Archive for category Restaurant Review
Imagine you’re planning a celebratory Friday lunch at a nice Portuguese restaurant in New Bedford. You pull up and take the very last available parking space in the lot. You’re seated quickly by a window, and an attentive waitress brings you a glass of the brand of wine you favor. The menu offers many delectable-sounding choices, and your selections turn out to be ample and delicious, and at a price far less than you expected to pay. Happy dining day, right?
Now, imagine that you find yourself in a bar called Knuckleheads. You make your way past a lunchtime crowd of f-bomb-dropping workers in hoodies to the last unstable round hightop and move the ketchup and mustard bottles onto the windowsill so you’ll have space to eat. The waitress pours your wine from one of those tiny plastic bottles, and you anxiously choose a couple of dishes that total less than what you might have paid at the Honey Dew Donuts next door, as an argument breaks out among your barmates. Scary dining day, right?
But it was the same day! A friend recommended that we try Knuckleheads and we trust him, so we gave it a shot. While the atmosphere was not for the faint of heart, the food was outstanding and the service was very good.
Gina chose a grilled salmon special ($15.99). The big hunk of properly cooked fish came with a garlicky-buttery topping, a large portion of buttery mixed vegetables, and a baked potato with extra butter and sour cream. We understand how some people might be going out to a restaurant and think that bland steamed broccoli might be a good dining choice but… actually, no, we don’t. We think that vegetables deserve the same treatment of sauces and seasonings that the main entree gets, and we weren’t disappointed here. The fish was great, but the vegetables were the highlight of the dish.
The Big Dog ordered the Junior Portuguese Steak Sandwich ($12.99). It was the traditional preparation, with red bell peppers and a fried egg. He ordered the steak medium, and it was slightly pink the middle, just as we think medium should be. Served on a Portuguese roll, the serving was enough for another meal a few days later.
The Dog opted for the “round fries” as an accompaniment, and we were both glad. These Portuguese potatoes were just a scosh thicker than commercial potato chips, and addictive.
The wine, by the way, was Woodbridge Cabernet Sauvignon, which we order often. Here it was $5 a glass, and yes, it came from one of those little plastic bottles. And, by the way, a surprising number of the hoodie-wearers at the bar were drinking wine, not the Bud Light we would have expected. More proof that you can’t judge a book by its cover.
85 MacArthur Drive, New Bedford
We first visited The Black Whale on New Bedford’s charming state pier shortly after they opened in 2014. We were horrified. Mind-boggling acoustics, insufficiently trained staff, lackluster food — just a bad all around experience.
Enormous improvements have been made since then, and we highly recommend this restaurant now. And we have a secret to share: there is no better example of lunch being a better value than dinner. At night, The Black Whale is busy and pricey. Lunchtime prices are significantly less than the same dishes on the dinner menu. If they’re a correspondingly larger size at night, you’re going to need a bigger boat.
You know how if you go to an ethnic restaurant and there are people of that ethnicity dining there, you feel more confident in the food? Well, we’ve found after a handful of visits that this seafood restaurant is patronized by real live fishermen, and that makes ordering seafood dishes a no-brainer. That, and the fact that you park among fishing boats.
We sat at the bar, of course, on a recent Wednesday afternoon. This is one of those bars that’s perfectly suited for dining, with the bar top and stools at comfortable heights, and plenty of depth to spread out. Our attentive bartender, Zachary, brought us a bottle of Chasing Lions Cabernet ($39) and the complimentary cone of toasted bread and crackers alongside their delicious codfish dip.
Gina started with a house salad ($9.99), an enormous plate of pristine red and green lettuce with cucumber, tomato, and a scattering of sunflower seeds, with a lightly sprinkled citrus vinaigrette. It was perfectly simple and plenty for two.
The Big Dog ordered a bowl of the soup of the day ($6.99), a thick and zesty tomato soup garnished with goat cheese and chunky croutons. We liked it a lot.
For her main course, Gina ordered the pan roasted monkfish, described as being served with littlenecks, chourico, white beans, escarole, and white wine garlic butter, and topped with two grilled slices of rustic bread. At lunch, this dish is $12.99, and an enormous amount of very good food. At dinner, it’s $24.99, and probably still worth every penny. There was a little grittiness to it the sauce, which might have been from what we suspected as spinach rather than escarole, or maybe from the half dozen sweet clams. Gina regretted polishing off the bread with the cod dip earlier, because the somewhat spicy sauce was outstanding despite the grit.
The Big Dog selected linguine and clams ($14.99 – five bucks more at night), which also came with six clams. He found them to be a tad overcooked and chewy.
As mentioned, on our previous lunch visits, we’ve always noticed fishing professionals among those at the bar. On this particular stop, we saw one who literally wore an actual eye patch, and another was talking about bridal gowns with what appeared to be a granddaughter or niece. A lot of these guys come in to The Black Whale with hoodies and boots, but most of us would feel more comfortable there dressed a notch or two above that. In the summer, the restaurant offers a nice tented outdoor space looking out over the fishing boats docked a few feet away.
The Black Whale
106 Pier 3, New Bedford
We found ourselves in Mashpee on a wicked hot weekday afternoon, and we were wicked hungry. We were skeptical of Wicked Restaurant’s strip mall setting and silly name, but we were rewarded with an ultra-cool atmosphere and very good food composed of extraordinary ingredients.
We sat at the bar, as we almost invariably do, and our tender was a gentleman whom your tab will identify as “Rager” and who looks and acts so much like Gina’s brother that we were a little creeped out. His real name is Kevin, and he’s been with the restaurant since its opening a decade ago, he said. By the end of lunch, we were swapping restaurant and pub suggestions with him and other patrons as if we were regulars.
But this is not a neighborhood bar. This is the kind of place at which serious, international Mashpee Commons shoppers and serious golfers refuel. The silly name, and the silly names for some menu items, is inconsistent with the sleek vibe.
The Big Dog started with an appetizer of “wicked meatballs” ($7.50), alongside a vodka and soda made with Green Mountain Lemon Vodka, an organic offering from a Vermont craft distillery ($8.50). He enjoyed both and took a photo of the vodka label so we could track it down at our local retailer.
Gina started with a Nero D’Avola ($11.50 for a 9-ounce pour) and a fork, to assist with the meatballs. We agreed they were dense but delicious, and particularly liked the tomato sauce in which they floated. Two young men seated near us at the bar ordered the same dish immediately upon getting a whiff.
Gina’s entree was a special: caesar salad with steak ($17). The flavorful, abundant, and properly medium cooked steak tips were served over fresh romaine and tossed with roasted red peppers, black olives, and grated parmesan. Two triangles of flatbread — think naked pizza — garnished the dish, and the whole thing was topped with house-made croutons and a light dressing that we think contained a welcome hint of anchovy. The combination was excellent.
The Big Dog ordered the “Chubby Sicilian” pizza ($19 for a “full size”). We’re not sure how big the pizza was, but it was so loaded up that it could likely feed four. Toppings included house-made sweet Italian sausage, sliced meatballs, pepperoni, spinach-ricotta, marinara sauce, and mozzarella over baked penne pasta. On a pizza. This is one pizza. With penne. It was really good for lunch, and excellent the next morning reheated for breakfast.
Here’s how the pizza section of the lunch menu is introduced: “Our pizza dough is made with Non GMO Italian Caputo Flour, purified water, and natural wild yeast baked in a 600 degree stone hearth oven. Wicked pizzas are carefully designed by our chefs; we ask you to avoid the temptation of substitutions in order to experience the pizzas as the chefs intended.” The cognoscenti will look at the highly descriptive menu, in the pizza section and elsewhere, and recognize true quality and high value. The restaurant uses local and/or organic ingredients wherever possible. That was evident throughout our meal, but most striking in the steak on Gina’s salad.
We would have to call Wicked Restaurant a hidden gem, but it’s hidden because of a name that makes it seem like a tourist trap, a location where excellent food is unexpected, and a website that doesn’t tout its best qualities. We can assure you that you will be pleasantly surprised.
Wicked Restaurant and Wine Bar
680 Falmouth Road, Mashpee
It’s a beautiful Friday afternoon at the start of summer, and we’re on Cape Cod. We’re in a lovely restaurant recently opened by a highly regarded restaurant group. We’re about to enjoy some delicious food and wine at reasonable prices. We battled some significant traffic to get here.
And we are alone.
Regular readers will recall that Gina and the Big Dog deliberately avoid restaurants at typical meal times, preferring a late lunch as a way to avoid the lax service and unpleasant atmosphere that peak times can bring. We braved Bucatino at 12:30 anyway, mostly because we happened to be in the North Falmouth neighborhood. And inexplicably, we were the only ones there.
It’s a wine bar, so we started with wine. Larissa, our pleasant bartender, offered a taste of anything on the menu. We shared samples of a California Cabernet Franc, “Writer’s Block” (on special for $10), and a Barbera, “Marchisi di Barolo” ($9), and quickly ordered one of each.
We started with an order of the steamed mussels ($12), imagining multiple courses to follow. Its arrival coincided with that of a house-baked bread basket with olive breads, red pepper breads, and some plain rolls, all of which augmented the grilled bread slice that came with the mussels for dipping in the rich buttery sauce. The mussels were briny and clean, and the tasty breads went well with the sauce.
The expansive lunch menu included two intriguing-sounding soups, so again we ordered one of each (cups for $5). The one called Vongole e Fagioli (clams and beans) is a creamy delight that will not disappoint purists looking for clam chowder. The “escarole and white bean” is a classic presentation in a thick, creamy tomato stock. We enjoyed both.
When we arrived, we envisioned salads, sandwiches, and pasta entrees as sides. We would order grilled pizzas, we imagined, and perhaps share a panini.
But no, we were sated with the soups and mussels, and those dishes carried us hours into the evening, when we told a friend about our wonderful experience at Bucatini. “I heard it was expensive,” the friend said. We shared that our delicious, inventive, filling lunch totaled $22 for food: truly a bargain for a lovely restaurant on a beautiful Friday afternoon at the start of summer on Cape Cod.
Bucatino Restaurant and Wine Bar
7 Nathan Ellis Highway, North Falmouth, MA
We stopped recently for lunch in one of New England’s most vibrant cities, a place shaped by a beautiful working waterfront, historic sites, unique and world-renowned museums, and a thriving cultural scene. Boston? Providence? Portsmouth? Portland?
Nope, New Bedford. And if you haven’t been there recently, you need to visit.
Here’s a good reason: the Moby Dick Brewing Co., an authentic brewpub which recently opened on Union Street, one block from the Route 18 artery, and two from the state pier in one direction, and the famed New Bedford Whaling Museum in another. The food is delicious, the service excellent, and the space is a thoughtfully restored old building.
But let’s talk about the beer. Park on the South Water Street side and walk up and you’ll see the beermaking equipment, smartly separated from the restaurant so the odor doesn’t permeate. We had the good sense to do a flight of four each, so we could sample each of the seven beers on offer that day, five weeks after the restaurant opened. The range and variety of beers was remarkable, from a pale yellow unfiltered wheat to a frothy and nearly black Irish stout. Name any mass-produced beer, and the bar staff will match you up to a Moby Dick brew. Gina, not a beer drinker, liked the amber Ishm-Ale, and the Big Dog enjoyed the hoppy Sailors’ Delirium, a double IPA. All of the beers were good, though, and it was just a matter of personal preference.
A tray of four five-ounce pours is just $10, which felt like a very good value. And non-beer-drinkers shouldn’t feel left out — they have an excellent wine list, and we spotted some very special liquors on the shelf above the bar.
The lunch menu is short but wide-ranging, with a little bit of exotica balancing out the standards, and the dinner menu is as well. (The website, we notice, does not include prices, but don’t be alarmed — we noted prices to be on the low side of reasonable.)
Gina started with a sweet potato and apple soup ($5), a thick and spicy blend topped with toasted sesame seeds. The Big Dog chose the salt cod chowder ($6), a very good twist on the standard chowder.
We split the marinated beet salad ($10): thick slices of beets that were likely roasted, then arrayed over what they call a whipped ricotta, mixed with shallots, which would have been outstanding on toast. The whole thing was topped with chopped cashews and microgreens and looked as good as it tasted.
But the star of the show for us was crispy fried fish sandwich ($12). A buttery bun was piled high with pickles, tartar sauce, lettuce, and a giant pouf of fried fish. If you’ve sworn off French fries, these need to be the ones for which you make an exception. The whole thing was a messy, high calorie treat, plenty for two.
We think that a well-designed space can really enhance the experience of dining out, and the Moby Dick vibe is truly outstanding. Every detail, from the beam over the bar from which bulbs dangle, to the iron pipe toilet paper dispenser in the restroom, to the subway tile behind the bar, celebrates the history of the building, and the oversized windows are a textbook tactic for enlivening a city block while connecting the people inside with the world beyond.
Combined with the great food, delicious beer, and good service, Moby Dick Brewing Co. offered a great special occasion experience, and the reasonable prices make it a sensible regular spot for a meal. We look forward to returning.
Moby Dick Brewing Co.
10 South Water Street, New Bedford
Seafood dining in Buzzards Bay recently became quite complicated. As we understand it, the chef at standby Eastwind Lobster left, for good reasons, to start his own restaurant, which he calls Eastwind Seafood… on what is essentially the same street in the same town. Like the original, it’s on the rotary, just a different one. Like the original, it has a seafood market.
It was ironic, then, that one recent Saturday afternoon, we went to Eastwind Seafood looking for boiled lobster and they didn’t have any. We left happy, however, having had a very good lunch and tried something new. We’ve been there several times and enjoyed every visit.
Eastwind Seafood, as any local will tell you, is the one behind Way Ho, the Chinese restaurant on the Bourne rotary. They have a small bar which is a fine place for a meal. We started with a Casillero del Diablo cabernet ($8, the price for which you can frequently find a retail bottle of this charming Chilean), and our second glass came courtesy of our one fellow bar patron (whose Sambuca, also $8, was on us).
Bartender Brenda learned, on our behalf, that Chef would prepare the fried skate wing special as an appetizer for us ($11.99) so we could try it. We’d always heard of skate as a cheap substitute for scallops and also as a great sustainable seafood choice. Gina found it salty, and the Big Dog didn’t care for the slightly stringy texture, but we were glad we had tried it. We observed that pretty much anything is delicious if served with good tartar sauce, as it was. Despite our reservations, we polished off the entire large portion.
So no boiled lobster, but Gina was able to get a lobster roll ($17.99 that day). It was perfect: big chunks of lobster meat tossed with mayonnaise andb a leaf or two of lettuce on a buttery toasted bun. Better yet, they cheerfully substituted green beans for the French fries that normally come alongside.
The Big Dog ordered the two-way combo with fried shrimp and oysters ($17.99). The oversized portion got a rare “delicious” rating from the Dog.
The other Eastwind has a better view, but we really enjoyed our visit to Eastwind Seafood. The atmosphere is pleasant, and the food and service were both worth a visit.
304 Main Street, Buzzards Bay
A. The kind of people who got the right seats.
Let us explain. We weren’t all that hungry on a recent visit to Woods Hole, so we decided to stop at the bustling Quicks Hole Tavern on a blustery Friday night for just a glass of wine and light snack. The first floor level was jam-packed, and we made our way up to the second floor where the only two seats available were at the chef’s table, a four-stool bar facing the cooking activity.
Gina ordered a Terra Grande Portuguese blend ($8) and the Big Dog selected a Familia malbec ($9). Both were good wines we hadn’t tried before.
As we perused the menu, waitstaff serving both floors, and likely the floor above us too, dashed in beside us to pick up orders. And 90 percent of them were burgers, even though there was no mention of burgers on our menu. Burgers on plates, burgers in boxes, veggie burgers with Harvarti, burgers with salads, burgers with little tin cups of crispy fries, etc., etc. — they all went flying by.
We finally asked, and learned that burgers could only be ordered on the first floor of the restaurant. We briefly contemplated calling in an order to go from our seat next to the spot where they were dispensed, but we opted instead for an appetizer they call “pig candy” ($9) four slices of pork belly on a sweet potato puree. They were awesome.
But back to our review.
We watched as the four men in the kitchen braised lamb shanks, grilled steaks, sauteed juliennes of vegetables, pan-roasted chickens, and fried, then filled, little homemade donuts they put in a paper bags. We watched them test beef for doneness with a finger (a trick the Big Dog swears by). We watched them navigate the tiny space with nary a bump, criss-crossing paths as if they had done the dance a hundred times before.
Interestingly, we also watched as the line of cars waiting to board the Martha’s Vineyard ferry started to move, and the anxiety level among the waitstaff increased palpably. Not so the kitchen staff. If the customer wanted chicken on his kale salad AND wanted to make the ferry, he should have ordered three minutes earlier. The customer knew that too, and shook off the waitstaff apologies as he grabbed his bag of takeout.
Quicks Hole offers an ever-changing charcuterie and cheese board, with three choices for $17, five for $22, and seven for $26. The choices looked interesting on the blackboard, and the board of three we saw looked like a generous serving for two people with all its accompaniments. We’ll likely try that on our next visit.
But watching the professionalism of the kitchen staff, we’re certain we’ll enjoy any selection from any of the restaurant’s menus. We look forward to returning.
6 Luscombe Ave., Woods Hole, MA
There are likely many great restaurants in Fall River, but we stumbled across one that we would recommend for any occasion: date night, snack while passing through, impressing clients or in-laws, lunch with Gramma (or Vovo), drinks with the gang, or, as in our case, to celebrate the Big Dog’s upcoming birthday.
On a recent mid-week, mid-afternoon visit to the usually busy Sagres, we were lucky enough to be served by a bartender, Raquel, who was willing and able to guide us through the choices on the menu… and some choices only available to those in the know. We emphasize that at regular mealtimes, waits are long, parking is scarce, and the experience at Sagres will be very different from ours. You know we always recommend late lunch/early dinner if you really want to enjoy the food, and our experience at Sagres should show why.
We struggled with the wine list for a bit, then Raquel stepped in with a taste of the house Portuguese red (not to be confused with any of the house American reds). It’s Parras Vinhos 2014 Castelo do Sulco Reserva Red, and subsequent research (89 Wine Enthusiast points) suggest it’s a steal at $25 a bottle.
We each chose one of the soups available for $4 for a hearty bowl. The Big Dog’s Caldo Verde was a creamy potato broth with kale and slices of linguica. Gina’s Sopa Portuguesa was a hearty blend of chopped vegetables in a tomato broth. We liked them both, and particularly enjoyed the Portuguese “pop” rolls that came alongside.
The Big Dog ordered one of a half dozen lunch specials: Peixe Racheado, fresh cod with a shellfish stuffing, served with the day’s vegetables, rice, and a couple of boiled potatoes ($21). The generous serving of cod was outstanding; the blend of broccoli, carrots, and green beans perfectly cooked; and the potatoes and rice were very good. Both of us liked the taste of the stuffing but were put off by the goopy texture, and we were kind of surprised by the lack of discernible seafood in it.
Gina was unable to decide on an entree, and once again Raquel was there to help, telling us that not only was the shrimp mozambique available as a dinner, but we could do half shrimp and half scallops. Sold, at $19. Gina’s selection came with the vegetables and a good green salad, tossed with oil and vinegar. It was a yummy, spicy take on mozambique sauce, and while the shellfish were a tad overcooked, anyone who enjoys mozambique sauce will love this dish.
As if all this wasn’t enough, we split a delicious Três Delicioso ($7), a new offering, known only to Raquel, featuring a layer of custard, a layer of chocolate mousse, a layer of whipped cream, and a coating of cocoa. Raquel brought us a takeout container for what we couldn’t finish, to tuck in the bag with the rest of our take-away, but we blasted through this enjoyable dessert, leaving only a pile of ashes where the decorative mini-trifle bowl had been. (Not entirely true, but we were unstoppable.)
Sagres is a white-tablecloth restaurant in a blue-collar neighborhood. Its decor is beautiful, food excellent, and, if our experience was any indication, its service is beyond outstanding. We will gladly return.
177 Columbia Street, Fall River
There was nothing typical about our recent first visit to Cabby Shack on the bustling Plymouth waterfront. A light drizzle kept the crowds away, and we were treated to some really good fare.
We opted for seats at the third-floor outdoor bar, whose tiki top offered sufficient protection from the mist and whose railing offered a bird’s eye view of the harbor’s construction projects and boating activity. From our vantage point, we were able to watch cranes attending to a pier reconstruction and boat ramp project. Bartender Earl poured the Big Dog a 16-ounce Mayflower IPA ($5.75) and Gina a Quara Malbec ($7.50) in plastic cups, and we were content to sit and watch.
The Cabby Shack menu is full of the New England staples that a tourist from America’s Heartland would expect to find in America’s Hometown — let them go back west thinking that a basket of fries doused with chowda ($8.99) is a thing — but there were plenty of options for locals or visitors whose clam-o-meter has been tipped.
We started with chicken wings in a garlic parmesan sauce ($9.99). It was a simple dish, but one tasty enough to make us look forward to the rest of our lunch.
We love short ribs, and the Heartland visitors who skipped the Pratt-Rib Pannini ($13.99) because they can get that at home did themselves a huge disservice. The Big Dog’s giant triple-decker sandwich came with a layer of portobello and goat cheese on sourdough, all tricked out with some arrugula and carmelized onions. If you like thin, crispy fries, you will enjoy the ones that come with Cabby Shack sandwiches.
Gina chose a special, dubbed Salmon Homard ($22.99), a hunk of salmon topped with one of the restaurant’s signature lobster cakes. The salmon was grilled to crispy-juicy perfection. The lobster cake had a similar texture and color, with some visible chunks of lobster meat. Alongside was a dollop of delicious mashed potatoes, some asparagus, and a nondescript vegetable medley.
Overall, the food was very good and the view was entertaining: a rare combination.
30 Town Wharf, Plymouth
Under normal circumstances, we would never consider reviewing a restaurant that had been open for only three days. In the first few months, even restaurants like this, a duplicate of an existing successful operation, typically have a slew of issues to work through, from personnel conflicts to structural flaws.
This was not the case at Saga Steak House in the new Rosebrook Place complex off I-195/I-495. The decor is snappy, the service attentive, and the food very good. On Day Three. We would be doing you a disservice to withhold a review.
We arrived, frankly, thinking that we would just take a look around and have a beverage on our way home. We looked, and were very impressed at the sleek appearance. The front door opens into a six-seat bar and two high-tops. Beyond that sits a sushi bar. To the right, a dining room, and beyond that in the opposite corner, a hibachi grill room. The dining room and grill were separated by an enormous fish tank wall.
There were patrons in each of these four sections, and most of them were younger than what we’re accustomed to seeing, most heading back to the more raucous scene in the hibachi room. This was with no formal publicity, and at 8 at night. When word gets out, there will be lines.
The affable host, Peter, brought us two glasses of their one cabernet sauvignon, whose name escapes us. It was good, but not a good value at $9 for what appeared to be a scant 5-ounce pour.
One little snack, we vowed, and ordered a Kani Salad to split. It was a delightful tangle of julienned crab sticks (described as crabmeat on the menu) and cucumber, with a hint of mayonnaise and a scattering of tobiko, or flying fish roe ($6). We were hooked.
The beef asparagus appetizer ($8) also caught our eye. You’ve seen this dish as asparagus wrapped in proscuitto then roasted. With a sharp steak knife, these four little rolls would have been outstanding. With chopsticks, they were chewy (they needed tenderizing).
The three dozen or so “specialty rolls” range from $10 to $18 and offer theatrical descriptions for their multitude of ingredients. The “roll or hand roll” selections come at a lesser price and without the descriptions. Or, choose “Sushi and Sashimi A La Carte.” Or “Appetizer From Sushi Bar.” Or “Sushi Bar Entrees,” served with miso soup and salad. After one visit, we can be excused for failing to distinguish among these categories.
We skipped the “Hot Babe Roll” and “Sex on the Beach” and settled on the Rainbow Roll ($11) and Ninja Roll ($13). It was a good pairing from a presentation perspective; the Rainbow was beautifully composed, each topped with diagonally arranged layers of white fish, salmon, tuna, and avocado. The Ninja was more architectural, with spikes of shrimp tempura with a coating of eel emerging from a filling of lobster salad. The combined dish was delicious and beautiful.
As time goes on, we suspect there will be some tweaking with the volume of the background music. The bright lights up front and beverage cooler lights may be toned down. We would like to believe that the existing wineglasses will be replaced by some that are a bit larger. Some dishes may come with a steak knife, maybe a nice one.
But beyond needing those relatively minor adjustments, Saga Steak House appears to be in Year 2 form. We recommend going now, because it won’t be long before Saga is one of the region’s most popular dining destinations.
Saga Steak House
20 Rosebrook Place, Wareham