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 try them.
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).
Our 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 came out served warm with very salty breakfast potatoes that were delicious to eat with the Swiss cheese that oozed out over my plate once I cut into it.
Sergio 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.
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 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. Both 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.
I 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. The 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.
The 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.
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 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
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?
We 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.
For 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.
I’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
Cafe Jaffa is a great cheap eats alternative in the Back Bay on Gloucester Street between Boylston and Newbury Street that has been serving authentic Middle Eastern food since 1991. When I lived in the Back Bay, I regularly came here for a quick lunch or dinner.
Cafe Jaffa’s menu is fairly large with plenty of options under $15. Keep it simple and stick to the many options in the sandwiches, salads and kabobs section of the menu and I promise you will enjoy your meal. On this visit I opted to have the chicken kabob salad for $9.75 with a tall glass of Lemonana for $2.50 (homemade lemonade with mint).
The kabob salad is served over a packed Greek Salad and a warmed pita that is briefly grilled prior to serving. As you can see from the photo above, the chicken is piled high and the bowl full of delicious feta cheese, cucumbers, tomatoes and lettuce. While beer and wine is available at Cafe Jaffa, I’ve always opted for the Lemonana because the minty lemonade is so good. If you’ve never had it and you like lemonade, give this a try – it is rather addictive. You can also get it by the pitcher for $4.75.
Cafe Jaffa is open Monday thru Thursday 11AM – 10:30PM; from Friday thru Saturday 11AM – 11PM; and Sunday from 12PM – 10PM.
Photo Source: Langham Hotel Boston
Bond Restaurant and Bar at the Langham Hotel in Boston is an elegant space that once was the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.
First impressions count and Bond clearly took this into account when they designed the restaurant and bar. We found the staff and service first rate from start to finish and enjoyed spending the evening at the bar. The menu at Bond is divided into three sections: “Start” range from $6-$15 and include items like Marinated Artichokes and Black Angus Sliders; “Share” plates range from $12-$16 and include things like Spring Arancini and Semolina Fried Oysters; and dinner plates called “Main” range from $25-$34 and include Swordfish and Steak Frites.
We started by ordering a bottle of 2013 Rose Belleruche. This turned out to be our most satisfying order, because while the menu is interesting, nothing lived up to its tempting description. We first ordered the special, Fried Crab Sliders $18. They had a lovely presentation but it didn’t have much flavor. Unfair as it might be to say, I couldn’t help but think how much better the Row 34 $4 Fried Shrimp Slider tasted.
We continued with another seafood option ordering the Tuna Tataki $16. This proved more interesting. I liked using the puffed sesame rice cakes to scoop up the tuna and seaweed, but nearly every restaurant in Boston has something similar to this plate and Bond’s version of this staple menu item was not particularly memorable or inventive – albeit pretty.Lastly we ordered the duck flatbread $15. This proved so disappointing that we actually left about a third of it untouched. The flatbread would have been far better if the chef had left off the sweet hoison sauce that gave a funky aftertaste and took away from the flavor of the duck, pickled onions and cheese. The lesson I took from this visit was it is better to stick with a good bottle of wine. If you’ve not been to Bond, it is worth visiting; just skip the solids and focus on their very stocked bar. The space is beautiful and the staff very capable. Bond is located in the Langham Hotel in Boston’s Post Office Square.
Boston has frightfully few very good, cheap Mexican restaurants, but Southern California seems to have one on every corner so the fact that Adolfo’s has been around serving the Laguna Beach community since 1985 has to be a testament of some kind.
This tiny little restaurant has parking around back which is good since it is on PCH in Laguna Beach between Thalia and Anita Street and street parking is scarce. There is no table service so walk up, place your order and take a seat in one of the booths or outside on their sunny patio to enjoy the meal. My fish tostada, tortilla chips, side of fresh guacamole and beer was less than $15 and was as filling as it was delicious. This isn’t fine dining and this isn’t the cleanest place I’ve ever walked into but it was the perfect place to grab a bite after spending some time at West Beach in Laguna and one of the best cheap eats I’ve had in a while. I wouldn’t go out of my way to grab a meal at Adolfo’s but I’d be hard pressed to walk by it and look forward to returning on our next trip to Laguna Beach. I’ll leave the more fancy options for others to try.
Adolfo’s is open from 10:00 am – 11:00 pm daily and can be found at 998 S. Coast Highway or you can call (949) 497-2023.
The Compass is a craft beer bar and restaurant in Carlsbad, California. The friendly bartender explained to me that they want to cater to the local hipster community; I refrained from rolling my eyes when he said this so seriously and reminded myself I was in Southern California.
The Compass is really quite nice inside and the menu is very reasonably priced; divided into snacks and shared plates ranging from $5-$12; salads, sandwiches and main dishes $10-$16 and desserts $9-$12. The menu included some interesting items like the portabella fries which we tried and very much liked. It was my favorite thing I ordered. The mushroom was crispy and salty on the outside and warm and meaty on the inside, making it a perfect pairing with my Scrimshaw Pilsner.For dinner I ordered The Compass Burger ($11) – I figured an item named after the restaurant should probably be a good choice. The presentation is impressive with the burger cut and half placed on its side so it can sandwich a pickle wrapped in bacon. However, the presentation was probably the best part of the over cooked burger.
Sergio is a sucker for mac and cheese and I feel like he fared better with his dinner. Served in a cast iron pan with braised beef short rib ($16) the presentation was equally enticing and while I think the both of us would have enjoyed more cheese the crispy breadcrumbs atop the pasta and soft, flavorful braised short ribs provided ample flavor and texture.Overall, the dinner was very nice and the wait staff was knowledgeable about their extensive menu of beers and food. It wasn’t until later in the night that the fun started to sour and we left after a couple of patrons continued to feel the need to repeatedly (and rather randomly) shout obscenities so loud it would make everyone in the bar stop and stare. After we requested the bar staff to speak to the intoxicated patrons and nothing was done we decided to leave.
The Compass in Carlsbad, CA is located at 300 Carlsbad Village Drive and is open daily. For more information visit thecompasscarlsbad.com.
A couple weeks ago the entire family packed up and headed to Southern California to visit my brother, sister-in-law and niece. We spent the first night in Solana Beach, California and the next morning we converged on Claires on Cedros to have breakfast together. I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say it was the best breakfast I’ve had in recent memory. This cute restaurant that was obviously at one time a tiny ranch house has a cute front yard and a much larger back patio where we were able to sit outside and enjoy our meal together.
Claires breakfast menu is too extensive to do justice and unfortunately the online menu doesn’t include all their pastries which you notice both by scent and sight when you first walk into the cute restaurant. I couldn’t help but start breakfast with this homemade cherry scone ($3.50) that came with cherry jam and butter. It was served warm and was delicious.
I also ordered the Caprese Frittata ($10.95) that came with homemade ricotta, provolone, both oven roasted and fresh tomatoes, topped with arugula salad served with fresh pesto and drizzle of basil oil. I devoured the over sized breakfast plate, loving every bite.Sergio seemed to enjoy his eggs and french toast breakfast as did the rest of my family. If I lived in Solana Beach, CA I’m pretty sure this would be one of my go-to breakfast options.
Claire’s is open daily and located at 246 N. Cedros Avenue in Solana Beach, California. For more information about Claire’s visit their website at clairesoncedros.com.
Fig & Olive has six locations (3 in Manhattan alone). The restaurant’s menu is inspired by cuisine from the Riviera and coastal regions of the South of France, Italy and Spain. When you first enter the 5th Avenue location you notice beautifully packaged olive oils available for purchase next to a long, white marble bar that seemed more like something out of Southern California than NYC. The upstairs dining room has large, beautiful potted olive trees and rosemary plants. The name and first impression gave everyone high hopes for dinner and while I enjoyed my meal, I was the only one to leave satisfied, which makes me wonder about the consistency of the kitchen.
Our server was very attentive and brought over a sampling of olive oils and thinly sliced focaccia bread after we had ordered a bottle of some delicious full bodied, Italian red wine. I started with the Fig & Olive Salad for $19 that was plated with romaine lettuce figs, sliced apples, manchego, sweet gorgonzola, tomato, walnuts and dressed with a lip smacking fig balsamic and olive oil (of course). I thought the salad was one of the best I’ve had in recent memory and could eat this every night.
A second bottle of the same wine was ordered and arrived as our main dishes were served. I had opted for the Fig & Olive Chicken Tajine for $27 which included side plates that contained couscous with cilantro, toasted almond and harissa. The chicken and the sauce accompanying the main dish was incredibly flavorful and enhanced by the wine selection (much thanks to my colleague who selected it).
I think the reason I may have enjoyed my meal so much more than my colleagues was the fact that I intentionally ordered items the waiter recommended. One of my colleagues thought the meat she ordered lacked flavor; another who had pasta described it as ‘goopy’ and thought it overcooked. My only disappointment with the dinner was the fact that my colleagues didn’t feel the same as I did about my meal.
In late November 2013, the Island Creek Oyster House team opened Row 34 in Fort Point Channel. The website describes the restaurant as “a working man’s oyster bar”. I have no idea what that means, but I don’t care because I loved everything about the restaurant. Executive Chef and part owner, Jeremy Sewall, is fast becoming my favorite chef in Boston. Row 34 seems like a smaller, more hip version of ICOH.
Photo from Row 34 Facebook Page
The dinner menu has a couple of turf options but this place is really all about the raw bar and seafood and it is here where Chef Sewall and his team really shine. We started our dinner trying their shrimp sliders that are $4 each and worth every penny. The lightly battered and fried shrimp are served with a chipotle sauce and sweet pickles sandwiched by a toasted bun that is light and buttery. Hashtag this #Delicious.
We also tried the mussels ($10) served in a very garlicky, white wine broth that we initially dipped our grilled bread and later sipped with our oversized soup spoons after all the mussels were consumed.
For dinner Sergio tried the Maine crab cake ($24) that came served with a shaved fennel salad. I tried the crab cake but I preferred the pan roasted striped bass ($28) I ordered. It was served atop marinated cucumber, yogurt and fennel. The thick cut of fish was cooked perfectly and the cucumber and yogurt added a creamy flavor that paired especially nicely with the salty, grilled exterior.
After such a savory meal we opted to try one of Row 34′s tempting desserts and for those of you who love candy bars you *must* try Chef Sewall’s chocolate peanut candy bar with salted toffee ($6). Think of the best Snickers bar you’ve ever tasted then multiply that by ten times better and that is how I’d describe this dessert that I know I’m still dreaming about. I might just come back in for this and a coffee.
Just like it’s sister restaurant, ICOH, in Kenmore, this place is packed every night so I highly recommend making reservations. Give Row 34 a try if you’ve yet to dine here. I think you’ll love it. I know I did.
Row 34 is located 383 Congress Street in Fort Point Channel.
The Ivy Bar & Grill in Hell’s Kitchen opened about a year ago and based on the steady flow of 20 and 30 somethings who streamed in off of 8th Avenue, it remains a popular place to meet friends for a drink or to grab a bite. The place was absolutely packed when I arrived at 7:30 on a Wednesday evening and it proved difficult to hold a conversation over the roar of voices that seemed to press in around me from all sides. However, I liked the look of this long gastro pub, helpful staff and menu that was reasonably priced.
The menu is divided into four categories, with roughly half the options categorized as appetizers ranging in price from $6 – $16; a few salads $10 – $11; sandwiches and burgers $11 – $15; and entrees $14 – $26. I had initially been drawn to the Udon Noodles plate but one look from my waitress when I inquired about the choice gave me no doubt that I’d be better served if I focused on the sandwiches and burgers section so I opted for the Grilled Mahi Mahi sandwich served with avocado, lettuce, tomato, sriracha mayo and salsa verde for $14.
If you are planning to spend time in Hell’s Kitchen and want a casual place to grab drinks or have a bite, this seems like a solid option and a place I’m sure I shall return. Have you been here? Let me know what you think of Ivy Bar in Hell’s Kitchen.
The Ivy is located on Eighth Avenue between 55th and 56th street at 944 8th Avenue and is open from 11:30 AM – 4:30 AM seven days a week.
On my most recent trip to NYC I had the opportunity to enjoy a dinner at Benoit NY. While I’ll admit this Midtown brasserie is charming, and I enjoyed my meal, Jules Bistro in the East Village remains my favorite casual French restaurant in Manhattan.
Located on 55th Street between 5th and 6th Ave, Benoit has a cozy bar as you enter from the street. The dining room (as shown above) is colorful with splashes of red, yellow and honey stained wood. The menu is divided into appetizers and main plate with the first ranging in price from $12-$26 and latter ranging in price from $25-$41.
Warm bread is served upon being seated – I wish this was done everywhere. I’ve never been one to shun carbs and happily helped myself while I waited for my drink to arrive. I started my meal with a basic mixed green salad and opted to try the restaurant’s “French Classic of the Month”, Boeuf bourginon for $29 for my main plate.
I barely noticed the salad while I chatted with my colleagues, but the same can’t be said for the boeuf bourginon. The beef was so tender I think I could have cut the meat with a spoon. This classic French dish was also accompanied by pearl onions, carrots, mushrooms and pomme puree. There was hardly a trace of any of it when our server cleared our plates. Sadly as much as I would have enjoyed dessert, I was too full to enjoy anymore, but I left satisfied.
Dinner reservations are recommended for Benoit NY at 646.943.7373.
NoPa, which opened in the spring of 2013, is a 160-seat American brasserie named after it’s location (just north of Pennsylvania Avenue). When you walk in from the street you’ll first notice NoPa’s long bar to the left of the host station. On the opposite side is NoPa’s main dining room, which offers a more quiet, intimate opportunity to enjoy Chef Greg McCarty’s cuisine. While the menu is fairly extensive there is a noticeable nod to seafood.
NoPa’s menu is divided into several sections, but the charcuterie, soups, salads and appetizers range in price from $12-$18 and main plates range from $18-$34. I started dinner with hamachi tartare that came with a soybean coulis and ginger vinaigrette for $14. I have to admit the hamachi was good but I felt like it was in a pool of vinaigrette and might have opted for something else had I realized this before I ordered it.Fortunately the Chilean Seabass with Wasabi Caramel, Japanese Eggplant, and a Sweet Potato Purée for $28 was fantastic. The fish was deftly seasoned and had a slightly salty and crispy texture on the outside. It was perfectly cooked and paired nicely with the sweet Japanese eggplant and wasabi. This is the kind of plate I would order again and again and comfortably suggest to anyone who enjoys Seabass.
NoPa is located at 800 F Street, NW in Washington, DC and is open for lunch and dinner on weekdays, dinner only on Saturdays and for brunch and dinner on Sundays. Reservations are strongly recommended.
The Friendly Toast first opened in Portsmouth, NH twenty years ago and opened a second location in Kendall Square in Cambridge, MA five years ago so this review is a bit late in the making. Despite that fact, I’ve been looking forward to visiting this restaurant since it opened. The funky vibe that is so evident in the original restaurant is replicated in Cambridge, although there is a haphazard nature to the decor in the Portsmouth location that seems more planned or contrived here.
Tacky decor aside, our food was delicious. The breakfast menu options are abundant and each plate seems to have plenty of flavor. Shown above is The Friendly Toast’s Costa Rican breakfast $10.75 which comes with black beans and plum tomatoes under melted provolone;
two eggs with a dollop of sour cream, served with homefries & homemade toast.
Sergio opted for a breakfast sandwich for $8.50 that came on a homemade biscuit with a thick slice of ham, eggs and cheese and a side of their breakfast potatoes which are flavored with chili powder to give them some kick. The presentation of both breakfast plates was imposing so it is best to bring your appetite.
Since the restaurant doesn’t take reservations, you may end up waiting quite a while so if you don’t arrive hungry, by the time you get a table you likely will be. The Friendly Toast in Cambridge is open for breakfast at 8 a.m. seven days a week at 1 Kendall Square in Cambridge, MA.