Archive for category Restaurant Review

Martinis, Plymouth

2015-04-07 21.22.27We went to Martinis because we had one of those Living Social coupons and it was about to expire.  We’d heard that they had pretty good food, and on Tuesday nights, live jazz. But it was really about the $15 coupon value we were soon to lose, so we were delighted when Martinis turned out to be a great dining experience, one chock-full of pleasant surprises.

First surprise: the restaurant was packed on a Tuesday night, with all eyes on a stage at the back of the long, narrow space.  We were led to a high-top near the windows on Main Streeet by the same Jimmy who’d taken our call earlier and told us the kitchen was serving until 10. A young server, who turned out to be his daughter, Meg, brought us menus, then returned promptly to take our drink order. No waiting here, despite the crowd. We were treated like regulars.

Thinking that one should order a martini in an establishment called Martinis, The Big Dog chose a tiramisu concoction ($12) that was very sweet. Surprise Number Two came later, when we learned that the name comes not from the increasingly tarted-up classic beverage, but rather from the name of the restaurant in “It’s A Wonderful Life.” Gina selected a Carnivor cabernet ($8).

The menu offers all kinds of interesting items, which can be good and bad. Often, what sounds like a good idea is actually not good at all.  We decided to start with something called a Boursin Cheese Artichoke ($10), described as a “long-stemmed artichoke stuffed with house boursin cheese, baked with panko crumbs and aged balsamic drizzle.” It was heavenly.  A baby artichoke was sliced in half, piled with a delicious boursin, and made crunchy with a layer of crumbs. Yes, it was a small portion for the price, but if that’s your standard for food, may we suggest the whopper junior with fries? We could see Surprise Number Three shaping up: excellent, creative food in a space entirely dominated by a bar.

The Big Dog called for a Sunflower Salad ($8), a fresh little plate of what others might call a Greek salad, whose twist was a sunflower oil vinaigrette and a scattering of sunflower seeds, along with some arugula mixed with the usual Greek components.

Gina ordered the roasted Statler chicken breast ($16), a classic preparation accompanied by a tasty sausage stuffing, mashed potatoes, and baby carrots (real youngsters, not those giant carrots pared into pellets on a lathe). It was very good.  For that price, one would expect a far more ordinary dish.

The Big Dog’s entree was “bistro meatloaf” ($17). It was ground veal wrapped with bacon and topped with a tomato-y sauce and smoked cheddar. It too was served atop mashed potatoes and carrots.

Surprise Number Four?  Host Jimmy returned a bit later and confided that the very nice jazz music was not your average has-beens, but rather the quartet who ordinarily supports a classic crooner who these days spends his time with a singer named Lady Gaga. Their artistry was an excellent compliment to the outstanding food.

We believe downtown Plymouth is one of the coolest places in southeastern Massachusetts, and once again were not disappointed.

Martinis Bar and Grill
50 Court Street, Plymouth

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Brazilian Grill, Hyannis

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A Brazilian grill, as a generic term, is a style of restaurant known as a churrascaria. At a churrascaria, there are typically two all-you-can-eat things going on: acres of an outstanding, fresh, inventive salad bar with familiar favorites and some more exotic dishes; and a barbecue where a parade of waitstaff haul huge hunks of meat to your table and slice off pieces to order.

Yes, it sounds over the top, but it really isn’t.  We went with friends to the Brazilian Grill in Hyannis for lunch recently… and let us tell you about the music first, to set the tone.

The charming hostess, who like the rest of the staff seemed to be Brazilian, thought for a few moments about which of the few remaining tables — this at 2 p.m. on a Sunday — would be most comfortable to us, then led us to one directly in front of where a man with a large collection of keyboards and amplifiers was setting up. Gina cringed, anticipating a wall of noise that would ruin our lunch.

Instead, the music, by jazz singer Ravi Melo, was perfect.  Most of the songs were Brazilian Portuguese standards, with the likes of James Taylor interspersed, at a perfect volume.

We ordered a bottle of wine — a Silver Palm cabernet sauvignon for the table at $34 — from a list that includes a lot of Portuguese choices that might have been a better pairing but sadly, we’re just not familiar with them.

By the time the wine arrived, we’d already received three or four items from the parade of meats: some succulent hunks of filet mignon wrapped in bacon, moist pork tenderloins, and chicken hearts. There was flank steak stuffed with chunks of cheese, and little medallions of beef topped with mozzarella.  And little sausages. And crispy chicken wings. And lamb.  And more.

The ladies, well beyond protein overload, ventured to the salad bar and found a surfeit of green treats.  Start with mixed greens, a fistful of watercress, a premixed Caesar, or Gina’s favorite, delicate Boston lettuce. Add cool roasted carrots, hearts of palm tossed in a creamy dressing, a julienne of radishes, grilled summer squashes, and any vegetable you can imagine pickled.  Or soups! Or an array of sushi! Or hot dishes, with or without seafood!  Or even a mounded platter of cracklings.

Our orders were classified as the Dinner Rodizio at $32.95 apiece.  That’s the deal throughout the weekend, and evenings during the week. The weekday lunch portion, at just $17.95, is available until 4 p.m. There is a soup and salad option, which does not include the more exotic hot buffet options, available weekdays for just $10.95. We witnessed lots of people lining up at the grill with their takeout containers. For just $8.99 a pound, you can fill up a Styrofoam box with your choice of salad items then add your favorite meats.

And while takeout may be a good deal, we imagine the price of the box escalates pretty quickly with the juicy meats and saucy salads.  You’re really better off hanging out in the lovely restaurant. The cordial waitstaff and the pleasant atmosphere, not to mention the music when available, combine for a special dining experience.

In the near future, we’ll find out — and let you know — whether other Brazilian grills spotted in Plymouth and Dartmouth are similar.  In the meantime, we can assure you that the Brazilian Grill in Hyannis is fun, unusual, and delicious.

Brazilian Grill
680 Main Street, Hyannis

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Brew Fish, Marion

hummingbirdBrew Fish opened at the site of the former Wave early last summer and we’ve made about a gazillion visits there since, each time fervently hoping that the restaurant would deliver the across-the-board good dining experience we know they can. We were consistently thwarted:  delicious food but inattentive service, bad food but we were treated like royalty, sometimes the food and service were both just plain weird.

Our recent lunch with our friends Lee and Carl seemed like a perfect time to stop waiting and just do it. Carl is facing the worst kind of health problems.  We’ve only known him for a few years and feel cheated that we didn’t have longer together, but we’re sure that even folks who have known him their whole lives feel the same way.  We know that he is a musician and a windsurfer and that he worked as a letter carrier in Lakeville, MA, where everyone on his route knows and loves him.  He explained what we were doing wrong with our hummingbird feeder and his fix resulted in a whole flock (see one above) invading our back yard, to our delight.

And he’s made us look a little differently at the notion of procrastination.

So we were bound and determined to tell about our experience at Brew Fish this time. And that visit was the best we’ve had.

Our friends started with cranberry juice, while Gina ordered a Bonterra organic cabernet ($9) and the Big Dog chose a Moby D from nearby Buzzards Bay Brewery ($5). Brew Fish’s emphasis on local beer and wine is a real selling point in our book, and we’ve found that indecision among those seated at the bar is frequently rewarded with a slew of complimentary samples.  Also flights are available for trying the ever changing seasonal taps.

So now let us tell you about the house soup, because it freaks us out every time we go there, and this time Gina ordered it.  It’s a steamy concoction of clams, chourico, potatoes, kale, and vegetables in a creamy broth.  Sounds delicious, doesn’t it?  It is!  Gina ordered a crock ($6) and loved it.

But on the menu it’s called “ch’ale” and billed as a combination of chowder and kale soup.  Yuck!  This poor soup definitely needs an agent.

Anyhow, Gina partnered her soup with a side Caesar salad ($5) and was delighted that when she asked server Colleen to hold the parmesan hunks that so frequently mar a perfectly good plate of romaine and delicious dressing, it actually happened.

The Big Dog ordered a chicken parmesan sandwich ($12).  It was a bit dry (“over cooked”) despite a slather of marinara sauce and melted cheese, but it was also enough for six people.  He swapped out the fries for a side salad without any drama.

Lee ordered a spinach salad ($11), and got a beautiful blend of fresh baby spinach topped with bacon bits, goat cheese, red onion, and red pepper, drizzled as promised with a raspberry vinaigrette.

Carl’s Brew Fish Cheeseburger ($10) was piled high with lettuce, tomato, pickle, and onion, and served with a heap of pale but crispy seasoned fries.

The folks who own Brew Fish did an outstanding job of renovating the Wave space.  The interior is sleek and urban, and on a previous visit, the bartender showed us how she can control subtle neon backlights behind the rough-hewn bar and around the tray ceiling.

During our visit with Lee and Carl we sat in one of the comfortable booths that surround the open dining area.  We usually sit at the bar, where the comfy seats are among the restaurant’s great features.

The Wave was an interesting place that attracted grizzled locals, sparkly students, and families, and it appears that Brew Fish is pulling the same mixed crowd. We wish the owners well and look forward to the day when we can say with confidence that they have worked out all the kinks.

As for Lee and Carl, they’ve also introduced us to a whole brew of cool music over the few years, and we’ve made plans to join them to see a show at the Narrows Center for the Performing Arts in Fall River this weekend.

Brew Fish
210 Spring Street, Marion

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Riccardi’s, Fairhaven

2014-10-01 14.00.45The best restaurant stories involve some serendipity: a little haven of deliciousness in a strip mall, a surprisingly beautiful decor in a biker bar, etc.

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

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42 Degrees North, Manomet

IMG_20140710_215322_077Hooray!  Gina and the Big Dog have sniffed out yet another great place to dine in our area.

We arrived at 42 Degrees North, on Route 3A in Plymouth, on a warm summer evening to find the snazzy outdoor bar packed with patrons.  We spotted a couple of seats but found them marked with cell phones, the new universal symbol for “I’m still here.”  So we trudged indoors to the empty bar and nearly empty restaurant, and were glad we did.  There, we got the full attention of our affable bartender, Brooke, and learned lots of things.

For example, 42 Degrees North is part of a family of restaurants that include two more located further up the South Shore area than we typically venture.  They have a fishmonger who delivers a catch of the day and the kitchen is never sure what it’s going to be.  They change their menu seasonally, and what we had before us was pretty new.

And very impressive.

The Big Dog spotted oysters on the menu and Brooke sped off to learn that they were, in fact, the product of our friends at Big Rock Oysters in Harwich.  He ordered four ($2.50 apiece) and liked them a lot — they were meaty and characteristically briny, and were served with cocktail sauce and an interesting citrusy mignonette.

The wedge salad ($8.95) caught our eye and we split it. A hunk of iceberg came draped with two slabs of bacon in an odd presentation that tasted better than it looked.  It came with a quartered tomato and more bleu cheese dressing than any two people should ever eat at one sitting.

Gina ordered the paella ($21.95), which is an excellent choice for people having trouble making a decision.  A big bowl of rice, yellow with saffron and rich with little chunks of tasso ham, was loaded with steamed clams and mussels, just-cooked scallops, peas, peppers, and perfect little shrimp without the annoying tail shells that restaurants so often leave on. It was a hearty and tasty dish.

The Big Dog ordered the grilled lamb sirloin (also $21.95, which is about the average for the 18 very diverse entrees). The lamb was cut into pieces and served with a demiglace and a rosemary branch. He ordered it medium well and concluded that medium would have worked for this preparation, but enjoyed it.

The lamb was served with a side of quinoa laced with goat cheese that was good enough to try replicating in The Dog House some day. The crunchy little quinoas were bathed in a goat cheese sauce, with some asparagus and portabello mushrooms tucked inside.

To our dismay, we found ourselves faced with a very appealing dessert menu and were forced to endure the bread pudding ($6.95).  Brooke told us that dollop of ice cream was house-made cinnamon, and that alone would be enough to bring us back to 42 Degrees North. We rarely order dessert (yes, you’ve heard that before) and this enormous, delicious, and creative dish will be difficult to top. No perfunctory BJ’s cheesecake here — the desserts are definitely given plenty of attention in the kitchen.

Throughout the evening, Gina sipped a Clayhouse cabernet sauvignon, and the Big Dog chose a Josh cab (each $9 per glass). When there’s a good selection of wines, we typically try each other’s and often make a trade, but not so this time — we each preferred the wine we had ordered.

This dinner was more expensive than our norm (about $70 plus wine and tip), and despite the large volume of food we brought home no leftovers. But the high quality food, excellent service, and attractive surroundings made it feel like a great value, and we highly recommend 42 Degrees North.

42 Degrees North
690 State Road, Manomet

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Pilot House Restaurant, Sandwich

2014-04-05 14.29.47Woo hoo!  We found a great new restaurant that you will like, and that’s what Chow is all about.

At the Pilot House Restaurant, you can see the east end of the Cape Cod Canal from pretty much every seat.  A step down here, a couple of steps up there, and you get a multi-level extravaganza of entertaining views.

Of course, Gina and the Big Dog sat at the bar, where you get peeks of sparkly water but not much else in terms of view.  We did get to see an excellent golf tournament on TV, and we had a great view of the Pilot House’s excellent selection of unusual wines.

We don’t usually dwell on the alcohol, but let us do that for a moment.  We ordered two glasses of Cabernet Sauvignon in order to compare them: one Justin, which we had only ever seen by the bottle at The Rye Tavern in Plymouth, and a Josh Cellars, which the Big Dog gets at The Lobster Trap in nearby Pocasset (and which we just realized we’ve never mentioned). Lucky Gina got the $12 Justin, and the Big Dog got the $8 Josh.  Both were rich, lush Cabs, full of fruit but not jammy, but when it came time to order a second glass we decided that the distinction wasn’t worth $4, and we ordered another pair of Joshes.

We note that a Chardonnay drinker beside us was delighted to see a La Crema on the wine list, but balked at the $11 pricetag.  Lucky for her, apparently, her blustery male companions insisted ordered the La Crema over her objections.

We’re sure that you could order soup, salad, and entrees at the Pilot House, and maybe a dessert, and enjoy them all.  But do what we did, and you’ll be just as happy.

To start, we ordered the cold seafood sampler ($15.95). It came with a lobster claw, two oysters, two littlenecks, and four peel-and-eat shrimp. We don’t share the same taste in seafood, and this was a perfect arrangement, with us each getting plenty of the stuff we like.  The platter came with plastic cups of horseradish, cocktail sauce, and a vinegar concoction that Patricia the bartender explained was “minuet sauce — some people like it with their oysters.”  The oysters were from Barnstable, we learned, and everything was clean and crisp and fresh.

We then ordered a haddock chowder special ($5.95) and blackened swordfish with lemon caper butter special ($12.95). We informed Patricia that we intended to split both, and she facilitated that with extra spoons and plates.

The chowder was outstanding.  We don’t mean it was good.  We mean that if we do a chowder contest: sorry, kids, but we’re picking the Pilot House. We mean that if we’re marooned on a desert island, the one food we want with us is Pilot House chowder. We mean that if we’re elected president, this soup will be served in the White House.  We mean… well, you get the picture.  We all have our pet peeves about chowder: too thick, too thin, potatoes too big, insufficient protein, etc., but we dare you to find something wrong with this creamy, bacony, thyme-y bowl of bliss.

The salad was a very fresh lettuce mix with some added oomph — maybe brussels sprouts leaves? — with grape tomatoes, a few European cucumber slices, some red onion, and the best house-made Italian dressing we have ever tasted. No need to tart up this basic oil and vinegar emulsion with herbs or cheese.

The swordfish was good.  The butternut squash served alongside was also good.  The mashed potatoes were fluffy, smooth, and delicious.

The Pilot House isn’t new.  The building has clearly been there for a long time, although the interior has a fresh updated feel, and the operators tout some significant experience in the area. It was new to us, though, and we look forward to returning for outdoor dining as the weather warms.

The Pilot House Restaurant and Lounge
14 Gallo Road, Sandwich
www.pilothousecapecod.com

 

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Aroma Tavern and Grill, Manomet

2014-02-14 14.01.01

If you find yourself on State Road (Route 3A) in the Manomet section of Plymouth, we recommend making a stop at Aroma Tavern and Grill.  The food is good, prices are reasonable, service is friendly, the atmosphere is comfortable, the selection is broad, and the staff accommodated special requests.

You can’t ask for much more than that from a pub nestled into a suburban strip mall.  Yes, you can ask for a slightly less kitchy decor.  You can ask for sea scallops on your scallop roll, instead of bay scallops. You can ask for the restaurant to reduce the number of special menus — we had four menus apiece, and that was silly.  That’s really the best we can do for criticism.  In fact, we liked the place so much that after a recent lunch in the dining room with friends, we went back inside to check out the bar, which is where we would normally dine.

Inspired by N., who was enjoying a Cranberry Flower Martini ($8.50) when we arrived, the Big Dog ordered a Raspberry Truffle Martini ($10).  Good enough to order two, but not necessarily a good lunch accompaniment.  Spotting an Argento Malbec ($7), Gina didn’t have to think twice.  T. had a Blue Moon beer ($4.50 for a 16-ounce draft).

Feeling assaulted by all those menus, we decided to start with a couple of intriguing-sounding appetizers from among the regular lunch selections.  Potato-crusted calamari ($9), served with orange chipotle mayonnaise, and lobster mac and cheese ($13), served in a little crock, were possibly our best choices of the day.  Both were delicious and there was plenty to share.  As server Karen promised, the potato flour made the calamari batter airy without a potato-y taste.  Nearly every bite of the mac and cheese contained a piece of lobster.

The Big Dog chose a “Power Lunch” from menu #3, a selection of soup-salad-sandwich arrangements for $10.  His choices were the aforementioned scallop roll, which he found disappointing because of the bay scallops, a good little caesar salad, and a very good bowl of chowder.

Although the roasted beet and goat cheese salad craze has abated, Gina still orders them whenever she sees them, and this one ($8) was good, with thick slices of beets.  She added a lobster roll ($12), which was kind of chewy (but seriously, isn’t lobster always kind of chewy?).  The dish ordinarily comes with fries, but Gina requested a substitution and chose a baked potato from among the starches, then disruptively asked for an order of good sauteed vegetables instead, and both the vegetables (mostly cauliflower and zucchini) and the potato arrived, with none of your irritating “upcharges.”  Lest you think we’re total pigs, we brought most of the sides home.

N and T ordered London broil ($14) and steak tips ($15) and approved of each, saying that they had been cooked properly rare as they requested.

Our round booth in the back of the restaurant, opposite a gas fire, was comfortable, but the focus here seems to be on the bright and pleasant bar, where at 3:30 on a Friday afternoon, hightop tables were already filling up with regulars. Our colleague Joan, whose family summers nearby, recommended the place, and we could easily imagine vacationers and beachgoers packing the place on a summer evening.

Aroma Tavern and Grille
739 State Road (Route 3a), Manomet
aromatavernandgrill.com

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Not Your Average Joe’s, Dartmouth

2013-12-05 14.00.06Confession 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
www.notyouraveragejoes.com

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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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New World Tavern, Plymouth

DSCF1518_HDR-300x194Here in the Dog House we have a policy: If you can’t say anything nice about a restaurant, don’t write a review.

Such was the case a few years back when we visited the New World Tavern. We ordered a couple of classic pub dishes — a Middle Eastern sampler and chicken wings — and found them to be so tampered-with as to be unrecognizable, and terrible. We’ve blocked out the details, but it was something like hummus made with butternut squash instead of chick peas, garnished with peppermint sticks.  Something like that.

But during a recent visit to the Waterfront Grille in New Bedford, Brenna, our enthusiastic bartender, told us a new chef has dramatically improved the food at the New World Tavern.  The context was that we should stop by the Pillory Pub at the Plymouth waterfront sometime before it closes for the season on December 1, because she works there nights and it’s a cool spot, then head up the hill to the New World Tavern for dinner.  Her perspective was a combination of restaurant insider and Chamber of Commerce pitchperson, and we were sold.

So with no other plans for a chilly Saturday evening, we headed over to Plymouth’s waterfront. The Pub is across the street from the state park that houses the famous rock and the Mayflower II, and its expanse of open windows is probably a great vantage point for people-watching on a warm summer evening. Approaching the Pub with November winds whistling across the harbor, we were a little alarmed to see the accordion windows peeled back to expose patrons huddled in blankets.  The heat is well managed inside, though, and Brenna served up a Mayflower IPA on tap for the Big Dog and a 14 Hands cabernet for Gina.

We walked up North Street to Court Street to find the New World Tavern packed with people, but with minimal effort we slid into a tall cafe table next to six 20-somethings who were out on the town, and listened for a while to Tom Fey singing folksy music and accompanying himself on a guitar.

The beer is the star of the show here, and the New World Tavern touts its 32 beers on tap and 120 bottles.  The Big Dog chose Mayflower’s seasonal, Thanksgiving Ale, and while Kelly our server clearly thought that was a good choice, the Dog found it surprisingly more like a stout and less hoppy than his usual IPA.  Gina ordered serviceable cabernet.

The Big Dog ordered a chicken proscuitto sandwich ($12), a salty concoction served on a ciabatta roll, with the slab of proscuitto topped with asiago and a big pile of arrugula.  We liked it, and liked the crisp waffle fries that came with it.

Gina is on a quest to find the best fish tacos in New England, and wasn’t disappointed here.  Nuggets of fried fish were served with a fresh tomato salsa and topped with a tangy buttermilk sauce.  For $14 it was a fairly generous portion of three flour tortillas strung together on a skewer. The menu mentions pineapple and salsa verde, both of which, if present at all, were very subtle.  The tacos were very good.

As we ate, crowds were streaming in to see The Sleepeaters in the back room, an intimate venue with a second bar.  Up front, we could hear the band open with the Rolling Stones’ “Dead Flowers,” but the volume didn’t preclude normal conversation.

Brenna was right about the New World Tavern, and on our way back to the car we stopped in to tell her so. The menu is weighted towards pub specialties that pair well with beer — pizzettas and burgers each have their own section — with some interesting surprises, like braised rabbit, that we’ll have to return and try.  But it was also clear that the days of freeform experimentation are gone.  The experience was enough to make us rethink our rule, to say: If you can’t say anything nice about a restaurant, give it another try.

New World Tavern
56 Main Street, Plym0uth, MA
thenewworldtavern.com

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