Category Archives: Restaurant Review

Restaurant review: Bel Ari

Bel Ari Modern ItalianLast week I was invited as part of an exclusive group to meet and try food at Bel Ari in the Leather District, prior to their opening to the public today (September 10th).

Formerly known as Sorriso, the restaurant was overhauled by its new owners who purchased it along with Les Zygomates earlier this year.  Bel Ari has a sophisticated look with its white painted brick, dark tables and beautiful artwork.  However, the redesign and branding extends beyond the physical with a new menu by Chef Robert Fathman described as modern Italian culinary inspirations “from all over the boot.”

Bel Ari bartender Karen and her mystery cocktails

Bel Ari mixologist, Karen, and her delicious cocktails

The bar staff is knowledgeable and friendly as you’ll find out when you meet Karen who concocts mystery cocktails based on your palate.  I was immediately taken with this British bartender who formerly worked up the street at Trade. I’d suggest checking out the bar and treating yourself to one of her unique cocktails and Bel Ari’s artichoke pizza, which I found absolutely addicting. Bel Ari pizzaI typically review restaurants after they open when I can get a better feel for the total dining experience; the ambiance, service and food.  Based on this experience, I’m intrigued enough to venture back after they open to the public and would suggest you place this new restaurant on your list of “worth checking out.”

Some of my favorite plates included their warmed, whipped ricotta cheese which was sweet and creamy; the mussels served in a crock pot with the tomatoes, onions and sausage; the artichoke pizza (shown above); and their glazed chops served with broccolini and couscous.

Restaurant review: Anchovies

South End cheap eatsAnchovies is one of my favorite neighborhood restaurants / bars. It is filled with locals and serves good food at very affordable prices.

The decor in this cozy South End establishment reminds me of my Nana’s basement. The beautiful, long dark wood bar is surrounded by tacky decorations that include everything from a rocking horse on the ceiling to old posters.

The narrow space can make it tough to get around in Anchovies and it fills quickly so if you arrive later in the evening you should mentally prepare for a wait (possibly outside on the sidewalk depending on how crowded it gets).  However, I love this place and always enjoy my dinners here. The Italian menu includes appetizers and salads, pizzas, calzones, pasta and meat entrees as well as sandwiches and paninis. Nothing on the menu is over $17 and you can easily walk out stuffed and satisfied for less than a couple of cocktails at most restaurants in the South End.

We started dinner with an absolute *must try* for any first time visitor. Anchovies combines the best of Mexican and Italian with their signature Italian Nachos for $11. This is a large platter that is meant to be shared. My advice is to use the crisp nachos on the bottom of the plate to scoop the soggier chips laden with braised short rib ragu sauce, ricotta and cherry peppers. The salty chips marry well with the rich meat sauce, and the cherry peppers add just a slight pop but the creamy ricotta gives a great finish. South End cheap eatsAlthough the pictures may not show this, the portions are generous. Neither Sergio nor I finished our meals.  Sergio ordered one of Anchovies most popular plates, The Riccardi – penne with chicken sage sausage and mushrooms in a tomato cream sauce for $15.South End cheap eatsI continued with my cheese-fest by ordering a calzone at Anchovies for $15. I think it is fair to say that Anchovies adds more cheese to their calzone than anyone.  I love their tangy marinara sauce served on the side. I dip the cheese and fillings with the dough into it.  This is my go-to comfort food order; it is so large I can barely eat half of it.South End cheap eats
Anyone looking for home style, no frills Italian will love Anchovies.  Best of all the kitchen is open until 1:30 AM 7-nights a week.  Anchovies is in Boston’s South End at 433 Columbus Ave.
Anchovies on Urbanspoon

Restaurant review: Jack the Horse Tavern

Diniing in BrooklynLast week I was able to have dinner in Brooklyn Heights and a friend who grew up in the neighborhood took me to Jack the Horse Tavern. I was taken with the converted storefront from the moment I stepped inside; exposed brick, comfortable seating and a warm buzz coming from the neighborhood bar come together to create a fantastic vibe.

The menu includes approximately a half dozen salads and starters ranging from $9-$13 and a protein rich menu that is evenly balanced between land and sea options ranging from $16-$26.

Jack the Horse Tavern BrooklynI started my dinner with the Green & Red Baby Lettuce which included Manchego cheese, marinated plums and a Riesling Vinaigrette & Rosemary croutons. The salad was light and refreshing which was exactly what I wanted.

Jack the Horse Tavern BrooklynAfter our first course was cleared, I was served the house duck plate which came highly recommended by our waiter. The meal didn’t disappoint and I’d strongly recommend it to anyone who likes duck.  The duck was served on a  bed of farro with dried cherries almonds and leeks. Every fork was laden with farro and duck dipped in the sweet cherry-almond coulis.

Jack the Horse TavernSince my colleagues all indulged in dessert, I opted to join them with another glass of the delicious Italian red we were sharing, Acquagiusta(I’d never heard of it previously but I’ll be asking my local wineshop – Brix – about it) and ordered the cheese plate. I wish I had taken notes when the chef came out to tell us about the five cheeses but I was still thinking about he duck I’d just finished. However, the meal ended equally satisfactory and my dessert became a communal plate that everyone tried and enjoyed.

Jack the Horse Tavern is located at 66 Hicks Street in Brooklyn Heights. It is worth venturing out from Manhattan to try.  After dinner stroll along Brooklyn Heights Promenade to ward off the inevitable self-induced food coma.
Jack the Horse Tavern on Urbanspoon

Restaurant review: The Trophy Room brunch

 Chef Evan Campbell serving up brunch at The Trophy Room

Chef Evan Campbell serving up brunch at The Trophy Room

My favorite meal to have out of the house is breakfast or on the weekend, brunch, so I was more than happy to give The Trophy Room at the Chandler Inn a try this past weekend.

Although the space has been open and serving brunch for a couple of months, I avoid trying new restaurants initially – allowing them to work out their ‘kinks’ – before I visit.  When we arrived on Sunday just prior to 11, The Trophy Room was half full and easy to get a seat at the bar or at one of the tables.  Their doors on Berkeley Street were wide open letting in the sun and a nice breeze.  The restaurant was half gay with a few hotel guests mingling with neighbors.

The brunch menu is evenly divided between breakfast and lunch items – all quite affordable $8-$14.  Our entire breakfast for two with tax and tip came to less than $30 (this was an alcohol-free brunch).

Trophy Room Boston BrunchOur coffee was delicious and promptly refilled by our friendly and attentive bartender (we opted to sit at the bar – a personal preference probably born out of habit).  I ordered The Trophy Omelette which is a “build your own”; I chose onions, mushroom and Swiss cheese for $8.75. The overstuffed omelette was served warm with salty breakfast potatoes that were delicious to eat with the Swiss cheese that oozed out and over my plate once I cut into my omelette.

Trophy Room Boston BrunchSergio selected The Trophy Trifecta that comes with two eggs, sausage or bacon (he chose the former) and two buttermilk pancakes for $8.75.  He devoured his plate but not before I was able to try the pancakes which were good enough to make me think on a future visit we might want to order the Grandma’s Pancakes for $7.75 to share as an extra plate.

The Trophy Room’s ease and availability, combined with its affordable menu and friendly staff make it worth checking out.  If you go during the warmer months when the doors are open on to Berkeley Street – so much the better to enjoy your coffee and to read the copy of the NY Times at the bar.

The Trophy Room is open daily and serves brunch Saturday and Sunday from 10:00 am – 3:00 pm in the South End at 26 Chandler Street in the South End of Boston.

Trophy Room on Urbanspoon

Restaurant review: El Presidente

Cafe El Presidente opened earlier this year in the Flat Iron District on 24th Street.  The place is spacious and has an open and casual, beach vibe with vintage looking painted signs and a large open kitchen in the back of the restaurant that looks out on to the dining room floor.El Presidente Flat Iron District NYCCafe El Presidente Flat Iron District

El Presidente serves up some delicious cocktails to try alongside their Mexican menu. The two most popular drinks made with fresh juice include the Paloma; a grapefruit and tequila cocktail served with a salted rim.  As well as the Spiked Sandia; a sweeter alternative made with agua fresca – watermelon and tequila. restaurant review el presidente in flat iron districtBoth proved to be so tempting when we initially tried them at the bar we opted to get them by the pitcher for dinner. That may have proven to be a mistake because while the food was delicious the portions of our main plates were smaller than anticipated and we probably should have had more solids to compensate for the amount of tequila we were enjoying.

Cafe El Presidente guacamoleI would highly recommend trying the Guacamole Con Totopos. The guacamole was creamy and offset the very light and salty chips.  The chips and guac also come with a plate of pickled veggies, salsas and lime and radishes. It was delicious and a good portion for a party of four to share.

I opted for the Pescado a la Plancha Oaxaca – Fish Tacos – which were made with mahi mahi on the night I was there. El Presidente Flat Iron District Fish TacosThe plate comes with four tacos.  The soft taco shell seemed to absorb too much of the salsa, making them difficult to eat; the taco would tear / rip when we picked them up.  However, they still tasted very fresh and my only real complaint was that I was left wanting more.

I liked the vibe and enjoyed the casual atmosphere and would recommend giving it a try.  Located just around the corner from Eataly at 30 West 24th Street, El Presidente is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Cafe El Presidente on Urbanspoon

Restaurant review: HK Cafe Restaurant and Lounge

HK Cafe Hells Kitchen NYCThe HK Cafe is located in the heart of New York’s Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood on the corner of 9th Avenue and 39th Street.  The long, narrow layout  has modern decor with large windows that look out on to the street.  I sat at the 12-seat bar to the side of the main dining room floor.  The menu is reasonably priced with soups and salads ($8-$12); appetizers ($10-$16); sandwiches ($11-$14); and entrees ($16-$24).

Unfortunately, HK Cafe’s first impressions was as good as it got. After I placed my order a rowdy party of about eight in the dining room started screaming at the top of their lungs; acting as if some pop star had just walked in from the street.  This continued intermittently through the entire evening – some people seated in the dining room left because they were so disruptive so I assume this is what one should expect since the staff did nothing to settle the raucous table.

Hell's Kitchen HK Cafe Fig Salad

HK Cafe Fig Salad $12.00

The experience didn’t get much better after my competent and handsome bartender brought over my fig salad.  Some of the figs were a bit too dry / hard and the cheese promised in the description seemed more of an after thought since it was barely there.

HK Cafe Hell's Kitchen NYC

HK Cafe Burger & Fries $12

For dinner I ordered the HK Burger and Fries.  While the portion was large this too was fairly bland. If I wasn’t developing a nervous twitch from all the shouting in the dining room or if the salad had been better I might not have felt the burger was quite so bad, but by the time it arrived all I wanted to do was leave so my impressions of the flavorless burger may be a bit harsh, but I won’t be going back to give it another try.

HK Cafe at 523 9th Avenue / (212) 947-4208

HK on Urbanspoon

Restaurant review: Beantown Pho & Grill

Recently Sergio and I tried a new Vietnamese / Thai restaurant that opened in mid-May on Newbury Street in the Back Bay.  Despite my aversion to all businesses that use the term “beantown”, I have not eaten Vietnamese before and was open to giving it a try.

The waitstaff was very patient explaining all the options on their 2-sided menu (one side reserved for Thai inspired plates and one side reserved for Vietnamese inspired meals). Dinner options remain very affordable with the entire menu under $15.00.  Why can’t the South End have more restaurants with this price point?

Back Bay Cheap EatsWe started our dinner with the Vietnamese starter, Muc Rang Muoi,  ($7.95) I’d describe it as a spicy version of calamari with peppers, onions, garlic and jalapenos. I enjoyed the plate but it proved too spicy for Sergio who immediately downed his glass of water.

Service was prompt, clearing plates and refilling glasses but we never felt rushed and I enjoyed eating outside on their Newbury Street patio even though it was so late that people-watching was kept to a minimum.

Back Bay Cheap EatsFor dinner Sergio ordered the Thai Red Curry with chicken.  The meal was served in a pool of red curry and an impressive amount of chicken and vegetables ($11.95).  Sergio enjoyed his meal, but I thought it wasn’t particularly memorable. His only critique was he thought it too spicy – I think his mouth was still recovering from the calamari we had shared at the start of our meal.

Back Bay cheap eatsI’m not familiar with Vietnamese food but every time I’ve ordered south Asian cuisine I’ve enjoyed how fresh and light the meals taste. I opted to try the Vietnamese plate, Kho To, a spicy white fish plate cooked in pot with a slightly spicy / sweet brown sauce; served with steamed vegetables and white rice ($13.95).  I spooned the rice and vegetables into the pot and stirred the ingredients together. While it wasn’t particularly pretty to look at, the food was flavorful.

I’m not an expert on Vietnamese cuisine and can’t speak to its authenticity but both Sergio and I enjoyed our dinners.

Beantown Pho Grill — 272 Newbury Street — (857) 263-8440
Beantown Pho on Urbanspoon