Archive for category Restaurant Review

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

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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


Cape Cod Central Railroad, Hyannis

2013-08-14 12.45.26Now here was an unusual dining experience for Gina and the Big Dog.  The food was merely serviceable, the view was disappointing, the decor drab, the service pedestrian, but we’ll look fondly back on the experience itself because of the two delightful strangers who were seated at our table by chance.

We made reservations on the Cape Cod Central “Gourmet Lunch Train” a week before our Wednesday excursion, and didn’t know what to expect.  Arriving in downtown Hyannis as instructed, 45 minutes before our 11:30 a.m. boarding time, we imagined being seated with the pack of unruly urchins in matching fluorescent tee-shirts, or worse, with any of the numerous pairs of frail grandmas being hauled around by their hipster granddaughters.

Instead, after some confusion, we were led to the first table in the Great Island car, seated opposite Phil and Betty Rae, a retired couple who summer on the Cape and winter in northern Florida and who we’re pretty sure are the most pleasant people on the East Coast.

While the train chugged through an endless tunnel of bittersweet and ferns, we heard about the couple’s interesting children.   While we chewed chicken breast in an egg wash topped with a lemony supreme sauce, a couple of roasted potatoes, and three outstanding asparagus spears, we learned about the couple’s own interesting careers.  We heard about Little Dogs and how difficult they can be, and the Big Dog offered some guidance for an upcoming visit by Li’l Dog.

We enjoyed the seafood chowder.  We’re not sure you can call a lunch “gourmet” and serve only chicken breast with supreme sauce, but the chicken was good and the potatoes were too. The day’s dessert was a lemon tart with raspberry sauce, and that was good.  The coffee was good.  We enjoyed a couple of glasses of cabernet with our lunch.  Our waitress was cheerful and had really good balance, enabling her to haul a tray full of beverages while the train was in motion.

Looking at a map, you’ll imagine views of the bay, quaint villages, and the majestic Cape Cod Canal.  The urchins and many of the grandmas turned out to be in a different non-lunch “Scenic Train Ride” car, along only for the scenery, and we’re certain they were extremely disappointed, because the view is obscured throughout. The sound system played an entertaining selection of rail-related music, but then deteriorated into static.  A narrator offered some commentary on the ride back, but we were talking and not paying attention.

So while our servers had to deal with some lurching issues that your normal waitstaff does not, every passenger in the car had the same chowder-chicken-tart order; this was not a service challenge.  Presumably, a significant portion of the $45 per person charge is for the train ride.  And yet our bill included this off-putting line:  If you are happy with your service, we suggest you base your gratuity on 18%-20% of the GRAND total of your bill. We like to think of our dining-out experiences in terms of the overall value, and that statement on the bill suggests that our fee was for lunch service delivered by our waitstaff.  If this was a $45 lunch in a train car with a view, it was a horrific rip-off.

And had we been seated with the urchins or Grandma/Hipsters, that would have been our take-away: horrific rip-off.  But the fact is that we enjoyed lunch immensely.  If the Cape Cod Central Railroad had something to do with us being paired with the nicest couple on the East Coast, then bravo. We’ll leave it at that.

“Gourmet Lunch Train”
252 Main Street, Hyannis

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Airport Grille, 41.41N 70.58W

2013-03-30 20.50.22Put your flaps up and landing gear down for final approach to this fine restaurant located, appropriately,  at the New Bedford Airport.  From the air, the Grille may look romantic or welcoming, but arriving by land, we entered through a winding industrial park road and walked through a formica-clad airport waiting room. The contrast made the sleek restaurant decor seem even snazzier than it is. Cape Air provides passenger service at New Bedford, and the Airport Grille certainly approaches island standards for those stopping in for a snack before their 50-minute flight to Nantucket.

For our earthbound excursion, we were joined by Estelle and Rupert, who were sipping espresso martinis when we arrived. We began with an order of PEI mussels in a traditional preparation of white wine and butter ($10).  The dish was also available with littlenecks, and could be prepared Portuguese style, or diavolo.  This was a great choice and should have guided the rest of our evening: when in New Bedford, even in a landlocked industrial park, eat fish.

The Big Dog and Rupert each ordered a salad which the ladies sampled.  Dog’s “local greens” ($6) was crisp and fresh in a lightly applied balsamic vinaigrette.  Rupert’s wedge salad ($7) looked pretty good, despite slices of wan, wintry tomatoes, but Estelle said the creamy dressing was oppressive.

Gina made the best entree choice of the night, selecting roasted sole ($18) and scarfing it down before the rest of the party had a chance to get a good look at it.  The sole was layered with crab meat and linguica atop risotto with green beans.  The stack was topped with hearty crumbs and a light lemony hollandaise sauce, a delicious combination. (Note to dining companions:  See photo above.)

Estelle selected a pappardelle bolognese ($15) whose lightly applied sauce had a nice tang to it.

The Big Dog ordered a sirloin steak ($26) and regretted it because of that whole fish thing.  The steak cut was gristly, the asparagus tasty but nothing spectacular, and even the bernaise sauce was weak.

Rupert ordered salmon ($18).  It came with couscous and broccoli rabe and a piquant sauce, and was excellent.  The very fresh and hearty cut of salmon was perfectly prepared and complimented by the yummy sauce.

With our entrees, we shared a bottle of Bazan malbec ($30) which we all enjoyed.

To conclude, we shared a creme brulee, because it turns out that Estelle also adheres to Gina’s rule that if creme brulee appears on the menu, you have to order it, because it’s invariably delicious, and it’s not like you’re going to make it at home.  It was topped with a kind of a sad-looking strawberry.

Before taking off, we poked around the restaurant, which was quiet for a Saturday, and found a lovely lounge where comfy leather chairs were arrayed around a gas fireplace.  We’re guessing that the sunset, as well as the display of air traffic in the summer season, would be pretty spectacular. But the food was great too, and that’s a rare combination.

Airport Grille
1569 Airport Road, New Bedford

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