Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Sousaku Bistro in Malden: First Impressions

Malden is home to numerous interesting & tasty restaurants, including a significant number of ethnic spots, from Vietnamese to Haitian. It would take you plenty of time to explore all of them, meaning you might miss out on some of the best places. For example, though Sousaku Bistro, a Japanese restaurant, has been open since the end of 2015, it was only until recently that I dined there a couple times for lunch.

Located at 166 Eastern Avenue, and set up a little from the road, it can be easy to drive by and miss this spot. And it isn't in an area that seems to get much foot traffic. Around the corner, on Ferry Street, you''ll find several other restaurants and most of the foot traffic is there. As such, Sousaku seems to fly under the radar and you need to intentionally seek it out. It is open six days a week, closed only on Tuesdays.

Sousaku has a quite large menu of Japanese cuisine, from Sushi to Yakitori, Kushikatsu to Rice Bowls, and so much more. Many of these are traditional dishes, but there are also plenty of more innovative dishes where the chef has created his own unique takes. Prices are generally reasonable considering the quality and quantity of the dishes. They have a fully stocked bar, including Sake (with several good options) and Japanese Whiskey.

The Sushi Lunch ($12) includes 5 pieces of Nigiri Sushi and a Tuna Roll, accompanied with Miso Soup and Salad. The miso and salad were good, with a light and tasty dressing atop the salad.

The Sushi was good-sized, tasted fresh and was very satisfying. Two pieces of Maguro are usually $7.50, meaning their Sushi is a bit more expensive than many other spots, but still less expensive than some high-end places. And based on the size and quality, the price is fair. This lunch special is a very good deal.

The Sweet Potato Tempura (3 pieces for $2.95) was exquisite, just perfect crispy tempura batter covering the tender sweet potato. I often judge a Japanese restaurant by the quality of their tempura and in this regard, Sousaku is a big winner. I would probably order some tempura every time I dined here.

The Tatsuta-Age ($6) is deep fried marinated fried chicken in a light batter, and it was tender and moist with a nice taste to the flavor, with hints of possibly ginger. This has a much lighter batter than "chicken fingers" and it is more about the chicken than the batter.

The Boky Bun ($6) is a roasted pork bun, served with lettuce, fried scallion & their special barbecue sauce. However, the menu doesn't mention there is also mayo on the bun, which was a fail for me. Otherwise, it was a delicious sandwich, with tender pork, a soft bun, and the fried scallions added a nice little crunch.

The Chashu Pork Noodle Soup ($9.25) is made with slices of roasted pork, shiitake mushroom, fried onion, scallion, corn, half-boiled egg, sesame, and wakame. You then have the choice of a Curry Broth or Tonkotsu Broth. You also have the option of Soba, Ramen or Udon noodles. I opted for the Tonkotsu with Ramen, and it was okay but nothing special. Presentation was lacking and it lacked the depth of flavor you find in better Ramen soups.

The Yakitori menu has 12 options ($3-$10 per skewer), and you order by the individual skewer, though there is a Combo plate available.  I tried the Matsusaka Pork, Oyster Mushroom Wrapped in Bacon, Scallop, and Chicken. I liked the barbecue sauce on each grilled skewer, with the nuttiness of the sesame seeds, and the meats and seafood were cooked well, being moist, tender and flavorful. A nice variety of flavor and textures, and I would like to try more of the skewers.

The Dessert Menu has 4 choices, such as Fried Ice Cream and Mochi, and I enjoyed the Fried Banana ($5). A nice, crispy light batter covered the sweet, slightly mushy banana pieces.

Sousaku is worthy checking out, though maybe their menu is too large and they might be better off concentrating on less. Service was excellent on both of my visits. I will be returning there to check out more of their offerings and would like to hear from anyone else who has dined there.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Rant: Making Hospitality Better With A Japanese Proverb

Servers, consider this hypothetical: You have been asked to serve a once-in-a-lifetime table of customers. How would your service differ in this experience over your usual service?

Take some time to ponder your answer. Be honest with your answer. You aren't giving a public response so there is no need to put up a front.

Now, if you answered that your service might be better, more extensive, more accommodating, more personable, or something similar, then maybe you need to change your mindset concerning service. Maybe you need to learn some Japanese.

Ichigo ichie is a Japanese proverb that can be literally translated as “one time, one meeting,” or more loosely translated as "one chance in a lifetime" or "never again." The underlying meaning of the proverb is that you need to cherish every encounter in your life as if it will never be experienced again, as if it were a once-in-a-lifetime event. Even if you meet the same people at multiple encounters, each of those encounters is unique in its own way, and you never know if that meeting will be the last one.

This proverb is a central component of Japanese hospitality, also known as Omotenashi. I'm not going to go into depth on the concept of omotenashi in this post, but will concentrate on ichigo ichie. Japanese servers cherish the moment with each guest, understanding this might be their only encounter with this person so they want to present their best face and give their best service. You give your all, for every guest, at all times. You don't adjust your service as to whether you feel someone is a big tipper or not.

This is far from an easy concept to enact, especially considering what we are taught in our American culture. In addition, for this concept to best work, customers need to embrace it as well. They need to accept each restaurant visit as something unique, a once in a lifetime meal. There needs to be a mutual respect between customer and server. The customer needs to strive to be the best they can be as well. And it might be far easier to get servers to change than customers. How many customers are going to be open to lessons in how they can be a better customer?

Let this be a starting point for further discussion. The Japanese certainly have fascinating thoughts on hospitality and maybe they can be adapted for the U.S. hospitality industry. Or maybe the U.S. isn't ready for such a change.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Thursday Sips & Nibbles

I am back again with a new edition of Thursday Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting, upcoming food & drink events.
1) The Table at Season to Taste is proud to host the first-ever Boston Chefs for Gun Safety dinner at Wright-Locke Farm in Winchester on September 17, at 6:00PM. Chef Carl Dooley and Pastry Chef Mary Edinger of The Table are delighted to welcome some of the city’s best chefs to participate in this event at the picturesque barn at Wright-Locke Farm for a very special dinner benefiting an important and all-too-real cause.

VIP Guest chefs creating a memorable five course dinner paired with wine include: Alex Saenz/BISq, Cassie Piuma/Sarma, David Bazirgan /Bambara and Lydia Reichert/Sycamore. Guest speakers at the dinner will include representatives from Moms Demand Action Massachusetts and the Survivors Network. All proceeds will benefit Everytown for Gun Safety.

The Table’s Chef Carl Dooley explains why the restaurant felt it was important and necessary to host this first-time event. “After the Parkland shooting in February, I asked our team if we could donate all the profits from that night’s sold-out dinner service to Everytown for Gun Safety. We all felt strongly that it was important to put our money where our hearts were, and that shooting, like each one before it, just made no sense at all. When the opportunity was presented to host another benefit with our friends at Wright-Locke Farm this year, this just felt like exactly the right cause for us to put our time and energy behind. I never felt scared going to school. This was something I never thought about, and now that I have a daughter, I hate that kids don’t have that same sense of security in their learning environment that I had.”

Rina Schneur of Moms Demand Action, MA says, “We are extremely grateful to The Table at Season to Taste and the participating chefs for their decision to donate the proceeds of this unique event to Moms Demand Action and Everytown. We are a volunteer-based organization and this donation will help us greatly with materials and expenses related to our efforts to recruit and mobilize members, and lobby for sensible gun safety laws. "

Robert Harris, owner, The Table at Season To Taste shares, “We are excited to work with Wright Locke Farm for this event. They share our passion for sourcing from our local growers, and they are a leader in providing agriculture education in the town of Winchester. They care about families and communities. We’ve hosted several events at this beautiful venue over the years and we are so grateful Wright-Locke Farm has agreed to host us for this event. This is such an important cause, I am glad we can create a memorable dinner and experience for everyone participating, from the setting to the food to the live music, it will be a one-of-a-kind evening.”

This first-time event is an RSVP/Ticket event. Please reserve your tickets at http://www.cambridgetable.com/shop/gun-safety-event-tickets

2) The Bodega Canal teams invites guests to celebrate Taco Tuesday with delicious taco deals every Tuesday evening. Steps away from TD Garden, new Mexican hotspot Bodega Canal celebrates Taco Tuesday with special deals.

Every Tuesday evening, from 4:30 to 10 p.m. (unless otherwise noted in case of TD Garden event), Bodega Canal offers a $1 rotating taco and $2 specialty rotating taco. On event nights at TD Garden, Taco Tuesday specials are available beginning at the event start time.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Brunch at Ledger Restaurant & Bar: Bloody Mary, Cinnamon Roll & Fried Chicken

Ponder this: Is Brunch just an excuse to have a cocktail for breakfast? 

This past Sunday, I wanted to check out a Brunch and after perusing the interesting menu for Ledger Restaurant & Bar in Salem, I decided to dine there. Ledger serves Brunch on both Saturday and Sunday, starting at 10am, and you can opt to sit on their patio or inside the spacious restaurant. It was fairly busy on Sunday, though we didn't need a reservation to be seated. Though I'd had some cocktails at Ledger when it first opened, I hadn't dined there yet.

There are 6 cocktails on their Brunch menu, including a Mimosa, Paloma and Sangria. Most are priced at $9-$10 except for their 22 oz Bloody Mary ($14), which is pictured above, and garnished with celery, an olive, a gherkin, and a hot pepper. It was a well made drink, with a pleasant spiciness and some other intriguing spices that were hard to identify, but which helped to make this cocktail different from many other Bloody Marys.

We began our meal with a couple Sides, which are priced from $4-$6. One of their Sides is their Daily Donut ($5), and its flavors vary week to week. Their two flavors this week didn't appeal to us so we opted for a couple others, including the Cinnamon Roll ($4), smeared with an ample portion of creamy, sweet frosting. The Roll itself was fresh, soft and flaky, with plenty of cinnamon. An excellent way to begin your Brunch. My only minor complaint is that they didn't need the light touch of powdered sugar. That is certainly a pet peeve of mine as I see no real reason for its necessity.

And the Banana Bread ($4) also didn't need the powdered sugar either. Slightly warm, the banana bread was moist and flavorful, with a rice banana taste. Another very good way to start your brunch, or end it, dependent on when you choose to have your sweet.

The menu has 14 Entrees, priced at $10-$17 except for the Prime Skirt Steak & Eggs ($29). You'll find items such as the House-Cured Pastrami Hash ($15), Breakfast Burger ($17), Fried Chicken Thigh Sandwich ($12), and Maple Glazed Pork Belly ($14). I am also intrigued by the Banana Bread Foie-ster ($15) which consists of grilled banana bread, rum caramel sauce, seared bananas, & foie gras butter. I also ordered that but will likely do so on a future trip to Ledger.

The Eggs Bendict ($14) has house-made Canadian bacon, soft poached eggs, & smoked hollandaise atop a megamuffin with a side of breakfast potatoes. The hollandaise sauce was done well, contributing to the excellent taste of this dish. The potatoes were also cooked just right, making this a hearty and delicious dish.

I opted for the Chicken & Waffles ($14), which included buttermilk fried chicken, a corn waffle, green chile butter, hot honey, and a side of pickles. The fried chicken was superb, with a great, crisp and clean coating, moist chicken with an added sweetness from the honey. The waffle too was very good, with only a mild corn flavor, enhanced by a subtle spice from the green chile butter. One of the best Chicken & Waffles dishes I've enjoyed in some time, and it is highly recommended.

Service was excellent, and out server was pleasant, personable and accommodating. Prices were reasonable considering the quality and quantity of food. My first impression of the Ledger's cuisine was certainly very positive and I look forward to dining there again soon.

Monday, August 6, 2018

Rant: Restaurant Success & Failure

What is the secret to restaurant success?

Recently, Taberna de Haro celebrated their 20th Anniversary, a huge milestone, and during those years it has earned numerous raves and accolades. Though there have been some changes to the restaurant over the years, it has remained true to its original concept, serving Spanish food and wine. Taberna has the best Spanish wine list in the Boston+ area, and maybe even all of New England, and also they also offer a large list of Sherries, again more than any other restaurant in the area. I know that if I am in the area, I usually stop there.

On the other hand, Les Sablons, in Harvard Square, has closed, after only about one year in business.  The restaurant was owned by the same team that owns the successful Island Creek Oyster Bars and Row 34. Les Sablons received much acclaim and accolades, for both its cuisine and wine list. It would have seemed to have a bright future so its sudden closure is puzzling, and the owners have not publicly released any reasons for that closure. Why did it fail? We might never know the exact reasons.

Two well acclaimed restaurants. Why does one last for 20 years while the other lasts only 1?

I certainly don't have the answers, and I'm not sure anyone else does either. If the answers were that easy, then far less restaurants would close after a relatively short time. There are certainly though some known factors which contribute to a restaurant's success. At the most basic, a restaurant needs a sufficient number of customers and that would seem obvious. However, how do you bring in those customers? A good location is important, an area that might have good foot traffic, or where the restaurant is easily visible by those driving in the area. Customers need to know of a restaurant's existence, and some places can be open for years but some people still don't know anything about it.

Social media has a role too, helping to alert potential customers to the restaurant's existence, and providing reasons why customers should go there. That includes not just posting on social media but also interacting with potential customers, sharing their reviews, addressing their concerns, and being seen as a place that cares. It can also be as easy as having a restaurant website that clearly lists your hours. This weekend, I went to the website of a local pizza shop and their hours weren't listed. I placed an online order and didn't learn until almost an hour later, that the restaurant was closed all day. A major fail not to have their hours listed, and to allow me to order online despite their being closed.

Owning a restaurant isn't easy. It is more than just being a good chef. You need excellent business skills too, juggling your costs against your income, acquiring and managing your staff, dealing with landlords and investors, and much more. Many close within the first three years of operation. You would almost have to be a masochist to open a restaurant.

If you are a customer and love a restaurant, then please support them in whatever manner you can. Spread the word, telling your friends and family, telling strangers that want to know where to dine. Dine there as often as you can. Tip well. Try to understand restaurant costs and why they might need to raise their prices to stay in business. Even your favorite restaurant might close so do what you can to help them survive.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Thursday Sips & Nibbles

I am back again with a new edition of Thursday Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting, upcoming food & drink events.
1) SRV’s co-executive chefs of Kevin O’Donnell and Michael Lombardi bring back their popular cicchetti takeover series with guest chef, David Punch of Buttonwood, Little Big Diner & Sycamore on Wednesday, August 1st from 5:30pm – 7:30pm. This culinary event series invites a local chef to step into the cicchetti station and serve up a creative and complimentary take on the Venetian-style small bites for guests of the bar to enjoy.

Guests will be treated to Punch’s spin on cicchetti to the likes of; Calabrian Hot Link (peppers & pecorino pienza), Compressed Heirloom Melon (iberico ham & basil), Local Goat Cheese (Mountain Honey & Fennel Pollen), Sweet Corn & Jonah Crab Croquettas (”remoulade”), and Marinated Littleneck Clam (avocado & chili crisp).  Chef Punch will join O’Donnell & Lombardi in SRV’s sleek bar and bacaro area of the restaurant where guests can pair their gratis bites with Italian-inspired cocktails, amaro or a variety of wine by the glass and bottle.

Reservations are not required. Featured cicchetti will not be available in main dining room. For more information, please contact (617) 536-9500.

2) CHOPPS American Bar and Grill welcomes guests for an evening of fun backyard cornhole games and tasty treats garnished with a dollop of friendly competition and a generous serving of philanthropy, as they fundraise to support Mass General Hospital Children’s Cancer Center.

On Thursday, August 16, from 5pm-8pm, guests are invited to join a team and compete in a cornhole tournament for a grand prize as they support Mass General Hospital Children’s Cancer Center on the Terrace at CHOPPS. Whether you’re tossing the bean bag or cheering on your team, CHOPPS has prepared a night of entertainment for all. Guests can sit and unwind while listening to live music by the talented Jay Psaros and enjoy lager-than-life tastings from local Massachusetts breweries such as Lord Hobo, Sam Adams, Night Shift, and Ipswich Ale Brewery.

CHOPPS’ Executive Chef Steve Zimei will offer his crowd-favorite small bites, while Sean Lynch from Natick’s Ice Haus will cure anyone’s sweet tooth with his famous creamy gelato. Guest Bartender Michael Ray from Proximo will also be onsite to shake things up with craft cocktails you won’t want to miss.

100% of proceeds from the silent auction will go to the Children’s Cancer Center. Eight teams will compete beginning at 5:00 PM and finalists will take the stage at 7:00PM. Tickets can be purchased via Eventbrite for $35, with proceeds benefitting Mass General Hospital Children’s Cancer Center. CHOPPS will provide T-shirts, bean bags and cornhole boards all adorned with competing companies’ logo.

To enter your team into the tournament, contact Bianca Dickey via email at Bianca.Dickey@Marriott.com, or call 781-221-6684

3) Dine Out Boston (formerly Restaurant Week Boston) will be held August 5-11, and August 12-17. It is ponsored by the Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau and American Express twice a year, providing locals and visitors a chance to enjoy some of Boston's finest dining at special prices. Some Restaurants offer more interesting choices than others so you should carefully look through the listed menus to find what you like best.

Let me give you a few of my own preferences:

CHOPPS American Bar and Grill: Their menu includes a 3 course dinner, for $38 (plus tax & gratuity), with dishes such as Heirloom Tomato Gazpacho, Grilled Double Cut Bacon, Seared Bronzino and Plum-Cardomom Crumble.

Pabu: Their menu includes a 3 course dinner, for $38 (plus tax & gratuity), with dishes such as Tokyo Fried Chicken Kara-age, Salmon Oyako Donburi, Waygu Flank Steak and Mochi Ice Cream.

Select Oyster Bar: Their menu includes a 3 course dinner, for $38 (plus tax & gratuity), with dishes such as Maine Lobster Caprese, Roasted Arctic Char, and Smoked Bluefish Pate.