Archive for category Dining with a Great View
Now here was an unusual dining experience for Gina and the Big Dog. The food was merely serviceable, the view was disappointing, the decor drab, the service pedestrian, but we’ll look fondly back on the experience itself because of the two delightful strangers who were seated at our table by chance.
We made reservations on the Cape Cod Central “Gourmet Lunch Train” a week before our Wednesday excursion, and didn’t know what to expect. Arriving in downtown Hyannis as instructed, 45 minutes before our 11:30 a.m. boarding time, we imagined being seated with the pack of unruly urchins in matching fluorescent tee-shirts, or worse, with any of the numerous pairs of frail grandmas being hauled around by their hipster granddaughters.
Instead, after some confusion, we were led to the first table in the Great Island car, seated opposite Phil and Betty Rae, a retired couple who summer on the Cape and winter in northern Florida and who we’re pretty sure are the most pleasant people on the East Coast.
While the train chugged through an endless tunnel of bittersweet and ferns, we heard about the couple’s interesting children. While we chewed chicken breast in an egg wash topped with a lemony supreme sauce, a couple of roasted potatoes, and three outstanding asparagus spears, we learned about the couple’s own interesting careers. We heard about Little Dogs and how difficult they can be, and the Big Dog offered some guidance for an upcoming visit by Li’l Dog.
We enjoyed the seafood chowder. We’re not sure you can call a lunch “gourmet” and serve only chicken breast with supreme sauce, but the chicken was good and the potatoes were too. The day’s dessert was a lemon tart with raspberry sauce, and that was good. The coffee was good. We enjoyed a couple of glasses of cabernet with our lunch. Our waitress was cheerful and had really good balance, enabling her to haul a tray full of beverages while the train was in motion.
Looking at a map, you’ll imagine views of the bay, quaint villages, and the majestic Cape Cod Canal. The urchins and many of the grandmas turned out to be in a different non-lunch “Scenic Train Ride” car, along only for the scenery, and we’re certain they were extremely disappointed, because the view is obscured throughout. The sound system played an entertaining selection of rail-related music, but then deteriorated into static. A narrator offered some commentary on the ride back, but we were talking and not paying attention.
So while our servers had to deal with some lurching issues that your normal waitstaff does not, every passenger in the car had the same chowder-chicken-tart order; this was not a service challenge. Presumably, a significant portion of the $45 per person charge is for the train ride. And yet our bill included this off-putting line: If you are happy with your service, we suggest you base your gratuity on 18%-20% of the GRAND total of your bill. We like to think of our dining-out experiences in terms of the overall value, and that statement on the bill suggests that our fee was for lunch service delivered by our waitstaff. If this was a $45 lunch in a train car with a view, it was a horrific rip-off.
And had we been seated with the urchins or Grandma/Hipsters, that would have been our take-away: horrific rip-off. But the fact is that we enjoyed lunch immensely. If the Cape Cod Central Railroad had something to do with us being paired with the nicest couple on the East Coast, then bravo. We’ll leave it at that.
“Gourmet Lunch Train”
252 Main Street, Hyannis
We just discovered the best dining deal in the Southcoast region in one of the most unlikely places.
Cork, on New Bedford’s historic waterfront, has started offering a special called “Tuesday Tastings.” On the first Tuesday of each month, Cork is offering five tapas selections paired with five unusual wines for just $30 per person. Yes, that Cork, where a dinner for two with wine can easily set you back a hundred bucks under normal circumstances (mostly because you’re afraid of the word “tapas” and will order way too much food).
The premise with this Tuesday thing is that they’re tastes — the servings of both wine and food are small. But these are extremely generous tastes, and unless your standard serving involves the word “bottomless,” you’ll like this.
The Big Dog suggested that four friends join us, and those two other couples slid into their seats in the cozily refurbished historic building just as Sally from MS Walker Inc. started waving around a bottle of Espelt Vailet, a crisp white blend from Spain that for several of us was our favorite wine of the night. An equally crisp pinot grigio from Italy quickly followed, and Sally explained that while the Spanish blend was paired with the eggplant roulade and the pinot with the sauteed shrimp, we should mix and match.
The two tastes arrived side by side on rectangular plates and got rave reviews from our party. The grilled eggplant slices were artfully wrapped around chunky tomato slices (which Gina thought would have been better in the summer), goat cheese, and arrugula, and topped with a balsamic glaze that was thick and dark as chocolate sauce.
Sauteed shrimp was a buttery melange of pancetta cubes and cherry tomato halves, made fiery — too hot for the Big Dog, who thought the heat detracted from the dish’s flavor — by sliced hot peppers.
Next came two red wines, a tempranillo from Spain and a montepulciano, which like the pinot grigio was from Cantina Zaccagnini of Abruzzo, Italy. Both bottles came adorned with a sprig of grapevine that Sally said was affixed by the ladies of the village. The ladies of our village liked the montepulciano, despite the winemaker’s promise that it would taste like “a mouthful of leather” (and other things — you know how they are).
The Spanish Vina Zaco was paired with a dish that was innocuously described as slow braised beef crostini with Great Hill blue cheese and chive oil. It was nothing to look at: two blobs of beef on toast.
But its intoxicating scent preceded it, and the taste was pure heaven, its homey texture made rich with exotic spices. We tried in vain to identify the spice until finally, one of the waitstaff told us it was an Asian five-spice powder plus curry. We’re pretty sure the mention of curry was intended to throw us off course and prevent us from trying to make it at home.
Lost in the furor over the braised beef was another dish that was pretty good. They called it a raviolone, which is apparently different from a raviolo (the singular of ravioli, of course) because it’s bigger. It was stuffed with an excellent sausage mixture and fried with panko.
We ended with a painfully sweet pink sparkler, also from Italy, and a ball of chocolate chevre, probably excellent if you like that sort of thing, served with a little crostini over honey with sea salt.
We enjoyed good company, five delicious dishes we might not ordinarily have tried, and tasty wines that were expertly paired with the food, all at an amazingly good price. The unobtrusive wine talk made it educational. If Tuesday nights depress you, as they certainly do us, we would encourage you to visit Cork for their Tuesday Tastings.
Cork Wine and Tapas
90 Front Street, New Bedford
Upon arrival for lunch at The Back Eddy one wintry Saturday afternoon, we were captivated by the view of the Westport Point harbor, and interesting waterfowl floating by. We’d been lured by the promise of “locavore” sensibility. We were charmed by the pleasant waitstaff. We relaxed in the spunky nautical decor. We were cheered by the Big Dog’s perfect black and tan, and Gina’s superb Vinabla malbec.
But when the food started arriving, we were silenced. Reduced to an occasional, heartfelt “Yum,” the Dog said we should start our review that way.
As we’ve observed before, waterfront dining is often a terrible experience. You’re paying for high rents, not experienced staff or quality ingredients. Ditto for the local food joints that are popping up everywhere. We’re fans of the concept, but face it: in a New England winter, we learn that seafood and turnips only go so far.
Not at Back Eddy. No, no, no. Here, the elements come together so flawlessly that you’ll think of the spectacular view as the afterthought. It takes a back seat to the excellent food, a lot of which was sourced thoughtfully.
The Big Dog opened with a bowl of turnip soup ($8). Sounds like something your Irish grandma would foist on you when you were sick, right? Well, Grandma would have enjoyed the sweetness of the pure white soup, but this bowl was tricked out with a garnish of shredded lobster and drizzle of truffle oil. We could smell garlic, but it was so subtle that we couldn’t tell where it was coming from.
Gina started with the simple green salad ($7.50), pictured above. Yes, anyone can put perfect fresh greens on a plate. Anyone can dress them lightly with vinaigrette. Anyone can toss in some hearty, crunchy croutons. But if anyone can do it, why was this salad so unique? It was a salad you would make at home if you really cared about, and were trying to impress, your dining companion.
When the pleasant young bartender returned to take our entree order, we made a pivotal decision that probably affected our whole view of the restaurant: We decided to split an entree. With prices soaring to the 30-buck range, two entrees would have put us over the $100 mark, which is a particularly pricey lunch when you’re on your way to a foodie Christmas party. (Hey, we’re doing a public service, keeping you informed.) But we probably would have chosen the same thing anyway, plus they brought out two plates without that “extra plate charge” nonsense, so we were particularly happy with our decision.
Here’s what we got: A magnificent, moist grilled swordfish ($25), snuggled with melt-in-your-mouth brussels sprouts atop garlicky mashed potatoes. Alongside was a tangle of dressed watercress topped with a golden nasturtium. In the interest of research, we also ordered a side of slaw ($4). It was a brilliant, creamy celebration of cabbage, which Gina said was the best she ever had in a lifetime of searching for the perfect slaw.
Not surprisingly, we’ve heard that The Back Eddy is tough to get into during the summer season. But they’re open year round, so go now. Right now.
The Back Eddy
1 Bridge Street, Westport, MA
A rare Saturday night journey into New Bedford was, well, weird. Our first stop was a place touted as the city’s hottest rooftop nightspot, and granted, it was early evening (7 p.m.), and hot nightspots aren’t our thing anyway, but we were alone with the bartender in a two-story space for much of our visit. In fact, we may have been the only living creatures on the whole street, one that is supposed to be the heart of New Bedford’s restaurant scene, on the nicest evening of the year so far.
And then, based on the recommendation of a couple who came in later, we went to the Waterfront Grille, requested a table on the patio, and we were alone there too. The inside dining areas and bar were hopping, though, suggesting that patrons were on hand for something other than the best view you’ll get of the working waterfront without stowing away on a fishing boat. (The camera phone photo on this page was taken from our table.)
Our young waitress brought us a shiraz and a pinot grigio, and an order of sweet potato maki — an unadventurous but very tasty selection from an extensive sushi menu. Gina’s house salad was fresh and crisp, and the Big Dog’s caesar was doused with a good dressing and laden with parmesan.
The Dog ordered scallop scampi, partly because it was so likely to have come off one of the boats that was sitting in front of us. It was a delicious version of the classic dish, with a smattering of sun-dried tomatoes and the same addicting crostini that came with his salad.
Gina’s black pepper crusted swordfish special with grilled asparagus and mashed potatoes was perfectly prepared. But at the risk of sounding like we spend too much time in faux Italian chains where a serving includes multiple pounds of pasta, this was simply too little food for the hefty $27 pricetag.
When seeking dining recommendations, we found that everyone in New Bedford began by identifying the likely age range of fellow patrons. So, lest you think that the Waterfront Grille is just for older folks like us, we would note that we ran into Big Dog Junior on our way out, dining on sushi with fellow 20-somethings. The indoor dining area is festive and sleek, with ample windows overlooking the harbor — likely a great place to watch the game while splurging on some excellent food.
36 Homers Wharf, New Bedford
We love the Cape Cod Canal. It’s a stunning convergence of industry, technology, history, nature, and art. It’s a great place for a half-mile walk with a cranky old dog or a 14-mile bike/run(7 miles end to end). It’s a great place to catch a fish or a sunrise. It’s a great place to watch people, great blue herons, or barges. It’s just a great place.
The few restaurants which take advantage of this engineering marvel are located at the eastern end of the canal, on the Cape side, and our favorite of these is Hemisphere. The view is spectacular, and the food is generally pretty good.
Your dining experience will not be without missteps. If you’re seated in the upstairs indoor dining area, you’ll find the space to be incredibly loud. The waitstaff is young and immature and doesn’t seem to have a good understanding of how they add to, or detract from, your night out. Our waitress described one dish as “cool,” and we old fogeys thought she meant “chilled.”
But on a recent visit, a bottle of Malbec complimented a very good dinner. We started with fish nuggets: tasty morsels of haddock in a light, crispy batter, served with lemon and tartar sauce and plenty for two. The Big Dog had the stuffed chicken, kind of a twist on cordon bleu which he said was “neither too hammy nor too cheesy.” Gina ordered the seafood scampi, which came in a whiter sauce than the traditional butter and garlic preparation, over penne, but it was very good and loaded with scallops, shrimp, and lobster meat, along with fresh tomatoes.
With the aforementioned bottle of wine, dinner came to about $85. Portions were generous: leftover scampi will make one of us a very large lunch.
98 Town Neck Road, Sandwich
The unseasonably warm spring weather prompted us to head down to the Plymouth waterfront for lunch one Tuesday afternoon. Despite some interesting newcomers to the scene, we opted for an old standby: the East Bay Grille, and its beautiful outdoor pavillion-style bar.
We know of some places that have a great view and nice decor and think that’s enough, but East Bay Grille also offers superb food at reasonable prices. Gina enjoyed a spicy chicken soup and her favorite, a beet salad with goat cheese. The Big Dog had a delicious kobe burger, cooked medium at the bartender’s recommendation and served with sweet potato fries. Both dishes featured top-notch ingredients, expertly prepared.
Go ahead and order dessert (or, like we did, an extra sauvignon blanc for Gina and a margarita for Bo), then walk it off with a stroll on the jetty that extends into scenic Plymouth Harbor. It’s a little slice of heaven.
East Bay Grill
173 Water Street, Plymouth