Thursday, February 26, 2009

A Palateer Worldwide Adventure

Hello Readers!   

The Palateers are off on a worldwide expedition for daring and authentic restaurants.  Over the next few weeks, we will report on what we discover in such places as Mexico, Hong Kong and Indonesia. Keep venturing and keep hungry.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Christina's Ice Cream--Bliss in a Bite

As it is written on the ancient stone tablets of Babylon and transcribed throughout the millennia, “Ice cream is the solution to all of life’s troubles.” One cannot deny this centuries-old adage after stepping into the spiritually enlightened ice cream haven known in the common tongue as Christina’s. 

One taste and you are lost; several scoops and you are found. The at first overwhelmingly complex board of flavors posted in two locations in the tiny store can be easily broken down by sidling up to the counter and beginning to sample. Try the carrot cake for a doughy vegetable feel, or the green tea to reinvigorate the spirit. Test the coffee oreo for  all night intoxication or the chocolate mousse to slide into an unbeatably luxurious trance. Mix and match flavors to your heart’s content until they have found their proper place among the ice cream gods. 

In the winter, settle into one of the diner-esque booths to share the moment with other fanatics, but in the summer, whisk your cone into the open air of Cambridge Street for a true New England cream experience.  Life hurts and suffering is inevitable, and for this reason, we pray that there will always be room for Christina’s.

Christina's Homemade Ice Cream‎ 
1255 Cambridge St
Cambridge, MA 02139
(617) 492-7021‎

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Koreana--Bring on the beef!

Craving the beef, dreaming of skewered roasting meat?  Korean BBQ might be the answer to your meat filled fantasies.  Korean BBQ, something of a cross between Hot Pot and Brazilian BBQ, tantalizes the taste buds, invigorates the independent spirit and fills the stomach with deliciousness.  Picture this in your dripping saucy carnivorous hallucinations, a platter of marinated moistly tendered raw beef, grilled at your leisure in front of you, and on specially designed reverse convection grills (the only of its kind in Boston according to the manager). Koreana on Prospect street Cambridge, will make your juicy wet dreams come to reality.   

Never fear because the tea cup with never reach the half empty point.  The diligent service was on us like white on rice (see urban dictionary).  The manager visited our table two times to check if everything was “ok”.  Our waitress even gave us a good recommendation for “Authentic soups” and allowed us to practice our Korean (despite its inappropriateness and vulgarity….Salted! see urban dictionary)   

But don’t worry vegetarians, you won’t be getting the short end of the stick.  Stand in awe of expansive vegetarian side dishes.  Take your pick of kimchee, seaweed, spicy cucumber and fish cakes (for you quasi vegetarians).  Entrees will also offer a plethora of choices.  Try the Bimbimbop, a staple of Korean restaurants.  A medley of cooked vegetables, on a pad rice, with a soft boiled egg dropped on top for good measure, mix thoroughly with spicy sauce and eat immediately for optimum dining pleasure.   

Come in a large group because reservations are not taken for two and its best shared anyhow.  For its unabashed love of cooked cow, we give Koreana the Palateer seal of approval.   

154 Prospect St
Cambridge, MA 02139
(617) 576-8661

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Espresso Royale -- Starbucks' Better Half

As a sign of the times, the Palateers counted at least 15 people in Espresso Royale working on resumes, but that didn’t stop us from enjoying our morning cup of joe. Hey, they had coffee during the depression, and with Starbucks charging a first born and virgin rights for a vente latte whipped cream explosion, we couldn’t blame the restless masses for taking refuge here. A decent cup of coffee can make a world of difference to the downtrodden, and not only that, the health benefits are undeniable[1].

The atmosphere was lively, we were jamming out to the Velvet Underground while looking at the funky wall art (it’s like a free concert and art exhibit at the same time). Over caffeinated baristas were also like a comedy act of sorts, adding in side comments whenever willing. Maybe it was this or the free internet (score if you are tired of paying out to Comcast!) that made Espresso Royale such an enjoyable café to spend a Thursday morning.

Skip the soup kitchen, the sunrise special sandwich (egg, cheese, bacon) is a steal. Even those suffering from malnutrition would relish a tequila sunrise (egg, bacon, jalapeno cream cheese) or whole wheat everything bagel with veggie lite cream cheese. If you scrap together enough nickels treat yourself to a brownie or piece of cake, bread lines take too long to wait in anyways.
White collar poverty may be reaching record levels, but that doesn’t mean you have to be broke, out of work without style, hitch a ride to Espresso Royale and give Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts the bird!

[1] Coffee helps prevent Alzheimer’s and dementia…but I forgot where I read that

Espresso Royale
286 Newbury Street
Boston, MA 02115

Palateer Seal of Approval

Friday, February 13, 2009

Trident Booksellers & Cafe--Does not meet the hype!

Trident has a lot of positive things going for it, yet it is one the biggest food disappointments we have ever encountered.  We loved the idea of the bookstore/café. Isn’t that the dream of every Palateer?  Sipping your coffee while reading travel books about Honduras  How idyllic and very attainable because if your ambitions for Trident are simply to sit around and peruse a book while nursing a cup of tea for several hours, then we agree you are in the right place.  But keep your expectations low if you ever order the food.

First the good:  Trident is all about the atmosphere.  We love the long bar and tall stools, which are perfect for surfing the internet (which is free!!!), chatting with strangers or reading the newspaper. Anyone could get lost meandering around the book shelves perusing the eclectic selection of literature or watching a silent film of Charlie Chaplin on the two widescreens.  Even the overpriced tea, coffee and smoothies are perfect for slow savoring. 

Now the bad: The Palateers have ordered food from Trident on numerous occasions, always with the sincere hope that the food will live up to the exorbitant prices and tantalizing menu descriptions.  However, every hope for a delicious meal has been revolted like sour milk on an empty stomach. Ok, the food isn’t horrible.  It is edible, but it doesn’t deserve the high prices. Furthermore, couldn’t servings be a little bit larger?  For a $9 waffle, we expected more than a single waffle with a few chopped strawberries.  Also, it was disappointing that the $10 omelet completely lacked flavor. The $11 Creamy Alfredo pasta was too liquidy and the chicken was overcooked.  The $11 Veggie burger was mediocre and how much would it take to add fries at no cost or maybe a side salad?  The same complaints were had across the menu. Such high prices warrant finer quality food and larger portions.     

Trident has the potential in our minds to be one of the best establishments on the block. The service is friendly, the vibe is perfect, but it is the end game that needs a rehab.

This is a Palateer call to action to get your food menu under control, Trident.

Trident Booksellers & Café 
338 Newbury St. 
Boston, Ma 

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Shabu Zen--How did Genghis Khan eat?

You ever wonder how Genghis khan dined?  Some restaurants are a time portal experience, transporting you back to a different age--a distant era.  Something like a medieval times, but without the corny costumes, turkey legs and beer wenches. Back to Genghis, how did our boy roll for suppertime?  He didn’t have much in the way of fine seasoning or fancy cutlery, but he did have style.  He took a big ole’ wok, filled that puppy to the brim with boiling water and oil, and he just threw in whatever he wanted. 

That’s hot pot.

The majority of North American denizens are unfamiliar with this mouth watering feasting. But, hot pot is the fondue of Asia (see Wine Cellar). So delicious, so succulent and so simple.  Truly the dish of conquerors and kings. Like its French cousin, hot pot keeps it simple: Boiling pot of oily soup, a dish of fresh vegetables, and a platter of delicately sliced paper-thin raw meats. Chopsticks are your implements of destruction.

It doesn’t take long to master the art of 火锅 (huo guo, literally fire pot). With one smooth stroke, you place the tender morsel of lamb into the boiling pot.  You must now be patient.  If you are too quick, the meat is still raw, but wait too long, and it is dissolved. You must sense the meat; you must become the boiling piece of lamb, until you know its tenderness.   Remove when it speaks to you, and promptly eat.  This is the way of hot pot.

Shabu Zen delivers on the hot pot experience.  The restaurant gives you an option of individual and group sized pots, perfect for the lone diner or a raucous group.  Always order beer, and make sure it is an Asian brew.  The seafood platter’s scallops and shrimps, were especially delicious, the squid and fish balls were mediocre.  All the meat was fresh, so no worries for the hesitant diner.  A perfect meal for those who are warriors at heart.  

Shabu Zen
16 Tyler St
Boston, MA 02111
(617) 292-8828

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Grendel's Den--A Monstrous Mistake

The Palateers believe that the expression “It’s, like,…..” is extremely overused in American vernacular. Two usages of this expression especially irk us. The first is when one says, “It’s, like, colder than a witch’s teat outside”; a person should actually say, “It is colder than a witch’s teat outside”. The danger arises in the second usage, when the user of the aforesaid expression indicates a connection which is plagiaristic. For example, “That painting you completed is like a Vincent Van Gough”; when in actuality, it is an exact replica of “Starry Night”. The Palateers enjoy using this phrase only in a sarcastic manner. A good example of this is “Grendel’s Den is like a good restaurant”, when actually it is a horrible restaurant.

We uncovered a scandal at Grendel’s Den, which immediately tarnished our view of the establishment. It all began when we were perusing the beer menu and came upon a drink named “Grendel’s Ale”. The Palateers are always a fan of a new brew (which sounded like a unique microbrew), and when we overheard a nearby server described it, as “like a Sam Adams” our interest was particularly piqued. However, when we enquired with our own server about the beer, we were shocked and amazed to discover that Grendel’s Ale wasn’t “like” Sam Adams….it was Sam Adams. The deception we felt was as painful as the food was bad, and the rest of the meal was a slippery slope to dissatisfaction.

At our table, we ordered four separate dishes. Tabulating the four diners' scores, all dishes had an average ranking of 4 out 10. The portion of salmon they served in the seafood platter was miniscule. The accompanying scallops and shrimp were overcooked to the point of tasting like boiled squid (think fishy flavored rubber bands). The mashed potatoes were lumpy and flavorless. The meat was overcooked and slightly burnt. The beef stew was mediocre. The spinach pie was small and over salted. They even messed up the rice.

The one redeeming feature was the honesty of the server; however, shouldn’t every server be honest? The atmosphere was typical of a beer bar and the food was cheap, but we could have gone down the road to John Harvard’s and had true microbrew beer, larger portions and better food.

Thankfully, our meal was saved by dessert at Finale (see blog) and dancing at Redline. Just as in Beowulf, where Grendel is envisioned as a repulsive and disturbing monster, Grendel’s Den is best to be avoided.

Grendel's Den
89 Winthrop St
Cambridge, MA 02138
(617) 491-1160

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Sex and Chocolate--The Wine Cellar

Disclaimer: Before reading, please open this in a separate window. Turn up the volume and turn down the lights.

People say that too much of anything is not good for you baby…but I don’t know about that at the Wine Cellar.

It starts off slow and smooth. Quiet décor, Carla Bruni singing soft sultry chanson. The host gently removes your coat and ushers you to your seat. It’s almost too perfect of a moment, especially knowing that it’s only just begun.

Food and love share multiple qualities, foremost being the element of choice. Whether an extensive menu or a crowded nightclub, one has a cornucopia of options upon which to dine. That is why Fondue is so undeniably, unexplainably sexy.

The Cheese

The Classic is always a steady date. Emmentale and Gruyere in smooth brandy, add a little wine and you have a reliably good start to a meal. If you are feeling a little bit crazy, the Brittany might be your dish de nuit. However, if you are a romantic at heart, desiring passion and flare, you should taste the French Gruyere.

At first, you maneuver awkwardly with the miniature fondue forks—dipping hard dry pieces of bread and potatoes tentatively into the molten pit of warm, soft fromage. But with practice makes perfect, and in no time, you gain expertise.

With the last bite, you almost peak with satiation and delight, but soon regain your center as you prepare for the entrée.

The Main Course

You are overwhelmed with choice, and maybe that’s the point. Maybe it is healthy to cut loose and experiment a little. You are confused and excited, lost and found. But when staring at seven special sauces, scallops, shrimp, lamb, beef and boiling pot of French au vin with mushrooms, your tongue goes limp with surprise (you feel slightly embarrassed) but never fear because mother nature always knows what’s best, and you instinctively understand what to do. You eat until you feel like you can’t eat anymore, and then you eat some more.

The Finale

The dark chocolate is orgasmic. You quiver in delight and leave satiated and relaxed. Until the next meal.

Do not enjoy in moderation. Only indulge.

Wine Cellar
30 Massachusetts Ave
Boston, MA 02115
(617) 236-0080 Reserve Online

Monday, February 9, 2009

Al Dente--I'm not Italian, but sometimes I wish I was

You know a restaurant is good when the owner meets you at the front door. Al dente is the type of Italian restaurant where the jovial, large Italian waitresses treat you like their own children. Our conversation with Donna, a passing hostess, about the Osso Busco soon led into an open and honest assessment of her oldest son moving out and her desire to let loose and return to downtown Boston. The familiarity was as comforting as the pork tenderloins were savory.

In the pantheon of food choice, we decided to take one familiar and one less traveled culinary path. One can weigh the quality of an Italian restaurant by the weight of its eggplant parmigiana and one can be surprised and satisfied by the simple additions. In this case, it was what lies beneath. For under the softly layered comfort food was a hidden trove of gnocchi. Those round gummy creations, which are often a meal to themselves, lay nestled, dare I say cradled in a puddle of sweet red sauce.

Taking a most radical route, our second entrée was a distinctly colorful and segregated dish of pork tenderloin, spinach and mashed potatoes. Each flavor, while proudly distinct in its own right, was a willing companion to its neighbor. While the rival factions vied for dominance of our palate, it was the merger of tastes which ultimately won the dish. The sweet prune sauce tenderloins were in distinct contrast to the bitter garlic spinach, and the buttery potatoes played mediator between the two.

While not the highlight, the wine flowed easily and did not distract from the more memorable aspects of the meal. We chose a moderately priced Sauvignon Blanc from the limited but sufficient wine menu. The overeager wine pouring from our motherly server was slightly intrusive.

Moderately priced for the North end with entrées ranging from $12-30, Al dente is pleasant for both the out of town guest, large gatherings and the casual diner. The warm atmosphere will be a welcome retreat from any cold New England evening--always enjoy with friends and olive oil dipped bread.

Al Dente Restaurant
109 Salem St
Boston, MA 02113
(617) 523-0990

Friday, February 6, 2009

Island Hopper--Golden Triangle of Flavor

We love restaurants where each bite is an adventure unto itself.  At the Island Hopper, every morsel makes your taste buds dance with delight.  The Hopper provides a mélange of Southeast Asian dishes ranging from Malaysian to Thai to Indian, with a little bit of Chinese, sprinkled on top like MSG[1]. 

The menu is extensive and consistently delicious. If you are unsure, the servers are especially knowledgeable and more than happy to lead you along the promised path to a satisfied stomach. A good start to the journey is the Tom Yum soup—a tangy, spicy broth with juicy shrimp floating like treasurers (it is amongst the finest that the Palatiers have every tried).  Accompany this with the Roti and curry sauce (vegetarian friendly).  As we discovered, it is a guaranteed crowd pleaser. 

The main course options will never fail you, but the specials menu really opens up a new frontier.  If they should have it, go for the duck. Good Beijing duck is a hard thing for a restaurant to master, but Hopper does an excellent job, and they will even wrap the pancakes in front of you!  It is the small accompaniments that gather the tastes together.  Hopper gives four options for rice with every dish. Count it: jade, brown, white and our personal favorite, the coconut. The udon noodles served in an earthen pot were also worth exploring. The Sea bass with tangy ginger sauce is a creation fit for an emperor or at very least, a local warlord. 

Although you might not initially feel up to it, dessert at the Hopper is a memorable affair.  We recommend either the green tea Mochi (an outer shell filled with an ice cream core) or the fried banana roti drizzled with chocolate sauce and topped with strawberries and cream (picture included). The Hopper is medium to expensive with entrees averaging 14.95. Also recommended are the smoothies at anytime.  Explore with family and friends, make sure to share the entrees, and always ask for chopsticks.

Island Hopper
91 Massachusetts Ave
Boston, MA 02115
(617) 266-1618

[1] On the subject of monosodium glutamate (the surname of MSG), one of the palateers is a fierce advocate of its usage.  The other palateer is on the fence.  MSG, in Chinese called  味精 weijingliterally perfect flavor, is like the crazy friend to a party.  It is the adrenaline shot in a marathon, it is the alcohol in beer.  In short, it makes everything taste delicious. Ignore the naysayers, who have been brainwashed by the medical community (the same people who tell us that putting fluoride into our water supply will make us healthier!).  Try the spice of life—MSG. 

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Clear Conscience Café

If your passion is simply a steaming mug of coffee and a plain bagel, then any café in Boston will relieve your coffee craving. However, if you find yourself pondering the origins of the grounds you are sipping or the table upon which you are resting your laptop, then you will find solace at the Clear Conscience Café (C3) in Central Square.

From the windows made of recycled Coca-Cola bottles to the energy efficient light fixtures, every aspect of C3 was created with an environmentally responsible mindset.  Even the tables are composed of sunflower seed husks and bamboo!  Feel confident as you sample the organic soup of the day and debate over which fair trade coffee to select from the extensive menu, that you are ordering from one of the finest, most environmentally and socially conscious dining establishments around.  

Bring your laptop and sink into one of the giant sofas for a day of work and chai tea (but be warned, Internet only lasts for one hour!).  And after you lazily pass your hours people watching through the Coca-Cola windows, be certain to venture beyond the recycled glass counter for a brief jaunt into the Harvest Coop.  The Palateers occasionally find themselves lost among the Coop shelves, choosing the freshest, healthiest vegetables and ingredients to dine upon that night. 

In this age of environmental and social awareness, we easily feel guilty that we aren’t doing our part. During the day-to-day grind, it is difficult to make the small, but necessary, changes to our daily habits. Visit the Clear Conscience Café, and, at least for the moment, erase your guilt.

Clear Conscience Cafe
581 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02139

Monday, February 2, 2009

Top of the Hub

A skyline is the property of a city’s residence. Tall buildings, speckled with church steeples and golden domes, flourishing bright lights, is the literal face of a city. The Palateers believe it is a shame that often enjoying the view as a bird does comes at a price. Case in point the Prudential center. The audacity of mankind to charge a whopping $11 for a view that should be free! Me thinks not.

Fortunately, there is an alternative. Top of Hub offers the same view but without the entrance fee. For the price of two beers, you can enjoy Boston like a Grecian god staring down from Mount Olympus. To be honest, the Palateers only tried one dish here: The escargot. A daring selection that was a horrible choice. Overpriced, overbuttered, and overly unsatisfying. After the appetizers, we were unwilling to shell out anymore dough when we principally came for the view. However, our inquiries with surrounding diners revealed similar sentiments. The burger was overdone. The salad was nothing to scream about. The steak was okay. All way too overpriced.

If you want agood view, while enjoying jazz and cold beverage, we give the Top of Hub a Seal of Approval; however, avoid the food menu in order not to ruin the experience.

Top of the Hub

800 Boylston St #52
Boston, MA
617.536.1775 Reserve Online