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.
The Paramount in Beacon Hill has been serving delicious meals since 1937. In February 2012 they opened a second location in South Boston. The “new” location has a similar layout, executive chef, hours and menu. The casual dining option nicely compliments the personality of Southie, offering very good, affordable meals in a comfortable setting.
While you might want to try lunch or dinner at The Paramount, we recently indulged in breakfast, which is available 7-days a week starting at 8:00 a.m. with plates reasonably priced from $5-$9. Although the helpful staff is quick to clean, there is no table service so when you enter the restaurant walk up to the kitchen counter to place your order.
I ordered huevos rancheros $9; two fried eggs, homemade salsa, sliced avocado, with three grilled corn tortilla. The breakfast was satisfying but the salsa lacked any spice (then again I ordered this in Southie where many think mustard is spicy). Sergio ordered a breakfast sandwich for $6 which (like my plate) came with a generous scoop of breakfast potatoes that are crispy on the outside and nicely salted.In the name of ‘research’ we also ordered a plate of blueberry pancakes $8.50. The large stack of three pancakes are served with a liberal dollop of butter and a healthy sprinkling of confectioners sugar. Two words describe these pancakes, “mmm-mmm good”.
The Paramount South Boston is located at 667 East Broadway and is open 7-days a week. They open at 8:00 a.m. and close at 10:00 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 11:00 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
Photo credit: Melissa Ostrow
Last Thursday Blue Dragon celebrated their one year anniversary. This is Ming Tsai’s second restaurant and his first in Boston. When it first opened there was so much buzz it was impossible to grab a seat at this gastro pub that served Asian inspired plates. One year later the place remains a popular destination, and I’m happy to say that Ming’s touch remains – the food and service is excellent.
Blue Dragon encourages you to share plates so there are only a few true dinner plates. We sampled a bit of everything but one thing you *must* try is the potstickers on the menu; we tried two: Carolina BBQ (top left) for $9 and Braised Short Rib and Chinese Celery Potstickers (top right) for $9. Both were soft and flavorful, but I liked the kick in the BBQ Potstickers most.
We followed the poststickers with Ming’s take on Fish-n-Chips $12 that are made with panko cod, fries and served on a soft tortilla with cabbage, peppers and Chinese black vinegar aioli. These were delicious and something I would recommend to anyone who likes this sort of thing. The peppers had some heat that I found really appealing. We countered the “fish and chips tacos” with Teriyaki bison sliders $13 that come topped with smoked Gouda, caramelized onions and shiitakes. Both plates went great with my winter lager.
For dessert we ordered the deep dish chocolate chip cookie $10. The cookie is served warm in a skillet and topped with ice cream and caramel sauce and was delicious. One year later, Blue Dragon proves it still is worth visiting.
Ming Tsai’s Blue Dragon is in Fort Point Channel at 324A street in Boston; open Monday – Saturday; closed on Sunday.
Pizza may be my absolute favorite food; perfect for breakfast, lunch and dinner. A lot of people will dis Boston pizzerias in favor of pizza shops elsewhere, but I’ve found a number of places I really like. One of my absolute favorites is the North End pizzeria, Ernesto’s.
The pizza pie crust is flavorful but not too thick and I love their sauce. My only beef with Ernesto’s is that they don’t deliver, but that doesn’t stop me from picking up a pizza every couple of months. The large 18″ green pepper and onion pizza is $18 and change; and worth every penny. Give Ernesto’s a try if you live nearby or happen to be in the North End.
Ernesto’s Pizza – 69 Salem Street – Boston (617) 523-1373
Do you have a favorite pizzeria in Boston? Do tell.
Ostra opened late last year in space formerly occupied by Avila in the Back Bay. Executive Chef Mitchell Randall describes his food as “contemporary Mediterranean” with a focus on seafood; fear not there are options for meat lovers too. Ostra is Columbus Hospitality Group’s 5th restaurant in Boston and 6th in the area; it is a welcome addition to CHG’s collection of power dining options and sister restaurants (Mistral, Sorellina, Teatro, Mooo, and L’Andana – in Burlington).
The restaurant is beautiful with white walls offset by large, dramatic paneled photographs of the ocean. The caramel colored leather booth seats and hints of gold add interest, but I really liked the custom chandeliers inspired by jellyfish that float high above the dining room.
Ostra also features a beautiful baby grand piano (nightly entertainment is set to start in February in their lounge) next to a comfortable long bar that seats approximately 15. Main dishes at Ostra range from $28 to $90 (a dinner option for 2).
I started my first meal at Ostra (I will be back) with the Hamachi ($19). There is a hint of heat courtesy of jalapeño oil and pepper, but it is very subtle and offset by the citrus. I thought the starter was as visually beautiful as it was delicious to eat and I’d highly recommend it. Following our first plates, my friend and I continued to nibble on the warm bread and butter, while we chatted and sipped our cocktails. My friend tried the Malbec braised beef short rib ($42). This was unbelievably tender and flavorful – meat lovers take note. I had been torn between a few options but our helpful (and distractingly handsome) waiter, Carlos, won me over with his description of the Native Cod ($36). The fish was cooked to perfection and the accompanying sweet garlic whipped potatoes and mushrooms really made the dinner special. The porcini mushrooms definitely added an earthy taste to the dinner and I made a concerted effort to include a bit of everything in each bite to enjoy all the flavors together.
Although I’m not much of one for ordering desserts in the name of ‘research’ we opted to try the Chocolate Hazelnut Cremeux ($13) – again a recommendation from our waiter, Carlos. As with all the plates that come out of Chef Randall’s kitchen, the dessert only entices you more when you see it so beautifully plated in front of you.
Ostra is a fine dining restaurant and a welcome addition to the Boston dining scene. Service from the moment I walked in to the moment the door was closed behind us was flawless. Our waiter was helpful without being intrusive and the GM, Alex Hage, whom I met when I walked in was so helpful answering all my questions about the restaurant and menu.
Another way to enjoy this new restaurant is to visit their lounge. Nightly entertainment will begin in February so patrons can enjoy a cocktail (or two), sample some of Ostra’s raw bar or share a plate while listening to the piano player.
Ostra – 1 Charles Street - 617.421.1200
Anyone who has grown up in the area will be familiar with the rivalry that exists between two of the North End’s biggest Italian pastry shops.
Mike’s vs. The Modern
Earlier this month I hosted three taste testers to blindly sample a plain cannoli from Mike’s Pastry and The Modern Pastry Shop. The testers agreed the size of the pastry was relatively similar, but the appearance of The Modern’s cannoli was more appealing. When I asked what it was about The Modern’s cannoli one tester said “it looked more rustic and homemade.” You decide. Which looks more appealing to you?
Mike’s Pastry Cannoli $3.50
The Modern Pastry Shop Cannoli $2.50
While size and appearance matter when evaluating food, what really counts is what it tastes like and all three tasters agreed the cannoli from The Modern Pastry was superior. The pre-filled cannoli from Mike’s made the cannoli shell not as appealing and the ricotta filling from The Modern was sweeter and creamier. Have you been to these Italian pastry shops? What do you think? Conduct a side-by-side sampling like we did and share your findings with me.
Do you like this sort of thing? You may want to check out the results of a another blind tasting: The Best Chocolate Chip cookie in the South End.
Boston’s South End has a high concentration of bakeries and cafes so I enlisted the help of three South End residents to take part in a blind tasting to determine who makes the best chocolate chip cookies in the neighborhood. I did not partake in the voting but organized the tasting that included (alphabetically): Appleton Bakery, Berkeley Perk Cafe, Blunch, Flour Bakery, Jaho Coffee & Tea, Render Coffee, South End Buttery and The Wholy Grain.
Without a doubt the clear favorite by all three tasters was The South End Buttery chocolate chip cookie that received a rating of 81.5 out of a possible 90 points. This cookie scored high in all three categories: taste, appearance and size.
Tasters commented that the cookie was soft and full of delicious chocolate chips. Honorable mentions should also go to Flour Bakery and Render Cafe which came in second and third by the reviewers. Listed below is the complete ranking and score of those bakeries and cafes sampled along with the cost.
Much thanks to Ben Samson, Ryan Losey and Dr. Julian D’Achille, South End residents and chocolate chip cookie aficionados who acted as judges for this blind tasting.
*Greenlight Cafe and Stella Cafe were not included because they were not open at the time of purchase. National chains in the South End were not eligible for consideration.
Tangierino in Charlestown serves both ‘old’ and ‘new’ world Moroccan cuisine. Over the years, their success has allowed them to expand into neighboring spaces so the restaurant is a collection of cozy, romantic dining rooms that also includes a subterranean hookah lounge. The rich decor and exotic smell of spices made me feel like I had left Boston behind as soon as I walked through the front door. After being seated we were asked if we’d like to wash our hands with rose water; a hand washing ritual that was both fun and fragrant. Following the ritual, a plate of hummus and olives were served. The marinated olives had an unexpected kick and we all nibbled on them while perusing the menu. While there are many small plate and appetizers most range between $10-$16. For our dinner we settled on these delicious options.
Mendoubia Salad $11 Tangierino
The Mendoubia Salad is made with baby spinach and included goat cheese and cranberry wrapped in phyllo along with toasted pine nuts that was light and flavorful.
Chicken B’Stilla $12 Tangierino
The Chicken B’Stilla (a house favorite) is encased in a light phyllo with toasted almonds and sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar that is served with mint-yogurt. This was part of the ‘old world’ menu and really was delicious.
4 Layer Tuna Tartar $14 Tangierino
However it was the Tuna Tartar that really impressed me. The base included chopped cucumber, followed by a layer of honey and mango, and then a generous helping of spicy tuna that is topped by a thin layer of guacamole and served with crispy wontons. After our plates were cleared and a brief belly dancing performance our main dishes were served. Steve ordered the Tunisian Seafood Couscous.
Tunisian Seafood Couscous $29 Tangierino
The seafood is served on a bed of couscous that was cooked with familiar fragrances and spices that I couldn’t place but I recognized as staples to the Moroccan cuisine we were eating. My meal proved to be more to my liking if only because it surprised me. I usually prefer salmon grilled with citrus, but this filet was coated with harissa – a sauce made from chili peppers, paprika and olive oil - and I loved it. I devoured the entire plate.
Salmon Baha $26 Tangierino
However it was Sergio’s order, M’rouzia of Boneless Short Ribs, that was both a house and table favorite. M’rouzia is one of the most important dishes of Moroccan cuisine – a sweet and salty meat that combines a blend of spices with honey, cinnamon and almonds. Suffice it to say, the short ribs were delicious, practically melting in your mouth; and worth trying when you come to Tangierino.
M’rouzia boneless short ribs $28 Tangierino
Tangierino is open 7 nights a week. The restaurant is located at 83 Main Street in Charlestown. Reservations are highly recommended.
Photo Source: Urban Daddy Boston
Estelle’s Southern Cuisine opened in the South End approximately one year ago but it wasn’t until recent that I visited this casual neighborhood restaurant. Estelle’s won me over with its easy going atmosphere, continuous stream of 80s pop rock that played all evening, and the impressive selection (30 all included) of beers on tap. While I lived in Atlanta for a few years, I’ll be among the first to admit I’m not a Southern cuisine aficionado so my comments are more focused on my impressions rather than if Estelle’s passes the muster as an authentic southern cuisine restaurant.
Estelle’s Bitter Green Salad $9.95
Estelle’s menu is reasonably priced with Starters ranging from $5-$14; Burgers & Po’Boys ranging from $8-$13; and Main Plates ranging from $18-$26. I started my dinner with the Bitter Greens Salad that has a delicious sherry – mustard vinaigrette, beets, goat cheese & orange – spicy pickled carrots. The salad portion was so large it could easily be shared but that didn’t prevent me from eating nearly all of it myself.
Estelle’s Pulled Pork $12.95
Following the salad I ordered what the bartender told me is a reoccurring special, a Pulled Pork sandwich. This too proved to be addictive. The pulled pork was piled so generously on the bun that I needed my fork to eat some of the excess off before I could even attempt to pick it up to eat.
Estelle’s Chocolate Peanut Butter and Banana Pie $6.95
Against my better judgement I succumbed and ordered dessert when I heard the bartender describe how the chef puree’s peanut butter and banana and serves it on a light thin pie crust topped with chocolate and served with a side of fresh whipped cream. This was so decadently good I know I’ll have dreams about Estelle’s Chocolate Peanut Butter and Banana Pie.
From start to finish I enjoyed my dinner. This latest venture from the Wilcox Hospitality Group get two thumbs up from me.
Estelle’s 782 Tremont St / (857) 250-2999 www.estellesboston.com
Provocative image of a young Sophia Lauren dominates Da Noi’s entry
Da Noi which in Italian means from us has a very cozy and welcoming feel as you walk in from 49th Street. That feeling is further reinforced by the attentive and thoughtful care given to all who enter by the manager. As I slid into a chair at the bar, I was introduced to the very friendly bartender, Patricia. She was only too happy to talk to me about the history of Da Noi which has several other locations around New York City and to point out her favorite options on both the dinner and wine menus.
The affordable menu is divided into antipasti ($11-$15), pastas ($19-$23) and meats ($22-$45) and all main plates come with the option of coming as a half plate. After watching a few orders come to the bar I wisely selected a half portion, that proved to be quite large and more than adequate as a dinner portion.
Unfortunately, this is where my glowing review and admiration for Da Noi ends. To accompany what turned out to be a particularly good Malbec, I ordered Da Noi’s Melanzane Afumigate $11.95, which is grilled eggplant with smoked mozzarella and tomato. What I didn’t realize until the appetizer was served was that it also comes in a pool of oil and balsamic. The eggplant acts as a sponge and where a drizzle would probably be delicious the amount of oil and balsamic not only overpowered the flavors of the eggplant and cheese in particular but it also made it heavier and less satisfying overall.
Despite the mezza mezza review of the eggplant I looked forward to my Spaghetti Bolognese (I ordered a half portion for $11.95). However, I found the sauce too sweet for my liking. Also the proportion of spaghetti to sauce left me wondering if the line cook had dumped a full portion of Bolognese to accompany my half portion of spaghetti. I suppose I wouldn’t have minded so much if I had enjoyed the sauce but it wasn’t meant to be.
So I’m quite conflicted with this review and wonder if anyone has perhaps had a different experience at Da Noi. The service was flawless and the space couldn’t be more welcoming, but I found the food average verging on disappointing.
Da Noi Midtown / 214E 49th Street / (212) 754-5710