Archive for category Family Dining
If you view dining out as entertainment, and also like us feel that a thoughtfully planned meal is like a well directed movie with preparation, setting and service all a part of the exquisite cinematography, then you must dine at the bar at The Cabin.
It has all of those elements, plus the outstanding choreography of a well managed kitchen, all on display.
We were prompted to visit The Cabin by all the positive reviews on a fun, homey Facebook page called Lakeville/Middleboro Dining Out (Gina is a huge fan and encourages you to apply for membership to the group). As the Big Dog has roots in that area, we entertained the possibility that the positive reviews were the result of Lakeville/Middleboro residents being among the nicest people in the world, and never negative.
But they were being totally honest, not just nice, about The Cabin. The food was very good, the service was attentive and friendly, and the interplay of the kitchen kept us entertained for our entire visit.
It was a warm evening and we were in summer mode, so Gina started with a Mezzacorona pinot grigio ($7) and the Big Dog ordered an Ultimate Margarita featuring Jose Cuervo 1800 ($8.95). Both choices were good.
We like fried oysters and these, a special served with a spicy aoili, were very good ($10.95). Our affable bartender/waitress, Rachael, tracked down their origin and seemed as surprised and disappointed as we that they were not local, but rather from Virginia. But as much as we like to support our local farmers, we also like clean oysters fried in a light batter, like these were.
We watched dish after dish of the special swordfish ($17.95) flying out of the kitchen towards the small and far less entertaining dining room, so the Big Dog ordered that. Gina chose the menu’s baked seafood trio ($19.95), which Rachael gladly matched with two vegetable sides (broccoli and the evening’s special, green beans).
We suspect that a restaurant owner, especially one present like the Cabin’s, regrets his open kitchen a hundred times on a busy Saturday night. He’ll see flaws and hear muttered obscenities that the rest of us miss. In our case, we watched Gina’s distinctive dish simmer under a heat lamp while the Big Dog’s swordfish remained in the queue, and we could sense the stress level elevating.
But not ours. We remained entertained and distracted by the kitchen — the cool pizza maker to our right, the seasoned fry guy, the line, the efficient expediter, and their interplay with the rest of the staff.
When it arrived, Gina’s delight in finding a restaurant finally having removed the tails from delicious shrimp outweighed the slight delay and any other conceivable flaw we could have found. The fish and scallops were cooked perfectly, as were the beans and broccoli.
The Big Dog knew going into it that he wasn’t going to like the pineapple salsa atop the pan blackened swordfish, so he scooped it off and enjoyed the dish without it. The balance included mashed sweet potatoes and delicious asparagus.
When we first sat, the couple next to us greeted us like regulars; over the course of the evening, another couple took their place and they too acted like they knew us. The Middleboro/Lakeville vibe is part of the entertainment at The Cabin, and really added to our enjoyment of our positive experience there.
114 East Grove Street, Middleboro
Spend enough time in the Southcoast region of Massachusetts, and you almost become an honorary Portuguese citizen. Most local restaurants have kale soup and some sort of Mozambique dish on their menu. We like traditional Portuguese dishes and the zing that the colonies, notably Cape Verde and Brazil, have introduced.
That said, we must acknowledge that we’re a coupla pale-skinned Irish kids, and no Avo ever made us bacalhau. That can be good and bad when visiting an ethnic restaurant like Antonio’s. On the plus side, it means that we didn’t grow up with a single preparation of a traditional dish and find all others just plain wrong. Conversely, we don’t know when something has strayed so far from the traditional preparation as to be offensive to some.
Antonio’s has a very good reputation, and we’re pretty sure it doesn’t stray from tradition. It has been around for 25 years. At 2 p.m. one recent Saturday, every seat in the house was filled, which is weird — as you know, that’s our favored lunchtime, and we have never, ever, had to wait for a seat at that time anywhere, until we visited Antonio’s.
We were joined by Gina’s mom, brother, and sister-in-law, for a late Christmas get-together and gift exchange. They all live in the New Haven, CT, area, where ethnic restaurants are so common that you can choose not just the continent of origin, but the specific country — if you don’t care for the Ethiopian style of sambusa, you can find a Somalian restaurant instead, for example. But apparently New Haven doesn’t have any Portuguese restaurants, so our choice was simple.
The beer and wine list set the tone. Gina chose an Esporao Reserva from the Alentejo region of Portugal, while the Big Dog and Gina’s brother chose a Buzzards Bay Brewery IPA from the Westport region of Massachusetts. Everyone was happy with their selection.
For those new to Portuguese cuisine: It is carb-intensive. Most of our entrees came with a yummy yellow rice AND potatoes. AND a delicious bread basket of fresh rolls and bread slices. AND we ordered soups thickened by potato and/or beans. AND we ordered dizzyingly delicious custards in puff pastry for dessert. We were all ready to run a marathon the next day, and we’re sure some people do that.
The kale soup ($2.99) was delicious, but Avo would probably be opposed. Most of the preparations we’ve seen feature an oily beef broth with red kidney beans, sliced kale leaves, and hunks of chourico. This soup base was velvety, creamy, and thick, unlike anything we had seen. There were white AND red beans in evidence. AND macaroni. AND we’re sure there were some potatoes involved in the broth, all carrying on the carb tradition. This version had some strips of kale leaves, but the unusual addition of cabbage, cut from the stem end in a manner that invited the curly leaves to hang together in a very appealing way. We loved this soup, and will go back just for that.
We’ll hope for bread with our soup. The overflowing basket included some slices of white bread, and a half dozen “pops,” the Portuguese rolls officially known as papo secos.
Gina’s mom ordered the Chicken Algavaria ($14.99), and it stole the show. We should have known what was in store when the affable waitress brought the rest of us silverware, and Mom a shovel. The dish arrived in an aluminum vessel the size of a child’s wading pool. It was chock full of shrimp, littleneck clams, and chunks of boneless chicken tossed with saffon rice. We’re kidding about the shovel and the wading pool, but after Mom ate her portion and shared oversized tastes with the rest of us, she asked for the leftovers to be divided into two separate to-go containers, and the one we took home weighed four pounds. Four pounds! This was A BIG PORTION. At lunch!
Gina ordered the grilled swordfish ($13.99) which came with hunks of peeled white potatoes and broccoli, and took more than 60 percent of the fish and potatoes home. Big Dog ordered a lamb skewer ($13.99) which came with the saffron rice and a delicious salad, and took 70 percent of the lamb and rice home. Gina’s brother ordered Steak Tips Diane ($15.99), a creamy preparation that came with rice and french fries of which he took home 55 percent. Slim sister-in-law ordered a crab cake dish ($9.99) and managed to finish it, which made us assume it was an appetizer portion.
Bottom line: the five of us ended up with 13 meals averaging less than $6 apiece.
We all ended the meal with a Nata Custard Tart, a special for $1.25 apiece. We’re thinking it was a puff pastry pressed into a muffin tin and filled with a thin custard. When we come back for our kale soup and pops, please add one of these to our order. It was delicious and fun.
The decor at Antonio’s is pleasant and clean but not fancy. The service is suited to a white tablecloth setting, not the stacking-chair-and-paper-placemat scene we got. Overall, we felt our expectations were exceeded throughout our visit, and there is no higher compliment to a restaurant.
267 Coggeshall Street, New Bedford
Their original restaurant in Taunton is always packed. A newer outpost in Easton is bustling. At the start of the new year, they opened a restaurant in Seekonk. And in February, they’ll be opening on Main Street in Wareham.
“Everyone” includes the Big Dog’s little sister, who had told us about the Taunton location years ago. So it seemed fitting that when we went to the original for research purposes, she and her family would join us there.
The Big Dog and his brother-in-law each began with a Presidente margarita ($9.50), which they liked. Sis ordered a mojito ($6.75) when our server, Isabella, let her know that fresh mint was available, and it was delicious. Gina ordered a serviceable house cabernet ($5.25) and particularly liked the colorful glass, which was very thick.
While we reviewed the extensive menu, we augmented the complimentary chips and salsa with an order of guacamole ($8.50), made tableside in a stone pot and more than enough for the five of us. The chips arrive warm, with far less salt than any version that comes from a bag.
Niece Kaiya, who is in third grade and very knowledgeable about food, recommended the carne asada ($14.95). Knowing that she was going to order it and would probably share, we made other choices, but this was definitely a good one. After Kaiya carefully moved aside the scallion garnish, the strips of skirt steak were flavorful and tender.
Sis ordered the fish tacos: grilled cod wrapped in flour tortillas, accompanied by a do-it-yourself slaw, so you could add as much cabbage and dressing as you like, and a mound of white rice. This is probably the healthiest option on the El Mariachi menu.
Seeking the traditional Mexican restaurant experience, Gina opted for the combo plate which featured two choices ($13.75, including a dollar extra for sour cream) from among enchilada, burrito, chimichanga, chile relleno, tostada, tamale or taco, any of which can be filled with ground beef, shredded beef, shredded chicken, shredded pork or cheese. The cheese enchilada and shredded beef burrito were good choices. Like most of the entrees, this came with yellow rice and refried beans on an enormous plate.
Brother-in-law enjoyed arroz con camarones ($15.75), a generous dish of shrimp tossed with vegetables in a red sauce.
The Big Dog choose pork carnitas ($13.95), which was the only slight misstep of the evening. The pork was kind of dry, which would not have been noticeable had he wrapped it in the flour tortillas with accompanying red sauce and guacamole. But there was no evidence that assembly was required, and in any case, that would have taken away from the very good taste of the pork. He took home nearly half of the very large portion, and it was excellent from the food processor rolled into the tortilla with a little mayonnaise the next day for breakfast.
Kaiya talked us into trying the churros ($4.75), delicious little strips of fried dough served with fruit topped whipped cream, melted chocolate, and caramel for dipping. They were a perfect end to a very good meal, and we look forward to Kaiya giving us guidance during future restaurant visits.
Our very attentive servers spoke with Mexican accents and dressed in festive clothing you associate with Mexico. The decor in this storefront restaurant is warm and welcoming, with walls adorned with colorful Mexican artifacts. A darker bar in the space next door, accessible from inside, looked like a great place to watch a football game. While we were there, three people got the birthday treatment, which here involves singing and having an oversized sombrero placed on your head.
One warning for the budget-conscious: the portions here are big but not super-sized, and most of the prices we noticed are $1 to $2 more than what is shown on the on-line menu.
We understand the Lopez brothers, who own and operate the growing restaurant chain, are from Mexico, and seek to replicate an authentic Mexican dining experience. We’ve never been to Mexico but we’ve been to Taunton, and we’re looking forward to an El Mariachi opening closer to home.
44 Taunton Green, Taunton
This is not one of those stories. Riccardi’s was delicious and beautiful and we were delighted with our experience there. But it was no surprise; we’d been stalking them for months.
The Big Dog remembered going to Riccardi’s in New Bedford as a kid and wasn’t sure we would like it. We explored their website and were uninspired. Gina did a drive-by and was unenthused. We called for reservations one night and hung up before anyone answered the phone. We bid on a silent auction package at a Boys and Girls Club fundraiser because it included a $15 Riccardi’s gift certificate, and we figured that would push us over the edge and make us go.
And finally, mid-afternoon on one raw and rainy Wednesday, we went.
And we loved Riccardi’s.
Before we get to the deliciousness and beautifulness, we should comment on the service. We enjoy going to restaurants where the waitstaff is well trained, polite, pleasant, and competent. We also enjoy going to restaurants where the waitstaff pull up a chair and tell us about themselves. But we’re always most comfortable in establishments where the employees have an innate understanding of when polite-and-reserved is going to make for a better dining experience than convivial chit-chat. The staff we met at Riccardi’s had it. In our case, there was literally a moment when our bartender transitioned from “Server #41” to “Shelby,” and that was a good thing.
Not to belabor the point, but just as a clean restroom suggests a clean kitchen, and a great house salad portends a great meal, the bartender’s handling of a request to change the TV station is kind of a bellwether. Often they say they’ve been told they can’t (meaning management doesn’t trust the staff). As often, they claim ignorance (pretend-stupid is as bad as stupid, in our book). At Riccardi’s, after looking around to make sure our choice wasn’t likely to offend other customers, Shelby offered us the remote — a good move — but then checked back to make sure we’d figured it out — a great move.
We sat at the six-seat granite-topped bar at one edge of the dining area and marveled at the space: forests of lush philodendrons dangled from high ceilings, ample windows and skylights let in plenty of natural light but with landscaping that protected us from the view of the parking lot. Booths lined the room, with those at the front end of the restaurant — opposite the take-out area where we entered — were slightly elevated. The space felt both newly renovated and long-established. When we arrived, a fitting Frank Sinatra song was playing. Brought in blindfolded, you never would have guessed you were on Route 6 in Fairhaven.
So. We started with a great bottle of wine, a Banfi chianti, for $28. It was light yet substantial and seemed like a great bargain, and paired nicely with a basket of dense and slightly sweet bread.
Gina selected the “Venice Feast” ($9.95) and will order it next time too. It includes two manicotti stuffed with a heavenly creamy cheesy spinachy concoction, two slices of eggplant fried in a light eggy wash and dabbed with cheese and tomato sauce, and a giant scoop of ziti (you can opt for linguine instead) topped with an earthy marinara.
The Big Dog’s pick was off what we guessed was a specials list, although the list was laminated, making it seem very permanent, and unlabeled. His seafood risotto ($17.95) included a base of arborio rice cooked with chunks of tomato and onion and a hint of shellfish broth, then topped with an artfully arranged display of tiny littlenecks and mussels, interspersed with lightly pan fried scallops and shrimp. The shellfish were outstanding, and the rice had a decadently rich buttery flavor.
As an aside, we should say that the Venice Feast came with a side salad and the Big Dog’s risotto included, for a $1 upcharge, a generous bowl of minestrone, and we didn’t care for either. The Dog thought the soup was okay but too far from traditional minestrone to bear the name, and you frankly don’t want to hear Gina’s tirade about lettuce that tastes like chlorine. But that really seems like quibbling, given how fresh and delicious the balance of our meal was.
Mid-afternoon on a rainy weekday, we had the waitstaff’s full attention, with only two other parties in the dining room, and we can imagine that the atmosphere changes dramatically on a weekend night, but the structure seems to be in place to accommodate a large crowd.
We definitely recommend Riccardi’s and are looking forward to returning.
Riccardi’s Italian Restaurant
38 Sconticut Neck Road, Fairhaven
Confession time: Gina and the Big Dog have been holding out on you. We’ve been telling you about all these great restaurants in the Southcoast region, but not about the one near the very top of our list.
We love Not Your Average Joe’s, a small regional chain whose closest restaurant to us is on Route 6 in Dartmouth. We go there whenever we find ourselves west of New Bedford. Or north of New Bedford. Or near New Bedford. We bought a Jeep from a dealership across the street, only because we could envision long delicious lunches while we waited for oil changes.
Last summer we managed to convince ourselves that Route 6 in Dartmouth was on the way to Foxborough (it is not) so we could stop for lunch on our way to the Patriots’ training camp. Let’s do a review! we exclaimed. This is delicious! we raved. What a wonderful spot! we enthused.
But for you… nothing. No commentary on cilantro-laced corn garnish, no photos of succulent scallops. Frankly, here’s the problem: we don’t want any more competition for a seat at the comfortable bar. But we do feel kinda bad about holding out, so here are reparations.
Not Your Average Joe’s is a wide open space, from dining room through bar area and into the kitchen. Clever Southwestern-inspired decor makes it work, and even at a crowded happy hour, conversation is comfortable. The center of the bar provides an entertaining view of the pizza prep area and wood-fired oven.
Our most recent visit was for a late lunch on a cold and drizzly day, and we were pleased to see that the menu had changed subtly with the season. Gone were the sunny avocado slices, replaced by warming butternut chunks.
With a basket of delicious chunky bread served with a peppery parmesan oil, we dove into a bottle of Clos du Bois cabernet ($30), a bottle we like enough to buy for evenings in The Doghouse.
The Big Dog ordered a Backyard Burger ($9.99) with cheese, and yes, it tasted like something that might have come out of our Weber, but for the accoutrements — a gleaming soft bun, a sliver of pickle, a soupcon of mustard. He choose greens as an accompaniment in lieu of fries and earned an entire pint of salted caramel ice cream points, redeemed later at home. The burger was perfectly cooked and delicious.
Gina started with a Not Your Average Salad, $3,99 with entree: a melange of young greens with the unexpected addition of hunks of blue cheese and blobs of dried tomatoes in oil. Love either and you’re in heaven. Hate both, like Gina does, and you’re still extremely happy with the remaining fresh salad.
For an entree, Gina picked the chicken enchiladas ($11.99). Two rolled corn tortillas arrived atop yellow rice with black beans, and under an outstanding herb-y poblano crema sprinkled with pumpkin seeds. The enchiladas were meaty and delicious throughout, but each roll’s crunchy end was particularly delightful.
The folks next to us at the bar ordered what we’re guessing was the raspberry sorbet ($6.99, like all desserts) and we apologize for not being able to take a photo of the beautiful presentation, for fear of seeming totally creepy. Take our word for it — the dessert was surrounded by piles of fresh fruit and poufs of whipped cream and looked outstanding.
So, to summarize: the food’s okay, the atmosphere is okay, and you probably shouldn’t go here. Especially when Gina and the Big Dog have a reason to be in Dartmouth, or anywhere near there.
Not Your Average Joe’s
61 State Road, North Dartmouth
Gina and the Big Dog are notoriously particular. People know that if they recommend to us that we try the chicken wings at some remote location in rural Rochester, those chicken wings had better be outstanding.
In this case, our friend Timmy the plumber was not an entirely trustworthy reference, so we did some additional research before making the journey. And honestly, the awful reviews for this place made us intrigued. “Totally forgettable”? “Portions were a little small”? “Service was terrible”? “Food is meh”???
Having had a week of horrific restaurant experiences, starting with a Saturday night debacle with our friends Mary and Jim at the East Bay Grille in Plymouth that was inexcusably awful, we were kind of psyched up for another train wreck. You, our loyal Chow readers, hear about our good experiences, but to avoid libel and profanity issues, the bad experience stories are related verbally to a small group of insiders. And those are fun too.
We found Matt’s Blackboard in the antique strip mall that constitutes Rochester’s sole commercial activity around 3 p.m. on a sunny Friday. At that hour, we were surprised to find groups of diners already seated, and others arriving shortly after we did. We took seats at the bar, whose elevated height obscures its essential diner vibe, with an expansive view of the kitchen.
They’re not kidding about the blackboard thing. The restaurant has a serviceable menu of pedestrian offerings, but the blackboard offers an intriguing window on a culinary imagination that made us want to sit and sample all afternoon.
We started by sharing a house salad. We believe, as you know, that the quality of the house salad is almost invariably an indication of the quality of the food overall. This salad was extraordinarily good. It consisted of crisp, mild mesculun greens, slices of English cucumbers, sliced red onion, and sliced small cherry tomatoes, with what we guessed were chunks of delicious house-made bread turned into croutons. The salad was good, but the dressings were outstanding. Our server brought out little containers of both the balsamic vinaigrette and the roasted garlic parmesan dressing, to avoid any fisticuffs among us; Gina tucked away her leftover parmesan to bring home, and the Big Dog slid his balsamic across the bar, to make sure it went home too.
We both ordered blackboard specials for lunch.
Gina chose the lobster roll and clam chowder ($15.99). The chowder was good, but the lobster roll was the most delicious non-Connecticut (hot and buttered) version she’d ever had. A light hand with the mayonnaise, a strong knife on the celery, and a good fistful of fresh parsley, tossed with delicious fresh lobster chopped to a manageable size, made a salad stuffed into a buttered and grilled hot dog bun. Textbook — cookbook — perfect. Add your lettuce or capers or tarragon if you want, but this pristine version of the classic can’t be beat.
The Big Dog selected a fried clam plate ($16.99). He said the whole-belly clams were chewy, but interestingly, they all disappeared pretty quickly, and Gina thought they were delicious, especially with the silky house-made tartar sauce. The Big Dog said the cole slaw was too liquidy, but interestingly, Gina didn’t get even a bite. The french fries were okay and there were lots left over.
Seats in the small dining area are likely nice. The half dozen bar seats, as we witnessed, may provide a bit too intimate view of the kitchen.
We thought the food was great, the service was very good, and the atmosphere was very pleasant on a Friday afternoon., We will definitely return to Matt’s Blackboard.
And it’s an important lesson for all of us. Cranky diners are the ones who tend to comment on the internet, and they aren’t always to be believed.
565 Rounsville Road, Rochester, MA
On a snowy winter night, there’s little more welcoming than a basement tavern with a roaring fireplace, dark wood decor, an attentive bartender, the soft murmur of quiet conversations, and excellent food.
Bittersweet Farm Tavern comes close to all that. On our first visit recently, we enjoyed a very good meal. The soft murmur was somewhat marred by the hubbub of a large party preparing for an event upstairs, and by a howling baby. The bartender may ordinarily have been attentive, but was distracted by computer problems.
But we would have to be pretty cranky to let those details spoil our evening. The food was well prepared using fresh-tasting ingredients, and the varied menu enabled each of us to choose our go-to favorites, the dishes we’re always happy to be able to order and about which we consider ourselves to be near-expert. We had a very enjoyable dinner for $100, including tip, with thanks to the Big Dog’s sister Kelly and her family for the Christmas gift certificate that got us out there in the first place.
The Big Dog started with an order of a half dozen oysters. The bartender gave him a choice of Cuttyhunks and Sakonnets and the Dog opted for three of each, to compare. They were easy to tell apart: the Sakonnets were smaller, sweeter, and maintained their delicate mollusk shape, definitely recommended if you ever get the chance.
Next up: two house salads, a medley of fresh mixed greens and other vegetables, with an excellent balsamic dressing.
The Big Dog ordered fish and chips, shown above, and said it was an excellent rendition, with perfect chunky cole slaw in a clever romaine bowl, and really good fish. Very fresh and very delicious, with a light batter. Those big flat fries are rarely any good, and the Dog would likely order something else next time to avoid them.
Gina’s choice was bernaise sauce. It happened to come with a bacon-wrapped filet, but the sauce was just as good on the accompanying broccoli, baked potato, and fork.
The menu at Bittersweet Farm is really quite impressive, with such a range of dishes that it’s difficult to choose. All the more reason to return.
438 Main Road, Westport MA