Friday, May 29, 2009

Estragon--The Long March ir de Tapas

Our choice to visit Estragon was spurred by a Boston.com article, which feat
ured cheap eats in Boston. The article foretold that a certain South End tapas joint had $1 tapas from 5:30-7pm, Monday through Thursday. The Palateers couldn't let a deal like that go past so we made the long journey to Estragon.

And it was a long journey. There is really no convenient public transportation to Estragon, barring the Silver line (but who takes the silver line anyways?), but if you do make the trek, you will be well rewarded. Estragon is light and airy, with outdoor eating to boot. Although not as Spanishy as other tapas bars (meaning no hanging legs of pig from the ceiling), we enjoyed the modern and relaxing feel. Not only that, the waitstaff is extremely amicable—like I'm talking you would want to marry away one of your daughters to the guy behind the bar.

During the $1 tapas period, a shorter tapas menu is offered, so don't expect to get your slice of spanish tortilla or chicken empanadas (that was definitely our chief disappointment). Nonetheless, released by all price constraints the Palateers indulged in the novelty of ordering one of everything off the shortened menu--multiple times in fact.

So good, it doesn't matter that it is covered in mayonaise
Our favorite was the deep fried artichokes--crispy and vinegary at the same time. Then there was a smörgåsbord of tostadas, otherwise known as stuff on toast. We loved the goat cheese & tomato, which was creamy and fresh. Surprisingly, the beef tongue and chicken liver tostadas were quite good. The chicken liver was enhanced with a semi-sweet sauce. There was also the bowl of deep fried chickpeas, which were perfect for mindless munching. There were also olives, and who doesn't like olives?

Crispy Humus Alternative
Stuff on Toast
Be careful with your drink orders because they will quickly inflate your bill outweighing any discount you may receive from the tapas. We especially liked the white wine sangria. Estragon might be a bit out of the way, but we would come and visit even outside the $1 tapas window.

Estragon
700 Harrison Ave
Boston, MA 02118
(617) 266-0443

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Great Boston Bagel Hunt--Episode 4--Darwins

In terms of Cambridge establishments, Darwin's is well known and well frequented by locals. You are hard pressed to find an open seat on any given weekend. Darwin's exudes an air of Cambridge intellectualism, with its free internet, large, cushy chairs, and free Boston Globes and New York Times! Its funky décor and long shared wooden tables make it the go-to spot for students, professors, and anyone who wants to talk molecular biology or comparative religion fueled by a caffeine buzz.

CAFFEINE BUZZ!
The Palateers visited Darwins to write Palateers' reviews, and in this mission, we were very successful. We even considered writing Darwin's review inside Darwin's, but decided such an act would constitute a form of review sacrilege. So, instead we mostly admired Darwin's breakfast and lunch menu options, which range from experimental sandwiches to classic pastries. We decided it was long past time to try another bagel for the Great Boston Bagel Hunt.

We liked Darwin's bagels for their flavor explosions. The sesame bagel was completely smothered in sesame seeds, which is rare compared to the typical scantily spread seeded selection proffered by rivals. The same was true for the onion bagel, which left our breath tart for hours. Both bagels were oozing with liquefied cream cheese.

Sesame bomb
While the Great Boston Bagel Hunt continues, Darwin's take the cake for atmosphere and general warm feeling with a touch of Cambridge sophistication.

Darwin's Ltd
1629 Cambridge St.
Cambridge, Ma
617.491.2999

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Three Dollar Deweys--Portland gone wild

For what it is, $3 Deweys doesn't put up any pretenses—a cheap pub on the waterfront of Portland, Maine. Despite dining on a Saturday afternoon, the Palateers could easily see how Deweys transforms into a raucous debaucherous lust pot. Named for its regionally famous $3 drink specials, Deweys doesn't pretend to be one of the classier gals on the block.

The Palateers showed up out of pure hunger desperation after hopping the Downeaster from Boston, craving anything that would keep us awake. We knew that Deweys would do the trick. Palatially spacious, fitted with long picnic tables, and adorned with several wide screen televisions perfect for watching the Red Sox, interior design was pushed to the brake lane in favor of the do it yourself free popcorn machine. Try it with the copious bottles of Sriracha hot sauce to get your mouth watering.

We decided on a soup and salad heavy lunch. The clam chowder ($4.95) was the best we've had in Maine, mostly due to the good ratio of clams to broth. Deweys aimed for the international with the tortilla soup ($4.95), which turned out to be soup with tortilla chips stuffed around the sides. The seafood chowder ($6.95) was slightly potato heavy, although the menu professed to a plethora of shellfish. We were only able to find one tiny shrimp in the entire bowl. The spinach and chicken salad ($7.95) made up for the chowder; however, it was still nothing to rave about.

Next time the Palateers are in Portland and craving an all-night binger fueled by signature $3 drinks, we will definitely hit up Deweys; however, for a casual dining lunch experience, we should probably give it second thoughts.

(sorry, we forgot our camera, so no pics)

Three Dollar Deweys
241 Commercial St
Portland, ME 04101
(207) 772-3310

Friday, May 22, 2009

Ashmont Grill—A bit of class at the end of the Red Line

If you ever happen to make the long trek out to Ashmont, taking the shuttle bus from JFK/UMASS (because of course the trains aren't running), traversing through Little Vietnam and the remnants of what was little Ireland, disembarking at a half built new T station, you will be wondering where you will find your next meal. As far as the Palateers can assess, your only choice should be the Ashmont Grill.


Free Banana Bread and Scones=very classy
With a surprising amount of class, for a restaurant on the rotary of Dorchester Avenue, Ashmont merges a bit of chic with wholesome filling meals. On this particular Palateers meal adventure, we had in tow three girls all under the age of nine. You can imagine the amount of bathroom expeditions and eating of jelly containers. However, our server handled the situation with grace and coolness, as we requested additional servings of whip cream, banana bread and silverware (replacing the ones which fell upon the floor).

Extra Whip Cream Please
While breakfast options were limited, we were all happy with all our choices. Most of the girls ordered hot dogs and french fries, while the adults settled upon either french toast or an eggs dish. The hot dogs were a surprisingly good choice, 3x the size of normal franks, cradled in a extra large bun, with a good helping of crispy fries and a dill pickle, all the little ladies rejoiced as they neat picked their meal. When asked about a review of the dog, one of the girls replied with a garbled mouth filled response--we concluded it was positive.


The Dog
The adults, feigning a degree of dining sophistication, were just as eager as the girls as they devoured fresh free banana bread and scones. The grand marnier soaked french toast was sweet and delightful especially when topped with whipped cream. The eggs benedict with salmon, was a treat. We especially enjoyed how all the servings came with fruit. Right on Ashmont Grill! We will definitely make the long trek out to visit you again.

A very sophisticated Eggs Benedict
Ashmont Grill
555 Talbot Ave 
Dorchester Ctr, MA 02124 
(617) 825-4300

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Vinh Sun BBQ--A round of Russian roulette that ended poorly

Eating in Chinatown is kind of like Russian roulette. Sometimes you get lucky and sometimes you would rather blow your head off. One dark Boston evening, we ventured into the very bowels of this lovely dank part of the city, hoping to get lucky. We did not. Do not go to Vinh Sun BBQ. There are reasons why in Chinatown some restaurants have long lines outside and others are more than happy to seat you immediately. Vinh Sun had no line and we quickly found out why.

Looking beyond, the disgusting peach interior and the shockingly bright lights, just sitting in the restaurant was uncomfortable. The heat in Vin Sun was almost unbearable and we quickly shed what little layers we had. The service was rushed and not helpful—which to be fair is typical in this neighborhood.


Mistake
We were craving dumplings ($4.95) and we received very doughy, mildly lukewarm disappointments. We ordered a sizzling platter chicken in a black bean sauce (which sounded really good at $8.95), however, we received a mound of flavorless chicken in a watery slightly salty sauce. A few bites were sufficient before we felt slightly sick. The Spicy Szchewan Eggplant ($8.95) was the only decent dish, and the only one we took home as leftovers.

Nasty

Not bad
Do yourself a favor and wait the 15min to get a good seat at a good restaurant in Chinatown

Vinh Sun B.B.Q.
58 Beach Street
Boston Ma 02111

Monday, May 18, 2009

Tapeo--That Spanish Feeling

Tapas--the mere mention of the word makes one of the Palateers quiver with anticipation for this Spanish style of eating, revives past memories. Those warm spring evenings, the faint but sharp twang of Flamenco guitar and the sweet smooth taste of Sangria. Madrid, where wine is cheaper than water, and going home early is more expensive than staying up till dawn. The culture of Tapas is certainly one to be envied and indulged, and Tapeo provides a nice taste of the experience.

We should preface that the Palateers visited Tapeo on two separate occasions. The first was bit of a disaster. On the recommendation of the sassy bar tender, we ordered a bottle of wine which was quoted at $30 dollars; however, when the bill arrived, it read $40. Now, in these down economic times, a $10 difference is worth debating, but to our shock, when we reproached the bar tender, we were met with a surprising amount of steely resistance and cutting attitude, which put a dour mood on our otherwise festive celebrations. Only after we requested the attention of the manager, did we receive preferential treatment for what was an obvious mistake on the establishment's behalf.

Armed with a coupon for a free tapas (which we received after the first debacle), we returned with a clean slate to test the Tapas. Full Disclosure: we ate during a $5 per tapas special on a Saturday afternoon, and we recommend you all to visit during this time or prepare for a heavy bill.

We started with a Gambas con Gabardina (normally $9.50)—four heavily battered shrimp served with a spicy green mayonnaise sauce was particularly enjoyed by one of the Palateers, the other didn't care for the sauce. But both of Palateers concurred that the Croquetas de Pollo—Chicken croquettes with a sweet orange carrot sauce—was a taste bud rave; however, with only two pieces we yearned for a larger portion (especially at $8 a pop). 

Gambas con Gabardin

Croquetas de Pollo
For veggie options, we loved the Filloa de Vegetales ($8.50)--a minature crepe stuffed with a vegetable medley served in a pint sized casserole dish. The cream sauce adorning the dish was absorbed with the complimentary bread. The Alcachofas Salteadas ($8) was surprisingly good especially for the novelty of roasted artichoke hearts. For dessert, the Queso Con Miel ($9.50)—Goat cheese with honey-- was a flavor supernova. Intensely sweet and wiping the palate clean of lingering tastes.

Filloa de Vegetales 

Alcachofas Salteadas
Although we had trouble with the surly wait staff on our first visit, the bar tender on our second was kindly and a good gent, thus having no qualms, we recommend all to enjoy ir de tapas at Tapeo (especially on a Saturday afternoon).

268 Newbury St
Boston, MA 02116
(617) 267-4799

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Cafe Pompeii--Murals of destruction and good pizza

Not many restaurants sell themselves on catastrophic historic events and seem to get away with it. The Pelee Pub and Grill and the Mount Saint Helen Bistro are just two notable examples of failed ventures in the culinary disaster market. However, the only catastrophe about Cafe Pompei in the North End is they don't serve tap water with dinner.

We journeyed to the North End on two occasions, and both times found ourselves drawn to Cafe Pompeii's simple menu, speedy service, and delicious cappuccinos. The breakfast scene was packed filled, as patrons devoured their hangovers away. The eggs and sausage were pretty standard. However, the bagel was about the same quality you would pick up at Shaws.


Thats a great brew
Pretty standard
To be exact, there are two separate restaurants in the evening at Cafe Pompeii. One that is for a proper meal experience and the other which seemed to act as an overflow restaurant, seating those poor souls who are fed up with the waiting for a table at other North End establishments. The overflow section only served pizza, alcohol and coffee, which we were fine with.

We ordered a large onion and pepper pizza, and 15 minutes later were served with a large onion and pepperoni pizza. Despite the mix-up, we still ate the entire pie. We liked that despite it being a Saturday night during dinner time, we were still able to get an unreserved table which peered onto busy Hanover street. Also, the quaint mural that depicts the destruction of Pompeii only enhanced the ambiance.   


Filling
Cafe Pompeii
278 Hanover St
Boston, MA 02113 
(617) 227-1562

Monday, May 4, 2009

JP Seafood Cafe

Exhausted and ravenous, we trudged into Jamaica Plain's town center. After a long morning of hiking Arnold Arboretum, the Palateers could have devoured a young yew or sucked the sap right out of a maple tree. However, in the most diligent manner, we decided to enter the first restaurant we came upon. Fortunately for us, our careful planning and execution, put us right smack in one of the best Japanese luncheon experiences we have yet to experience.

At first, we thought JP Seafood Cafe was a tacky fried fish joint, but turns out looks can be deceiving. The windows were bespeckled with glowing Palateer competitor reviews, and although we often don't take heed of our rivals, the luncheon menu seemed too good to be true. A whole obento lunch box for $7.95! Gee Golly thats a deal worth devouring.

As we were the only people in the restaurant (to be fair, it was before noon), we were seated promptly and the service was extremely attentive (they even accommodated our requests for hot water instead of cold). The interior was simple and we enjoyed the kabuki masks that leered down at us.

The lunch box experience was multi-pronged, beginning with a small bowl of miso soup to whet the palate. We were then presented with a lunch tray that would have shamed even the best of public school lunches. At the center was a healthy portion of either salmon or fried cod (we could have also chosen chicken, beef, tempura or sashimi). Both fish servings were delightfully filling, the salmon was decorated with a sweet teriyaki sauce cooked to our preferred medium rare. Surrounding the fish, like awaiting camps of soldiers were other samplings. A fresh green salad, topped with a sweet chunky orange dressing, a fried gyzo and shumai, potato croquets, three darling avocado and cucumber rolls and a mound of sticky white rice. What a bargain for such a filling meal.


Salmon Teriyaki
Fried Cod
After dining past the point of satiation, both Palateers slouched deeply into their seats and were on the edge of slumber, but decided for good measure to pick up a cupcake next door at the Real Deal to fuel the walk home.

JP Seafood Cafe
730 Centre St 
Jamaica Plain, MA 02130 
(617) 983-5177

Friday, May 1, 2009

Helmand--Afghani hospitality

The Palateers remember hearing stories of the Afghanistan of old. A backwater quiet country filled with a pleasant people set amongst high rising mountains and crumbling antiquated hill forts. Before the Russians, Taliban and other fighting forces, Afghanistan was the go-to destination for backpackers and travelers. The country still holds a certain unattainable allure, and we dream of hiking the Kyber Pass or traversing the same road as emperor Babur. Alas, those days have passed away, but fortunately, we in Boston can still enjoy cuisine of this ancient land.

Helmand Restaurant in East Cambridge, arguably one of the best dining experiences in Boston, offers an authentic rich Afghani eating experience. From their clay tandoor to their plush comfortable seats, Helmand has an eye for detail. The atmosphere is warm and welcoming and the service is always friendly and attentive. Throw in delicious food and a great wine list and you can see why the Palateers were won over.

For our appetizer, we sampled the Kaddo ($7.50). A hefty portion of soft hot pumpkin drizzled with a sugar and floating in a yogurt sauce was delicious. The complimentary tandoor flat bread was a perfect helper in scooping up every last smudge of this dish.

Kaddo
For our main course, we shared the Dwopiaza ($18.95) and the Mantwo ($14.95). The Dwopiaza included tender pieces of succulent medium rare lamb served with yellow split-peas and a brilliant rice dish. The Mantwo was a devilishly creative dish, which included pasta like shells filled with ground beef and spices. This was also smothered in exquisitely appealing yogurt sauce. The portions were hefty—which was fine by us because we have no problems with leftovers.


Dwopiaza 
 Mantwo
A true gem of Boston and a restaurant that is great to bring the folks, Helmand is a memorable meal that will inspire dreams of Afghanistan in the hearts of any uncertain soul.

143 1st St 
Cambridge, MA 02142 
(617) 492-4646