Archive for category Outdoor Dining

Matt’s Blackboard, Rochester, MA

20130823_145333Gina 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.

Matt’s Blackboard
565 Rounsville Road, Rochester, MA
508-763-8544
http://mattsblackboard.com/

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Rye Tavern, Plymouth, MA

2013-03-28 19.01.56The Rye Tavern is located on a dirt road in the middle of nowhere.  The sooner you get over that, and stop worrying about running out of gas or being eaten by bears, the better off you will be.

The structure was built in 1797 and presumably at that time it was on a busy thoroughfare.  Today, one dirt entrance takes you past the golf course community known as The Pinehills, and the other brings you in through bucolic horse farms. These are neighbors who think nothing of shelling out 45 bucks for a bottle of Cabernet, as the folks next to us at the bar did.  That’s pretty pricey for us canines, but not inconsistent for the menu.

That said, our total before tip, for two appetizers, two entrees, and a bottle of La Fiera Montepulciano ($25), came to just $91.  Not bad for an excellent, ample dinner of fresh ingredients, as local as the bitter March winds would allow, prepared at the direction of an expert chef.  We happened to be on duty for the first night of a new menu, and we had difficulty making choices.

Our mild red wine arrived alongside a bread basket that the Big Dog thought was the highlight of the dinner — a sweet, cakelike cinnamon bread and an oatmeal bread that probably contained something like pumpkin.

But surely the actual highlight was the carrot and ginger soup  ($7) that the Dog ordered as an appetizer.  Topped with a dollop of brie and sprinkled with chopped chives, the puree was thick enough to eat with a fork.  The sweet carrots were edged out by the spicy ginger in a concoction that transcended the traditional combination.

But no!  The real highlight was Gina’s crispy brussels sprout appetizer ($6).  Braised sprout leaves fluttered around a puddle of lemon aioli, anchored by meaty sprout halves and sprinkled with teeny candied sunflower seeds.  Kathleen, our able bartender, said a previous seasonal menu had omitted the sprouts appetizer, and regulars were very unhappy.

If our entree selections were any indication, Chef Joanna Farrar’s M.O. is to mix the vegetables and starch together, plate it over a ladle of sauce, position the protein on top, and garnish the dish with something interesting. For people who use a divided dish into adulthood, this is a disconcerting approach, but some of us like it. The Big Dog is on the fence about it, and this affected his view of dinner.

He ordered scallops ($23).  Five large scallops were seared to a mahogany color while maintaining their juicy interior.  The ladle was a rich balsamic glaze.  The veggie/starch mix was quinoa, tomatoes, and olives. The garnish was arrugula in a lemony dressing. Despite the Dog’s reservations about quinoa, apparently an acquired taste or texture, there was nothing left to bring home.

Gina’s dish ($25) was a mix of couscous, mushrooms, and peas, topped by two generous and juicy slabs of swordfish, garnished with a bright salsa verde and a scoop of house-made ricotta.  She ultimately agreed with the Dog that the combination of everything was overwhelming, but the Divided Dish gene she inherited, along with the ability to separate ingredients with a fork or knife, revealed the individual elements as delicious.

Now, to offset our whining about the bumpy, bear-lined roads, we should mention one feature that will bring us back, and two others that are really cool.  We will definitely find our way back to the Tavern to sit outside on the heated patio around a gas fire.  The country setting and charming landscape would make this a great spot for outdoor dining or just a gruner veltliner on a summer night. A secondary feature is what they describe as a 2,100 square foot vegetable garden.  And finally, imagine wending your way through a two-century-old tavern, complete with what appear to be original features, into a nicely appointed restrooms complete with wooden sinks.  No kidding!  They’re new, and they’re beautiful.

Plymouth is full of odd antiquities, and here is one that is well off the beaten path — and well worth visiting.  We envy the folks for whom this is a neighborhood tavern.

Rye Tavern
517 Old Sandwich Road, Plymouth
www.ryetavern.com

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