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.