasted like cocktail sauce!  Either someone made a mistake or it was a really poor pairing.  Jerry ordered the shrimp scampi served with risotto.  I liked the combo of scampi with risotto in place of pasta!  The desserts were yummy but nothing spectacular.  What made our evening was our waiter Joe.  He was funny, attentive but not over bearing.   He made the night memorable!

Saturday night we dined at Izakaya a modern Japanese restaurant.  I was glad to be sober as we entered, the glass bridge that made you feel like you were walking on water really threw me and actually made me a little dizzy!  We started with a few of their specialty drinks.  Colleen had the Rising Tide made with tequila, peach cordial and lime.  It was a sweet drink where tequila was definitely the main feature.  Kathleen and I had The Sailers Garden made with vodka, lemon mitsuba and togarashi. Kathleen order hers first and after a taste I asked the waitress if they could make me one only not so sweet.  They could and it was much better.  The togarashi added just a touch of heat.  Joe (my son, not to be confused with waiter Joe) got the Nigai Smash made with rye and blueberry cordial.  It looked like it was going to be a thick, overly blueberry drink but the actual taste was enjoyable.  Jerry got the drink of the night, The Bakuto made with Whiskies, Vermouths and Barrel Stave Smoke.  Think a smokey Manhattan.  When the drink arrived at the table you could smell the smoke!  They light a fire, place the glass over the fire to collect the smoke and then pour the drink in the glass.  The smell was almost alarming but the smokey flavor was subtle.

This is the type of restaurant where you share small plates.  We each ordered a couple of things to share.  Some highlights were the oysters and the chicken wings.  The sushi and rolls were fresh and delicious.  The desserts – not something I would necessarily consider in a Japanese restaurant were over the top!  We shared three different desserts and we each had a favorite!  The S’more tart with Oreo, marshmallow and peanut butter was pretty amazing as was the chocolate layer cake with miso ice-cream and salted caramel but my personal favorite was the crispy rice sushi roll with toffee, chocolate and peanut butter – think rice crispy treats on steroids!

If you’re looking for a place to have breakfast, the Metropolitan offers a good breakfast with plenty of choices and good hot coffee.  They even have a breakfast menu for when you need to sleep late.

Overall it was a great get away.  A trip to the spa and winning $500 at 3-card flop was the icing on the cake!  The Borgata is the closest you can get to a Vegas experience on the east coast and if you can’t deal with the 7 hour drive, hop on a plane right in to AC and take an Uber to the hotel.

 

Giumarello’s

Our dining adventures continue, this week in the great state of New Jersey while visiting family.  Our little group of 6 went to Giumarello’s in Haddon Township.  As we drove up the parking lot was packed (the start of a three-day weekend).  It was interesting that you weren’t allowed to self park, valet only.  We didn’t have reservations but that was not a problem and we were seated within minutes.  As you walked in the first thing you notice is a huge glass display with hundreds of bottles of wines of all varieties.  The stone walls were warm and inviting.  There was a long bar to our left with seating all along the wall and a large dining room with dark leather seating and a fireplace was to our right.  We were seated on the patio.  The overhead heating provided plenty of warmth even on this cold evening.  It was a thoughtful place to seat us as we had a three-year old that needed a little extra moving room and this space allowed him to get up and move around with disturbing others.

As water was brought to our table, so was a large bowl of breads which included both plain Italian bread as well as bruschetta.  Along with the bread we were served a bowl of peppers that had been heated.  We seriously could have stopped right here, the bruschetta was delicious and paired with the peppers – mama mia!

We started our evening off with a couple of appetizers.  We ordered some of “Giumarello’s Famous Mussels”.  They had mussels served in four different types of sauce. We opted for the Saffron Mussels prepared with Shrimp, thyme and roasted tomato served in a saffron cream broth.  The mussels were firm and fresh.  The sauce was amazing with a light saffron flavoring.  I wished this dish had been served with a spoon.  We were soaking bread in the sauce as well as using the empty shells to scoop the sauce.  I need to learn how to make this sauce – or maybe I don’t since I probably would end up to be about 400 pounds if I did!

A second appetizer served was fried calamari. It was true to the menu description, crisp and light and served with a traditional red sauce.  Both offerings provided enough for us all to share.

The kids menu had plenty to offer.  Tanner opted for the chicken fingers and fries.  I have to tell you, those were the best damn chicken fingers I have ever had! No exaggeration!  The were light and crispy, not an ounce of grease.  The fries were crisp and yummy.  We all sampled Tanner’s chicken and couldn’t believe how good they were. Troy went with the cheese ravioli.  He was served three large ravi’s with red sauce.  They were cooked perfectly, the pasta was firm but tender enough to cut with a fork.  Just the right amount of ricotta filled the center.

CalamariThe adults opted for some of the specials.  Trish and I tried the Chilean Sea Bass served with shrimp saffron risotto.  The fish was cooked perfectly, crispy on the outside, moist and tender on the inside.  The risotto was crazy good, with generous amounts of shrimp and that light and lovely saffron flavoring.  It was served with some sort of red sauce on the bottom – it was not a traditional tomato sauce – it wasn’t my favorite but it wasn’t awful either.

Jerry went with the honey mustard salmon served with a sweet potato puree.  The perfect amount of honey mustard flavored the fish but the fish itself was slightly overcooked – not enough to ruin the dish and the flavors were splendid.  Jerry would claim to not be a sweet potato guy but he loved the mashed potatoes and together they made a wonderful dish.

Steve went with the Chilean Sea Bass that was part of the regular menu, grilled, served with with shrimp, jumbo lump crabmeat and shiitake mushrooms in garlic & olive oil.  Once again, cooked well with the right amount of crisp and tender.

All of our meals were served with a fresh, crisp green salad, not overly dressed, which few restaurants get right!

We ordered a couple of bottles of wine to go with our dinner (how could we not after seeing that wine display!).  The first wine was a Coppola and was served room temperature if not a little warm, the second, another pinot, a Gloria Ferrer was served at the correct temperature. We really enjoyed the Ferrer.

We were all too stuffed for dessert – except for Troy who went for the brownie with ice-cream.  This was a huge dessert that could have been shared with four people.

We topped off the evening with cappuccino for me, espresso for others and one plain coffee.  I found it interesting that my cappuccino was served with a biscotti but no one else was given a treat.  The biscotti was chocolate chip with sea salt.  It was nice and hard, the way a good biscotti should be, and not too sweet.  It was large enough for me to break in two to share.

All in all I would give them four cheers out of five.

cheerscheerscheerscheers

Bastille Kitchen

Last night’s date night brought us to the Seaport district of Boston.  Tucked away on a cool little side street, Melcher Street is the site of many a converted factory, Bastille, a French restaurant, being just one example.

Bastille claims to be a place where, “rustic charm meets spacious comfort” and they are true to their word.  Bastille is made up of two levels.  On the lower level is the “Chalet” a comfortable space perfect for a private party or in last night’s case, a Halloween Masquerade Ball.  Upstairs is the main lounge and dining area.

bert81361The bar and lounge area is open and inviting with large couches and comfortable chairs.  It is a great place to hang out with friends.  In fact small groups actually reserve a couch area for themselves in advance.  We saw a couple of little clusters of friends celebrating birthdays or just TGIF in that lounge area.  If I lived or worked near here this might be one of my favorite hangout spots!

The dining room was also spacious.  Even at our table for two we didn’t feel cramped.  If the restaurant had been packed, we would not have been on top of each other.

We started our evening with drinks, Jerry with a traditional Manhattan and me with one of their signature drinks; Paris Saint-Germain made with vodka, elderflower, lime and basil. As would be expected with elderflower, my drink was slightly sweet but light and delicious.  Jerry would tell you they made a perfect Manhattan complete with those little dark cherries.  After last week’s drink, for which I looked like I was getting a blood transfusion, it was nice to drink out of a real glass.

Shortly after our drinks arrived, a little basket of mini croissants arrived with a butter made with wine reduction, garlic and shallots.  What a way to start the night.  The croissants were light and flaky and the butter was ridiculously good, put them together and oo la la!

For an appetizer we tried the Duck Confit prepared with ivory lentils, pomegranate seeds and toasted pepitas.  The duck was actually a little leg which was very crispy but because of that was not greasy at all.  The lentils were rather bland but if you put a little of everything on your fork, the flavors melded well to create a mouthful of yummy!  In fact, as we made our way through the night we found that all the food was meant to be eaten in such a manner.  Unlike a traditional American meal where you have meat, potatoes and veggie that don’t touch each other on the plate let alone in your mouth, these meals and flavors were created to enhance one another.

For the main course I tried the Tuna Nicoise made with grape tomatoes, haricots verts (small green beans), olive tapenade, hard boiled egg, potato and sauce gribiche (a sauce made from hard boiled egg yokes, mustard and oil).  The potato was fingerling potatoes cut as small at the grape tomatoes.  Once again, the flavors alone were not anything special but together they created a delicious dish.  The tuna was cooked rare and the whole dish was served on the cool side (Nicoise is a cold sauce), nothing on the plate was hot not even the tuna.  Temperature did not hinder the enjoyment of this dish.

Jerry went with the Bacon Wrapped Rabbit (or as he would say, “Wabbit”.  This was prepared with grain mustard spaetzle, cider braised endive and rabbit jus.  The spaetzle is what made this dish along with the bacon.  The rabbit was mushy and bland, alone it would have been a disappointment but with the bacon and spaetzle, once again the combo of flavors and textures helped to make Jerry a member of the clean plate club.

To go along with dinner we chose a French (we are in a French restaurant after all!) wine from their extensive list.  We had narrowed it down to two wines and the waiter brought us two small glasses of each to sample before we opened a bottle of our own.  We opted for a Bourgelais.  I usually don’t choose a Bourgelais because I associate it with Bourgelais Nouveau (a new wine fermented just a few weeks before being released for sale) for which I am not a fan.  What a mistake in making this association!  The Bouregelais we enjoyed was light and delicious, very similar to a Pinot Noir.

For dessert we of course had to try the creme brûlée.  As we expected it was a light yet creamy version with that wonderful crisp top.  It was accompanied by fresh berries and a bit of raspberry puree.  The espresso and cappuccino both prepared perfectly.

The service was excellent, attentive but not overbearing.  We never felt rushed – the only exception to this was they did try to take Jerry’s plate twice before he was finished.  Other than that we were allowed to dine at our own pace.

Bastille had valet parking but it cost you – $18!  I thought that was a little steep but since the street parking was permit only your only other choice is find a lot and hoof it which would most likely still cost you since you are after all in Boston.

Bastille earned 4 out of 5 cheers!

cheerscheerscheerscheers