Archive for category Romantic Dining

Sagres Restaurant, Fall River

2016-11-09-14-55-23There 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.

Sagres Restaurant

177 Columbia Street, Fall River

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Saga Steak House, Wareham

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 2015-12-11 20.16.54personnel 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

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Pilot House, Sandwich

sandwichmarinaWe had the good fortune of returning with friends to the Pilot House, and it was the kind of dinner where time flies by and next thing you know, it’s time to go home.  Joining us was a crew of four people we like a lot.  You know the drill: one minute you’re seated in a fairly crowded restaurant, and the next minute the waitstaff is scowling at you from a huddle in the corner, calling their boyfriends to say they’ll be late because a party of six just won’t leave.

It wasn’t that bad, but it was well on its way, on this Saturday night before the summer season makes it so difficult to find a seat at a really good restaurant on the Cape.

And the Pilot House is a really good restaurant.  We had one service misstep and one dish described only as “good,” but our dining experience was otherwise excellent.

The Pilot House overlooks the Sandwich Marina near the eastern end of the Cape Cod Canal. One of many window seats at what may have been a wrap-around deck would have offered a great view of the waterfront, but we were seated by the fireplace, unlit during this first warm evening of the year. It’s probably a nice spot there on a winter evening, but due to the restaurant’s spare and airy decor, colorful in a classic way, it was a nice spot in the spring too.  The restaurant’s design makes great use of varying levels, with the bar at the entrance at the highest point, and dining levels stepping down towards the sea.

The menu includes a varied selection of wines by the glass. We’ll spare you Gina’s anguish at the news that a new list is being introduced and the Albarino is being phased out (who phases out an Albarino in May!?) — but she was placated with a floral Chateau Ste. Michelle sauvignon blanc ($6). The Big Dog spotted a Josh cabernet ($9) and jumped right in.  Jim ordered a Harpoon IPA ($5), which we all know is the perfect antidote to a day of yard work, and Mary the fruity Pilots Punch ($9).  Dark and Stormy each ordered their namesake beverage ($9).

As an appetizer, Gina ordered the green salad ($3.95) with balsamic vinaigrette served on the side without asking. The salad consisted of mixed green leaves, with a couple of slices of English cucumber and a couple of grape tomatoes. Sounds boring, perhaps, but the combination of a snappy dressing and fresh, clean, spicy greens was spectacular.  A flawless green salad portends a meal characterized by obsessive attention to detail.

Jim ordered a cup of the Portuguese kale soup, the day’s soup ($4.95).  Anyone dining regularly in the Southcoast region of Massachusetts knows that kale soup tells you as much about a kitchen as a green salad does, and this didn’t disappoint: Jim said it was hot, both in temperature and spice.

Mary ordered a half dozen raw Duxbury oysters ($13.50) while the rest of us looked on in horror, having recently enjoyed endless oyster dishes during the Wareham Oyster Festival. The Duxburys were on the specials menu, as were Barnstable oysters provided by our friends at Big Rock Oyster.

The Big Dog ordered a caesar salad with anchovies ($6.95), and this is where the unfortunate service misstep occurred.  As his entree, he ordered a monstrosity called the Seafood Pot ($17.95) off the appetizer menu, and it was hauled out as his appetizer.  So while the rest of the table sat with its tiny soup cups and delicate salads and wee shellfish appetizers, the Dog confronted a giant trough containing lobster, shrimp, oysters, clams, mussels, all in a delicious sauce with bread for dipping.  Good, but it threw off the cadence of the dinner in a way that the staff should have anticipated.

As an entree, Dark and Stormy each ordered the seafood special: lobster ravioli generously adorned with lobster, scallops, shrimp, tomatoes, and asparagus ($26.99) in a white wine sauce.   We all tried some and agreed that lobster ravioli is so often marred by a heavy sauce, but this was not.

Mary is a connoisseur of fish tacos and was pleased but not particularly impressed by the Pilot House version ($19.95), which included black beans and was made with mahi mahi.

Jim’s dish of mussels marinara ($19.95), were pronounced very tasty.  They arrived as an enormous mound of relatively small shells concealing a plate of pasta in a sauce worth sopping up with the bread that came alongside.

Gina was pleasantly surprised by her baked scallops ($21,95), a dish that many restaurants badly mangle.  A small plate of a dozen or so large day boat scallops, with crunchy crumb topping, were nestled into a delicious sherry butter sauce, and came with rice and crunchy green beans. The scallops were perfectly done, moist inside but cooked through.

We were kidding, in the beginning, about the waitstaff calling their boyfriends.  The team at the Pilot House is professional and pleasant, and at one point a passing staffer alerted us that the Bruins were winning in a playoff game that we could not see from our vantage point.

Gina and the Big Dog enjoyed this spot in a different way when stopping in recently for an afternoon snack and beverage at the bar. It was evident during that stop that the Pilot House is the sort of dependable yet adventuresome restaurant where you go with people who are important to you.  We did that, and we were not disappointed.

The Pilot House Restaurant and Lounge
14 Gallo Road, Sandwich

 

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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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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
www.airportgrille.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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Bittersweet Farm Tavern, Westport, MA

20130216_172925On 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.

Bittersweet Farm
438 Main Road, Westport MA
www.bittersweetfarm.com

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Cork, New Bedford

Eggplant roulade and sauteed shrimp

Eggplant roulade and sauteed shrimp

We just discovered the best dining deal in the Southcoast region in one of the most unlikely places.

Cork, on New Bedford’s historic waterfront, has started offering a special called “Tuesday Tastings.”  On the first Tuesday of each month, Cork is offering five tapas selections paired with five unusual wines for just $30 per person. Yes, that Cork, where a dinner for two with wine can easily set you back a hundred bucks under normal circumstances (mostly because you’re afraid of the word “tapas” and will order way too much food).

The premise with this Tuesday thing is that they’re tastes — the servings of both wine and food are small.  But these are extremely generous tastes, and unless your standard serving involves the word “bottomless,” you’ll like this.

The Big Dog suggested that four friends join us, and those two other couples slid into their seats in the cozily refurbished historic building just as Sally from MS Walker Inc. started waving around a bottle of Espelt Vailet, a crisp white blend from Spain that for several of us was our favorite wine of the night.  An equally crisp pinot grigio from Italy quickly followed, and Sally explained that while the Spanish blend was paired with the eggplant roulade and the pinot with the sauteed shrimp, we should mix and match.

The two tastes arrived side by side on rectangular plates and got rave reviews from our party.  The grilled eggplant slices were artfully wrapped around chunky tomato slices (which Gina thought would have been better in the summer), goat cheese, and arrugula, and topped with a balsamic glaze that was thick and dark as chocolate sauce.

Sauteed shrimp was a buttery melange of pancetta cubes and cherry tomato halves, made fiery — too hot for the Big Dog, who thought the heat detracted from the dish’s flavor — by sliced hot peppers.

Next came two red wines, a tempranillo from Spain and a montepulciano, which like the pinot grigio was from Cantina Zaccagnini of Abruzzo, Italy. Both bottles came adorned with a sprig of grapevine that Sally said was affixed by the ladies of the village.  The ladies of our village liked the montepulciano, despite the winemaker’s promise that it would taste like “a mouthful of leather” (and other things — you know how they are).

The Spanish Vina Zaco was paired with a dish that was innocuously described as slow braised beef crostini with Great Hill blue cheese and chive oil. It was nothing to look at: two blobs of beef on toast.

But its intoxicating scent preceded it, and the taste was pure heaven, its homey texture made rich with exotic spices.  We tried in vain to identify the spice until finally, one of the waitstaff told us it was an Asian five-spice powder plus curry. We’re pretty sure the mention of curry was intended to throw us off course and prevent us from trying to make it at home.

Lost in the furor over the braised beef was another dish that was pretty good. They called it a raviolone, which is apparently different from a raviolo (the singular of ravioli, of course) because it’s bigger. It was stuffed with an excellent sausage mixture and fried with panko.

We ended with a painfully sweet pink sparkler, also from Italy, and a ball of chocolate chevre, probably excellent if you like that sort of thing, served with a little crostini over honey with sea salt.

We enjoyed good company, five delicious dishes we might not ordinarily have tried, and tasty wines that were expertly paired with the food, all at an amazingly good price.  The unobtrusive wine talk made it educational.  If Tuesday nights depress you, as they certainly do us, we would encourage you to visit Cork for their Tuesday Tastings.

Cork Wine and Tapas
90 Front Street, New Bedford
www.corkwineandtapas.com

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The RooBar, Plymouth, MA

arancinisGina and the Big Dog had a serious difference of opinion about this cool spot which has long anchored the redevelopment of the historic Plymouth Cordage Company factories in North Plymouth.  It wasn’t the decor, which we agreed was a beautiful tribute to the old building and an elegant reuse.  It wasn’t the food, which we agreed was delicious and creative. But more on our differences later.

On a frigid Tuesday evening, we were among several parties gathered around the warmth of the soaring bar.  Tim, our cheerful and helpful bartender, offered us a stack of menus, including a special weekday prix fixe menu, where for $21.95 apiece, we could have chosen one each from a select list of appetizers, entrees, and desserts.  Not being dessert eaters, those arrangements rarely represent a good deal for us, although the options all sounded wonderful.

In fact, the menu itself was worthy of note.  Each artful description noted the dominant flavors, not every ingredient like some places do.

As we often do, on this night we opted to split an appetizer, a salad, and an entree. We started with a glass of Crios malbec for Gina and a Wolf Blass shiraz for the Big Dog, each $8 per glass.  The shiraz was particularly outstanding, and we noticed that the RooBar has had some sort of accolades from Wine Spectator.

So, back to our pesto arancinis.  Our order ($8) included a half dozen perfectly prepared bites of cheesy risotto, coated with panko crumbs and lightly fried. They were good without their accompanying red pepper mayonnaise, but to be honest, the sauce was pretty good on its own, too…  and on the hearty bread that started our feast. Yum, said the Big Dog.

The Dog has learned that Gina is always going to order a roasted beet salad whenever it appears on the menu, so he suggested it preemptively.  This version ($7) arrived with very cold beet slices arranged on an icy plate topped with lightly dressed greens, chunks of goat cheese, and candied walnuts. We liked it a lot.

Meanwhile, we snuck a peek at the food being served to our fellow diners, all of whom seemed to be regulars, and started planning our next visit.  One diner had a salad with a giant slab of salmon on top, and we looked forward to our entree, described as “pan roasted Atlantic salmon with baby gnocchi, portabello mushrooms, spinach and sweet vermouth Dijon cream” ($23).

Here’s where our difference of opinion emerged. Our entree arrived exactly as promised, with the tiny gnocchi maybe given a little pan sear first, to create a delicate crust on the hearty pasta. The sauce was delicious and the salmon perfectly cooked.

But yes, the salmon was an unexpectedly small portion, especially given the enormous fish on the salad next to us. The Big Dog contended that we had to take points off for skimpy portion size — our loyal readers demand honesty.  Gina, on the other hand, felt that the dish was so unbelievably yummy that a serving of any size would have seemed insufficient.

And we’re thinking that it was probably representative of the restaurant’s approach: a dish that was unusual but not weird. We visited another spot in Plymouth recently that insisted on clever twists to classics, and the result was simply revolting, so we know it can happen. Gnocchi is often gummy, salmon often dry, and arancini can be a mess, but at RooBar these dishes were expertly prepared and flavorful.

You be the judge:  We highly recommend RooBar, and bet that on a weekend night, it’s a hopping nightspot where the great food is a bonus.

The RooBar
10 Cordage Park, Plymouth, MA
www.theroobar.com

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Alden Park, Plymouth

Slideshow Image 3We discovered Alden Park one Saturday afternoon while undergoing retail therapy at Colony Place in Plymouth.  The place was empty, the food was delicious, and the affable bartender, Brian, suggested we come back for an organic food and wine dinner scheduled for a future Thursday.  So smitten were we by our snack of corn chowder, sirachi chicken wings, and the Park salad (like a Greek) that we signed up for the dinner on the spot.

We recruited some friends we hadn’t seen in a while and were seated in a booth in the restaurant’s main dining area, minimally separated from the large and bustling bar. Engaging conversation caused us to overlook the evening’s two very minor flaws: pacing was a little slow at the beginning, and the wine guy’s brave efforts to outshout the bar crowd were unsuccessful.

But the food and its presentation were remarkable.

The first course consisted of three large grilled scallops, each set atop a little dollop of corn puree, then red cabbage braised with bacon, then a barely warmed asparagus tip, and each scallop was dressed with a drop of herb oil. Arranged on a white rectangular plate, it set the tone for the dinner.  It was served with a crisp King Estate pinot gris, which even the white wine averse Big Dog thought was the best of the meal’s four pours.

This was followed by a salad presentation so unique that The Big Dog took a photo with his cell phone and sent it to a friend who just hours earlier observed that taking photos of restaurant meals is “lame.” A whole romaine heart was stood on its root end on an X of paper-thin cucumber, with its top trimmed with a tousle of pear and carrot strands, and drizzled with balsamic and fig vinaigrette. This came with a Santa Julia malbec, which we normally love but seemed kind of wan.

Next up: a half roasted chicken — moist and flavorful with a crisp skin.  Underneath we found chewy chunks of fingerling potatoes tossed with cherry tomatoes, onions, capers, and spinach.  It was a generous serving, and the four of us began to falter.  We washed it down with a Lange pinot noir — again, not stellar, but could that have been because the food was so spectacular?

We took a deep breath and tucked into a slice of pumpkin cheesecake, more cake than cheese, served with chantilly cream and a ribbon of cranberry puree. This was paired with a Cecchi moscato whose cloying sweetness made us all think of waffles.

The dinner was $58 apiece. For chowhounds like us, it was an excellent value, although we would never order that volume of food and drink under normal circumstances. Lop off the price of dessert and dessert wine, and one appetizer, and all of a sudden it’s a moderately priced meal out.

Alden Park is in a strip — oops! — lifestyle mall, and Gina admits that first Saturday visit was really just a clever ruse to get close to the Coldwater Creek and J Jill stores. But the sleek design inside Alden Park, and a cozy looking heated patio we’ll have to try next time, will make you forget where you are. It’s probably a great place to stop for a beverage if you’re already dressed up for something else, but it’s the inventive, tasty, and well presented food that really shines.

Alden Park
160 Colony Place, Plymouth
http://www.aldenparkrestaurant.com

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