Thursday, August 13, 2020

Thursday Sips & Nibbles

I'm back again with a new edition of Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting, upcoming food & drink events. For now, some of these events will simply be the opening of certain restaurants, generally ones dear to my heart for a variety of reasons. And I hope everyone dines out safely, and tips well. 
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1) Osteria Posto, an upscale Italian steakhouse in Waltham, is now open 7 days a week for dinner, from 5pm-8pm each night, with Patio and Indoor Dining available. I'm excited as this is one of my favorite local restaurants. They are also selling eleven different To Go Cocktails, such as the Golden Age (Old Overholt Rye, Cynar, Orange Bitters, Smoked Ice), Blood, Sweat & Tequila (House Infused Cara Cara Tequila, Cardamon, Contratto, Lemon, Agave), Gin Gin Mule (Ginger Infused Gin, Lime, Ginger Syrup, Mint), and De La Famiglia (Buffalo Trace Rosebud Single Barrel Bourbon, Punt e Mes, Benedictine, Cherry Heering). 

2) Island Creek Oyster Bar, in Burlington, has now reopened; for indoor and outdoor dining, and I've been eagerly awaiting this reopening. And I'll be dining there this weekend. Their hours will be Wednesday & Thursday 4pm-9pm, Friday & Saturday 4pm-10pm, and Sunday 12pm-8pm (Brunch and Dinner). Every day, they will offer a special $1 oyster,  until they are sold out. You can also make orders to to, which includes wine and beer. Hopefully in the near future, they will reopen for Lunch as well.

3) The Painted Burro, Burro Bar Brookline & Burro Bar South End are running Taco specials throughout August, and not just for Taco Tuesdays. Each Taco is only $5 and the selection at each location may vary. These tacos are available for dine-in, take-out and delivery.

At The Painted Burro, youll find: Buffalo Cauliflower Taco, Chicken Tinga Taco, Short Rib Double Stack Taco, Swordfish Al Pastor Taco, Crispy “Baja Style” Fish Taco, Grilled Zucchini Taco, Pork Carnitas Taco, and Gulf Shrimp Taco. At the Burro Bar Brookline
, you'll find Buffalo Cauliflower Taco, Crispy Chicken Tender Taco, Short Rib Double Stack Taco, Swordfish Al Pastor Taco, Crispy “Baja Style” Fish Taco, Grilled Zucchini Taco, Pork Carnitas Taco, and Gulf Shrimp Taco.

You can accompany your Tacos with their newly added Margarita Pitchers, available in your flavors like De La Casa, Cucumber and El Diablo. Margaritas are also available To-Go.

4) Sumiao Hunan Kitchen, in Cambridge, is participating in Dine In Boston, from August 16-21 and 23-28. Sumiao will be participating with a four-course tasting menu (appetizer, soup, entree & dessert) where you’ll be able to try a variety of our Hunan cuisine at a special price. They are offered Lunch for $25 and Dinner for $38. Check out their Lunch Menu and Dinner Menu. The Sizzling Lamb entree on the Dinner Menu sounds delicious.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

An Ipswich Trek: From The Clam Box To Russell Orchards

This is Francesca, a friendly pig at the Northern Lights Farm Stand in Ipswich

If you're looking for something to do this summer, a day trip to take, why not consider driving to Ipswich. Even with the pandemic and its restrictions, there's good places you can visit, like the Northern Lights Farm Stand. It's a typical farm stand, with fresh fruits, veggies, and other food products. They also sell Mennonite furniture. Plus, there's a variety of animals you can visit, including chickens (including one who looks like an Angora cat), ducks, turkeys, a pig, two donkeys, and more. 

This farm stand is located just across the street from The Clam Box.

Everyone has their own personal favorite restaurant for Fried Clams. One of my top favorites is The Clam Box in Ipswich, as their fried clams are consistently delicious. In addition, The Clam Box has other excellent fried seafoods, from scallops to lobster. It remains very popular, and with good reason. During this pandemic, you should still consider it as a potential destination for some tasty seafood.

I recently drove up to Ipswich on a fine and warm Sunday, noting that The Clam Box opened its doors at 11am. Prior to its opening, there was already a small line of people waiting at the door, socially distanced and wearing masks. The restaurant has both interior and outside dining, with a large tent erected in their parking lot with a number of picnic tables. We chose to sit outside, to enjoy the beautiful weather.

When I dine here, I commonly get a combination as it's generally too hard to just choose one fried seafood. Fried clams, show above, are usually one of my choices. A clean, crisp and tasty fried batter over plump clams. There is a touch of the sea and it tastes like New England. And no matter if you order a plate or a side, you'll be sure to get ample mound of fried clams.

I'm also a huge fan of their Fried Scallops, which are some of the best you'll find anywhere. There is a pleasant sweetness to the plump scallops, and the clean and crisp fried coating is tasty. They certainly don't get the attention and publicity of fried clams, but should. A Plate of fried seafood also comes with two sides: french fries, onion rings or coleslaw. As you can see, there is a mound of food, with plenty of scallops. It may cost $29.75, but you definitely get your money's worth, especially considering the usual cost for a pound of scallops. 

It's a Special, only available at certain times, but their Fried Lobster is another great choice. It wasn't available during my last visit, but I always check the Specials board just in case.

Whenever I visit Ipswich, I make sure to stop at Russell Orchards, primarily to buy some Cider Donuts. The farm has plenty of other products, from fresh fruits and veggies, to baked goods and wines, cheese and ice cream. You can Pick Your Own fruits, dependent on the season, and blueberries and blackberries are currently available. They also have some of their own animals you can visit. 

If you're fortunate, fresh and hot cider donuts might be available and they are near impossible to resist. 

I recently raved about these donuts, and I can't wait to return to Russell Orchards for more.

These are just a few of the worthy spots in Ipswich, a starting place for a great and tasty day. What are some of your Ipswich favorites, which are open right now? 

Monday, August 10, 2020

Rant: The Death of Wine Tastings?

September will be here before we know it, a month which usually begins wine tasting season. As harvest begins in many wine regions, and the holidays loom in the near future, numerous wine tasting events, for both the industry and the public, are commonly held. Some are large-scale tastings, with hundreds of wines available for sampling. Others are smaller scale, though still with a dozen or more wines available. It's a great time to explore new wines, to expand you palate, and learn more about fascinating and delicious wines.

However, the pandemic is likely to force the cancelation of most of these events. With the need for masks and social distancing, for safety measures to reduce the risk of transmission of the virus, and the limits on the number of people for indoor gatherings, how can such wine tasting events be held? 

At a usual wine tasting, you'll have a number of people all massed at a table, seeking a sample to taste. You can't sample a wine while wearing a mask. But, you can't have group of people all packed together, without masks, sampling wine. Do you place them into a line, where only one person at a time can taste wine? That would mean very long lines, and lots of waiting, and might be untenable for large tasting events. 

Smaller events, such as at wine stores, might be able to place consumers into a line, allowing one or two people to taste at a time. However, they would still need to limit the amount of people who could be in their store at one time. And how many consumers would be unwilling to wait in such a line? How long would you wait in a line at a wine shop to taste a few bottles of wine?

Wine tasting events are important for a multitude of reasons. For the media, it provides an opportunity to experience many new wines, topics for possible articles and reviews. For the industry, it can provide information and experience with wines they might want to sell in their restaurants, shops, and other spots. 

For consumers, tasting can lead to more purchases, especially of wines they might have otherwise not bought. The upcoming holiday season is a time when wine shops conduct a significant portion of their annual business. In-store tastings help to sell more wines and without them, sales could potentially decline. Tasting events also bring in more consumers, curious to taste something new. Without such events, some of those consumers may choose not to visit some wine shops. This probably hurts small, more boutique wine shops, more than the larger, chain wine shops. 

So, what can we do? How can wine tasting events be held safely? Or is this wine tasting season doomed? 

Friday, August 7, 2020

New Sampan Article: Celebrate World Baijiu Day

"The most interesting feature of Chinese life to me was that on board their boats, or sampans, as they are called....Upon these boats live whole families of three and even four generations."
--The Fall River Daily Herald, November 20, 1888

As I mentioned previously, I have a new writing gig, contributing to Sampan, the only bilingual Chinese-English Newspaper in New England. I've previously written six articles for Sampan, including:

My newest article, Celebrate World Baijiu Day, is now available. Baijiu is the most popular spirit in the world, with over 11 billion liters produced, and nearly all made in a single country, China. Despite its great popularity, many Americans know little, if anything, about it, and it’s time to enlighten people about the wonders of this fascinating spirit, known as Baijiu.

Since 2015, World Baijiu Day has been held annually on August 9, a holiday intended to raise awareness of baijiu. August 9 is this Sunday! This holiday was created and organized by Jim Boyce, who runs the blog Grape Wall of ChinaBaijiu events are held all over the world, and have been previously held in Boston and Cambridge. This year, Sumiao Hunan Kitchen will be celebrating locally so you can visit their restaurant to experience Baijiu. 

Check out my new article in the Sampan for more information on Baijiu. You can also read my 11 other articles about Baijiu on my blog. Get over any preconceptions about Baijiu and explore its diversity. I'm sure there's a flavor profile that will appeal to you.

I'm currently working on a new article for the next issue of Sampan, which will be published later this month.

What is a "sampan?" The newspaper's site states, "A sampan is a popular river boat in traditional China. This small but useful vessel, by transporting cargo from large boats to the village ports, creates a channel of communication among villages." And like that type of boat, Sampan delivers news and information all across New England, and "acts a bridge between Asian American community organizations and individuals in the Greater Boston area."

Sampan, which was founded in 1972, is published by the nonprofit Asian American Civic Association, "The newspaper covers topics that are usually overlooked by the mainstream press, such as key immigration legislation, civil rights, housing, education, day-care services and union activities. These issues are crucial to the well-being of Asian immigrants, refugees, low-income families as well as individuals who are not proficient in the English language."

There is plenty of interest in Sampan which will appeal to all types of readers, from restaurant reviews to historical articles, from vital news stories to travel items. In these current days when racism and prejudice against Asians and their restaurants is high, it's more important than ever that accurate information about the Asian community is disseminated and promoted. We need to combat the irrational prejudices that some possess, and support our Asian communities just as we would support any other element of our overall community. We are all important aspects of a whole, and we need to stand together.

Support Sampan!

Monday, August 3, 2020

Rant: Cider Donut Supremacy

During the summer, and especially during the fall, one of my top pleasures is enjoying a fresh and warm Cider Donut. Though they can be found at some supermarkets, small food shops, and even restaurants, it is hard to beat buying them at a local apple orchard where they can use their own freshly picked apples.

Yesterday, I stopped at my favorite spot, Russell Orchards in Ipswich, and picked up a dozen cider donuts, and they were fresh off the line, still hot. Pure gustatory bliss. At Russell Orchards, they make their donuts from scratch, using their own special recipe as well as their own apples. During this time, you often can see their staff making the donuts, dropping the dough into the fryer and then seeing the fried donuts moving down a conveyor belt where they will be bagged. It is said that Russell Orchards sells approximately 200,000 cider donuts each year and it is easy to understand why.

For me, their donuts (pictured above) are soft and moist, with a slightly crusty exterior, and the right balance of apple and spice flavors. And when they are warm or even hot, it's hard not to eat several on your way from the cash register to your car. I'm glad that I don't live closer or I'd stop by more frequently and devour far too many cider donuts.

However, not all cider donuts are like that. There are basically two types of cider donuts, the soft ones like at Russell, and heavier, more cakey cider donuts that you can find at plenty of other places. To me, the softer. lighter donuts at Russell Orchard easily defeat the more cakey ones. It's not even a real contest to me. However, there are some people who prefer the cakier donuts though I don't understand why.

I think that the heavier style tend to be more dry, less moist, and you need to have a drink with them to help wash down each bite of the dry donut. They also feel heavier in your stomach so that you rarely want more than one. Even warm, they still feel heavy and dry, and just don't satisfy like the lighter style. Why would anyone prefer the heavier style?

If you prefer the heavier, more cakey cider donuts, please tell me why. Try to persuade me as to the allure of that style of cider donut.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Thursday Sips & Nibbles

I'm back again with a new edition of Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting, upcoming food & drink events. For now, some of these events will simply be the opening of certain restaurants, generally ones dear to my heart for a variety of reasons. And I hope everyone dines out safely, and tips well.
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1) Paella, one of my favorite dishes, and now one of my favorite restaurants is offering Paella for takeout and delivery. Bistro 5, in Medford, now offers Paella Valenciana ($59), a traditional Spanish dish that serves 2 people, and is made with chorizo, clams, mussels, calamari, scallops, saffron, paprika, red peppers, and Calasparra rice. Besides just the Paella, they have a combination special too, including:
--Paella Valenciana w/ Cocktail ($90), which comes with 24 oz of their signature Sangria del Toro.
Their Sangria is made from r ed wine, fresh orange juice, mandarine napolean (orange liqueur), originel calvados, elderflower liqueur, and a selection of fresh fruits.
     Bistro 5 is open for dine-in, takeout and delivery

2) Time Out Market Bostot has reopened, now with a newly-expanded patio of 6,000 square feet.  "In addition to following government regulations and Boston’s protocols, Time Out Market’s intensified safety precautions and new systems implemented will provide guests with an enjoyable dining experience featuring:
--Air circulation and filtration systems: With high ceilings, the market’s advanced technology air circulation and filtration systems enhance fresh air supply and clean airflow
--Health and safety communication vestibules: Specially created signage at the entrance offers information and sanitizing stations for customers to have a safe and enjoyable experience — sanitizing stations will be available throughout the Market
--Plexiglass partitions: Plexiglass shields at all counters and bars act as a barrier, as well as social distancing partitions on each table to separate dining parties safely
--Contactless ordering: Available on Apple and Android smartphones, the new Time Out Market app allows guests to order and pay without contact. Guests can search ‘Time Out Market’ via the App Store or Google Play to download the app for free. Through the app, guests can track their order progress through email, text and push notifications. .
--Delivery: Menu items from participating eateries will be available for delivery via DoorDash
--Extra cleaning crew: A crew identifiable with their yellow shirts will consistently sanitize all surfaces

To comply with social distancing, the Market will stagger its kitchen re-openings in waves, allowing guests sufficient room for ordering and dining. The first wave on July 29th will include 10 eateries and 2 full service bars. The locally renowned chefs and concepts returning on reopening day include spots such as:
--Chef Jody Adams and her partners Eric Papachristos and Jon Mendez bring Greek Street, a Saloniki spinoff, inspired by the trio’s travels to Greece. Signature Greek Street creations include grilled lamb chops, griddled spanakopita and citrus marinated swordfish souvlaki.
--Chef Michael Schlow has two concepts, Monti Roman Pizzeria and his Italian Kitchen, both of which celebrate honest Italian ingredients coupled with Chef’s simple and superb techniques.
--Revolution Health Kitchen makes visitors feel their best with a delicious and organic plant-based menu. Co-Owners Heather and Dominic Costa offer satisfying salads, hearty soups, acai bowls and smoothies.
--anoush’ella serves Eastern Mediterranean cuisine using fresh, authentic ingredients inspired by the Armenian-Lebanese heritage of owners Nina and Raffi Festekjian. The balanced, fresh and complex flavors are healthy and satisfying and showcased in their mezze of hummus, baba-ganoush and walnut harissa, and warm spices of chicken za’atar.
--BISq offers an eclectic mix of bountiful sandwiches and an expanded selection of big and bold new dishes from Chef Alex Saenz. The menu has changed from before and fried chicken is now available, which is great news.
--Mamaleh’s Delicatessen serves up its signature sandwiches, platters and interpretations of deli classics such as pastrami sandwiches, half-sour pickles, and smoked nova lox on their homemade bagels.

     Soon, the Market will also debut Nu Burger, an incubator concept between Time Out Market Boston and Nina Festekjian of anoush'ella which introduces burgers with globally inspired flavors and combinations available exclusively at the Market. All Nu Burgers are 100% angus all natural beef that is hormone, antibiotic and steroid free and served with bread and produce from local purveyors. The Nu Burger is available in 6 varieties including a vegetarian option: Fenway NuBurger, Korean Bulgogi, Pesto Basilico, Artisan, Umami Truffle, and Spicy Cauliflower and there is an additional NuKids Burger option.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Hotel Bodega Tío Pepe: The First Sherry Hotel

Sherry has a special place in my heart and I've written numerous articles about this special Spanish wine. Back in 2010, I visited the Jerez region and it remains one of my favorite wine trips, an excellent combination of great wine, delicious food, fascinating people, beautiful architecture, and much more. I've love to return to the region, to see how it has changed in the last ten years, and to drink more Sherry, bottles unavailable in the U.S.

I visited González Byass, and enjoyed some wonderful aged Sherries, and now they state they have recently opened the "first Sherry Hotel in the world." Hotel Bodega Tío Pepe is situated in a corner of Jerez’s historic Old Town, opposite the Alcázar de Jerez and the city’s Cathedral. It has been constructed in 150-year old renovated buildings that were once winery workers’ cottages. "Every space, room and restaurant at the hotel is imbued with the culture and essence of Sherry, wine and Brandy de Jerez, .."

It is a boutique hotel, with only 27 rooms, which are divided into Classic, Premium, Deluxe and three suites: The Oloroso Alfonso y Amontillado Viña AB Junior Suite, the Superior Palo Cortado Leonor Junior Suite and the Fino Tío Pepe Presidential Suite. "Spacious and elegantly decorated, they all have very special views over some of Jerez’s loveliest and most historic corners."

The hotel possesses a swimming pool, a spacious solarium, a bar and restaurant and the Pedro Nolasco gardens, a beautiful, leafy garden, which opens out onto one of the prettiest streets in the world, Calle Ciegos, and La Recachita, a secluded, tranquil terrace, perfect for a rest after sight-seeing in Jerez. There are modern, comfortable installations, such as a fitness zone, gym and a Oenotherapy and massage programs.

The Hotel Bodega Tío Pepe experience has a strong focus on gastronomy, with different bars and restaurants offering a wide range of culinary experiences – from the most traditional Andalucian flavors to the most Avant-guard creations. The Sala La Reservada, Restaurante Gran Bodega and Restaurante Villa Ricardo allow guests to enjoy delicious dishes made from the very best quality, local ingredients, all matched with the aromas, nuances and flavors of the González Byass wines. Cocktails can be found at Bar Solera 1847, nestled between the hotel’s vestibule, the Pedro Nolasco, and the Bar Terraza La Atalaya.

Guests have the ability to go on personalized trips through the winery, exclusive tastings, walks through the vineyard, tours of the winery’s Historic Archive, the old bottling room and much more, allowing them to be immersed in the world of Sherry. This opportunity allows people from around the world to learn more about the wines and history of Jerez and González Byass.

Once travel to Europe is safer, you might want to consider visiting the Sherry region and staying at the Hotel Bodega Tío Pepe. Sherry is one of the most fascinating wines in the world, and is very much under-appreciated in the U.S. It's slowly making a comeback, as it has done multiple times during its lengthy history. Once you've experienced Sherry in Spain itself, especially the Jerez region, you'll understand why it is such an amazing wine.

Monday, July 27, 2020

Rant: Breaking the Breakfast Barrier

It's an artificial division, a tyranny of the plate. Many people have been conditioned to follow an unwritten rule about what is proper to eat at different times during the day. The seeds of revolution exist though, and there are rebels who seek to cast down the old rules, and ignore the authorities who try to dictate what we eat. I fully support these rebels and I firmly believe that the time has come to destroy these barriers.

I, and others, desire to enjoy "breakfast" foods all day long. No longer should we be limited by the time of day to enjoy bacon & eggs, a stack of pancakes, or a savory waffle. Why are such foods relegated to the morning? There is no rational reason why they must be so limited. Let us enjoy them in the morning, afternoon, and evening. Let us enjoy them any time during the day we want.

A 2014 Reuters article found that 72% of U.S. adults wished restaurants would offer breakfast items all day. More recently, the MarketWatch (July 2020) noted how the current pandemic has significantly hurt restaurants serving breakfast, primarily because of less commuters and less people working at offices. With so many remote employees, restaurants, especially in heavy business districts, have had far less customers.

The article especially mentioned chain restaurants stating that about 25%-30% of sales at McDonald’s were for breakfast items. Other chains have a smaller percentage of sales, such as Jack in the Box at 20%, Burger King at 13%-14%, and Wendy's at 8%. Breakfast is quite popular and the public clearly wants to enjoy it all day. Why hasn't this happened yet? Why haven't more restaurants exploited this desire?

Of the independent breakfast spots I know, which usually also serve lunch, they commonly close in the early afternoon and aren't open for dinner. Why not? They serve breakfast for the entire time they are open, in the morning and afternoon. So why not extend it to the evening as well? They don't even have to provide the usual dinner items. Just serve breakfast foods.

Some restaurants seem to understand, adding dishes to their dinner menus which have breakfast items, like the popular Chicken & Waffles dish. Above, is a delicious Fried Lobster & Waffles dish from Saltie Girl. A creative chef could easily concoct all sorts of compelling dishes using traditional breakfast foods. Let's see a dinner Omelette, a sandwich using Pancakes as the bread, or even a Waffle pizza. Stop thinking breakfast foods have to be served only in the morning. Give the people what they want, explore your culinary creativity, and let's see what new dishes you can concoct.

Do you have any favorite restaurants which serve breakfast items for lunch or dinner?

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Thursday Sips & Nibbles

I'm back again with a new edition of Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting, upcoming food & drink events. For now, some of these events will simply be the opening of certain restaurants, generally ones dear to my heart for a variety of reasons. And I hope everyone dines out safely, and tips well.
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1) I'm excited that Krasi, a new Greek restaurant, will reopens on July 23rd. Krasi first opened on February 14 and closed shortly thereafter due to the pandemic. I dined there at a media pre-opening party and was impressed with the food and wine. I wasn't able to return before they had to close and I'm eager to return, to experience more of their menu.

Krasi, which is the Greek word for wine, is a Greek meze and wine bar from Partners Demetri Tsolakis (GreCo, Committee Ouzeri + Bar), Stefanos Ougrinis (GreCo), Theo Tsilipanos (Committee Ouzeri + Bar) and Tasha Breshinsky (Committee Ouzeri + Bar).Committe and GreCo are two of my favorite restaurants and Krasi will likely end up as one of my favorites as well.

Chef/Owner Theo Tsilipanos and Executive Chef Valentine Howell (Mastro’s Ocean Club, Legal Harborside and Locke Ober) enliven the Krasi open kitchen complete with a wood stone oven and classic Greek souvla featuring various proteins daily. The menu at Krasi takes guests on tour throughout Greece, exploring lesser known regions. Fresh baked breads, cured meats prepared exclusively from New England Charcuterie with custom old world Greek recipes, a selection of PDO cheese and dips are abound. Rustic hot and cold meze include a well-rounded variety of plant based selections, as well as those from the land and sea.

The new summer menu remains regional with items reflecting the summer months of Greece. New dishes include:
· Lalangia – traditional Greek fried bread topped with a thyme honey
· Athinaiki – crab salad with garlic aioli, fennel and shaved Greek caviar
· Salata – summer salad with grilled peaches, halloumi, field greens, toasted pine nuts, meyer lemon, fresh herb dressing
· Tomata – island Greek salad with cherry tomatoes, caper leaves, kritamo (sea fennel), homemade xinomizithra cheese
· Briam – summer vegetables roasted and tossed in olive oil, topped with cheese
· Lavraki – sea bass crudo, fava bean skordalia, charred tomato vinaigrette, pickled corn relish, radish, crispy chickpeas
· Skoumbri – smoked mackerel, black eyed peas, watermelon and mint
· Xtapodi – marinated and chilled octopus served over trahanas and preserved Florina peppers
· Skioufikta – traditional Cretan pasta with smoked pork apaki, pistachio, katiki domokou cheese

Krasi’s wine program is one of the largest all Greek wine lists in the country with over 180 selections and is complemented by an authentic Greek beer and cordial program with over 25 kinds of tsipouro, ouzo, mastiha, tentura and more. To Greeks, wine signifies a moment in life and is a core value of their communication. The wine list is amazing, with numerous rarities, and showcases the immense diversity of Greek wine.

The restaurant will be open Tuesday to Friday 5p.m. – 11p.m., and Saturday & Sunday 3p.m. –11 p.m. Krasi will  have outdoor seating for 16, compliant indoor seating with barriers, and the option for guests to order take out and delivery for the first time.


2) This matchbook is from the Red Coach Grill, when the only locations were in Wayland and Hingham. As a child, I regularly dined at the Red Coach Grill, on Route 1 in Saugus. Though this restaurant chain is essentially gone, there still remains the Coach Grill in Wayland, on the site of the original Red Coach Grill. The Coach Grill temporarily shut its doors in March and looks forward to welcoming back guests to enjoy the restaurant’s new ambiance in the bar, dining room, event space, and temporary outdoor dining.

The venue, which will be operating within socially distanced guidelines, has been fully upgraded – from the floors and furnishings, to the ceilings, walls, and every space in between. Inside, the updated décor of the dining, bar, and restroom areas features new artwork, lighting, touch-free fixtures, and more. Outside, the parking area has been transformed into a tented outdoor dining space, offering the full, first-class Coach Grill experience in the open air. The 12-table tent will offer up the same menu, impeccable service and white table cloth decor as the interior.

In the kitchen, Coach Grill welcomes back Executive Chef Carlos Martinez, who will be serving up savory steaks and chops, such as a classic New York Strip, buttery Australian Wagyu, and Chargrilled New Zealand Lamb, the freshest seafood, such as Pan-Seared Sea Bass, Local Scallops, and more. From the bar, guests both inside and out will be able to sip on seasonal cocktails, like the Back Bay Sangria and Pineapple Cosmos, craft and domestic beers, and a number of other non-alcoholic options. General Manager and Head Sommelier Mark Molina has made steady improvements to Coach Grill’s expansive wine list.

Coach Grill’s initial opening hours will be Wednesday through Saturday, 4:30-10pm, with additional days and hours in the future. Enhanced takeout will continue to be available their new designated pickup area at the back of the restaurant. Delivery options through UberEats, Grubhub, and DoorDash will also be available.

Monday, July 20, 2020

Rant: A Sense of Discovery

The city of Boston has over 4,000 eating and drinking establishments, and about 25% of them have liquor licenses. For some perspective, Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont each have less than that many eating and drinking establishments in their entire state. It would be near impossible to check out every restaurant that exists in Boston. Plus, if you add in all of the eating and drinking establishments in the nearby communities, such as Cambridge, Somerville and Jamaica Plain, there are just too many for any one person to sample all of them.

Thus, there are probably some excellent restaurants you've never visited, despite their accolades from family, friends, and the media. With the ongoing pandemic, numerous restaurants have not yet reopened, don't yet provide exterior/inside dining, have limited hours, or other restrictions. Take-out and delivery have become popular, though that alone won't support most restaurants. Hopefully, you are trying to support your favorite restaurants, but please also patronize some places you've never dined before.

Have a sense of discovery this summer. Be an explorer and check out one of the thousands of restaurants which you've never visited before. Expand your palate and try something different. You might find a new favorite. Your choices are currently limited in a number of respects so it's worthwhile to look into some of the different choices that exist.

To celebrate my birthday recently, some of my favorites were either closed or unavailable on the date I needed. After some research, I opted to try Saltie Girl, a seafood spot on Dartmouth Street, even though I'd never been there before. I'd heard much good about it but just never had gotten there. The menu looked appealing and I made reservations for their patio.

It turned out to be a wonderful evening, with so much delicious food. A culinary wonderland of seafood. Fresh, bursting with flavor, and well prepared. We ordered a small mound of silky slices of Toro as well as a Raw Tuna dish (with pickled mushrooms, fried shallots, shish & avocado puree). A Warm Spicy King Crab Roll and Mussels Escabeche (with such a delicious brother). A Dry Aged Steak Tartare (quail egg, truffle aioli, reggiano, buttered brioche) and a rich Foie Gras Torchon. And Fried Calamari (Spanish chorizo, pickled peppers, yuzu aioli). Most of this I didn't photograph as I was primarily there to enjoy myself, but two dishes enticed me sufficiently to take a couple pictures.

The Unagi Fried Rice, with corn, beech mushrooms, foie and a soy glaze, was an impressive dish. Silky and flavorful, sweet and savory, and a nice umami.

Fried Lobster & Waffles with sweet corn butter. A decadent treat, and variation on the traditional chicken & waffles.

I'll certainly be dining there again soon, as there's plenty on the menu I still wish to taste. And I never would have experienced this restaurant if I didn't decide to explore a place unfamiliar to me. Service was excellent, I felt safe on their patio, and every dish I ordered was delicious and pleasing.

So please support your favorite restaurants right now, but also take some time to have a sense of discovery and try a restaurant you've never been to before.

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Thursday Sips & Nibbles

I'm back again with a new edition of Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting, upcoming food & drink events. For now, some of these events will simply be the opening of certain restaurants, generally ones dear to my heart for a variety of reasons. And I hope everyone dines out safely, and tips well.
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1) Momi Nonmi, in Cambridge, has announced some good news: "After a period of time of observing and preparing to meet the highest level of safety we are ready to reopen our dine-in service starting on Friday July 17th." At this time, for dine-in service, the restaurant will only be offering Omakase,  and the options include:
--$78 for 7 courses
--$99 for 9 courses
--$128 for 15 courses

You will soon be able to make reservations for dine-in service. In addition, they will still be offering their Takeout Menu, which also includes Omakase.

2) Chef Alez Saenz at Bisq, in Cambridge, is once again bringing Taqueria El Barrio to Bisq with a special take-out menu, including items such as.
--Carnitas by the lb & kit ($42)
w/ Cabbage, Onions, Vegetables en Escabeche, salsa verde & Corn Tortillas (12ea)
--Birria y Bichi (Beef & broth) by the lb & kit ($54)
w/ cilantro, onion, salsa roja, broth & Corn tortillas (12ea)
--Al pastor by the lb & kit ($52)
w/ cilantro, pineapple, salsa pastor, salsa roja & (12 ea) corn tortillas
TACOS: Choice of: Their own Flour Tortilla or “Mi Tierra” Corn Tortilla
Chicharrón (pork) $4.25 (Onion, cilantro, salsa taquera, guacamole pastor)
Lengua (beef tongue) 5.25 (Onion, cilantro)
Al Pastor (Pork) $4.25 (Cilantro, Onion, Guacamole Pastor)
Carne Asada (Beef) $4.25 (Cabbage, Salsa Taquera, Guacamole)
Tinga de Pollo (Chicken) $4.25 (Cabbage & pickled red onions)
Pescado (fish) $4.75 (Cabbage, Pico de Gallo, Baja Cream, Chipotle Dressing)
Hongo (mushroom) $4.25 (Cilantro, Onion, Avocado Sauce)

You'll also find Sides: Such as Chips, Guacamole and Salsa. And Desserts such as  Churros and Dulce de leche.

Give Bisq a call at 617-714-3693 to put in an order.

3) GreCo Seaport is getting ready to celebrate their one year anniversary later this month and they now have a beautiful new patio with seating for 24 and plenty of room for social distancing. Additionally, they are launching the GreCo Picnic Box ($94) which can feed two to four people, and includes::
--Mixed Grill (pork and chicken gyro, two lamb chops, two bifteki, two loukaniko, GreCo fries, spicy feta, tzatziki, tomatoes, onions, pita)
--Horiatiki Salad (tomato, cucumber, onion, Kalamata olives, oregano, feta, olive oil)
--Classic Loukoumas (Greek honey, cinnamon, walnuts)
--A Magnum of HOOT natural Greek wine
--With a GreCo branded picnic blanket, sunscreen and deck of cards.

GreCo is also offering new seasonal menu items such as the GreCo bowl with orzo, sun dried tomato, green peppers, scallions and tomato sauce and Moussaka (layered eggplant and tomatoes with bechamel).

In addition, GreCo Seaport is introducing Kaimaki Ice Cream and Boozy Granita. The Kaimaki ice cream is a recipe from Co-Owner Stefanos Ougrinis as his yiayia has carried the recipe since she came from Istanbul to Thessaloniki. Kaimaki ice cream combines flavors of mastiha and rose water and has a uniquely gummy texture. It is available as 2 scoops served with the choice of one spoon sweet (quince, bergamot, fig, sour cherry) and one topping (walnuts, pistachio, butter biscuit, shredded phyllo). It is also available as a topping to GreCo's legendary loukoumas. Boozy granita in flavors of mastiha and sangria will be launching later this week as well.

Monday, July 13, 2020

New Sampan Article: Anita Chue: Another Influential Woman Restaurateur in Chinatown

"The most interesting feature of Chinese life to me was that on board their boats, or sampans, as they are called....Upon these boats live whole families of three and even four generations."
--The Fall River Daily Herald, November 20, 1888

As I mentioned previously, I have a new writing gig, contributing to Sampan, the only bilingual Chinese-English Newspaper in New England. I've previously written five articles for Sampan, including, In Search of the First Chinese Restaurant in ChinatownMalden’s First Chinese Restaurant, Quincy's First Chinese RestaurantsRuby Foo, Chinatown’s First Woman Restaurateur (Part 1), and Ruby Foo, Chinatown’s First Woman Restaurateur (Part 2).

My newest article, Anita Chue: Another Influential Woman Restaurateur in Chinatown, is now available. In January 1945, as World War II continued, Anita and Gordon Chue opened the Cathay House in Boston's Chinatown. The restaurant became immensely successful, considered not only one of the best Chinese restaurants in Boston, but one of the best in the country. Much of that success was due to Anita, who made a significant impact in Chinatown and elsewhere.

The Cathay House was famous with national celebrities and local sports figures, and much of its success occurred despite it not having a liquor license for over fifteen years. Anita later opened a second restaurant in Brookline, and would later work and consult with a variety of other Chinese restaurants in the Boston area. Like Ruby Foo, Anita was an intelligent, charming and savvy business woman who became a success in the restaurant industry, and introduced many people to the wonders of Chinese cuisine, especially Cantonese.

I'm currently working on a new article for the next issue of Sampan, which will be published later this month.

What is a "sampan?" The newspaper's site states, "A sampan is a popular river boat in traditional China. This small but useful vessel, by transporting cargo from large boats to the village ports, creates a channel of communication among villages." And like that type of boat, Sampan delivers news and information all across New England, and "acts a bridge between Asian American community organizations and individuals in the Greater Boston area."

Sampan, which was founded in 1972, is published by the nonprofit Asian American Civic Association, "The newspaper covers topics that are usually overlooked by the mainstream press, such as key immigration legislation, civil rights, housing, education, day-care services and union activities. These issues are crucial to the well-being of Asian immigrants, refugees, low-income families as well as individuals who are not proficient in the English language."

There is plenty of interest in Sampan which will appeal to all types of readers, from restaurant reviews to historical articles, from vital news stories to travel items. In these current days when racism and prejudice against Asians and their restaurants is high, it's more important than ever that accurate information about the Asian community is disseminated and promoted. We need to combat the irrational prejudices that some possess, and support our Asian communities just as we would support any other element of our overall community. We are all important aspects of a whole, and we need to stand together.

Support Sampan!

Friday, July 10, 2020

Việt Citron: Fresh & Tasty Phở, Bánh Mi & More

A number of restaurants opened during the beginning of 2020, and then the pandemic struck, temporarily closing these spots and then eventually allowing them to open with significant restrictions. One of those new spots is Việt Citron, a Vietnamese restaurant located on the Middlesex Turnpike in Burlington, near to H-Mart. I dined there once before the pandemic struck, and I've since dined there several times once it reopened. Overall, it's an impressive restaurant with very fresh and delicious Vietnamese food, and I highly recommend it.

The restaurant is owned by a husband and wife team, Howard Lee and Tran Lee (also known as Ngoc Lee), and this is actually their first restaurant venture. They want to being authentic Vietnamese food to the area, choosing to offer a small, selection of dishes, made from scratch and using many local ingredients. An admirable objective and it's certainly the type of restaurant which appeals to me.

Chopping some Crispy Pork Belly!


Prior to the pandemic, the restaurant seated about 30 people in a very casual setting, though there isn't any interior dining right now. Currently, the restaurant has limited hours of operation, from Thursday to Sunday, 11am-7pm, so you can stop by for lunch or dinner. They offer take-out, delivery, and have a few outside tables in their parking lot, where I've dined several times. The menu is also currently limited, and there are some minor changes week to week.

The Menu has four Lunch Deals ($13-$16) on Thursday and Friday, from 11am-2pm, such as Bánh Mi & a Fresh Drink and Wicked Rice Bowl & a Fresh Drink. There is a Seasonal Special, Bò Lá Lốt ($14), and Specialities, including Bánh Mi ($12)Wicked Rice Bowl ($12) and Bánh Hỏi Bowl ($13.50). There are a number of Sides, such as Summer Rolls ($6.50), Mama Tran's Chả Giò ($7.00), and Grilled Asian Eggplants ($13.50). There is usually a Soup choice, which changes on a regular basis, and currently they offer three types of Beef Phở ($13-$15).

In addition, they offer several Pound/Bulk Order products, great if you are having a group of people at your home. You could get an order of 20 Frozen Mama Tran's Chả Giò ($38), 16 Summer Rolls ($49), 1 pound of Salt Roasted Crispy Pork Belly ($16.95), or Grilled Garlic Tiger Prawns ($24). I haven't ordered any of these items yet, but their Pork Belly is on my short list.

Prior to the pandemic, I enjoyed an ample bowl of their Tru-Việt Phở Gà: Hà Nội Style, which is made with 12 hours chicken bone broth, Phở rice noodles, chicken, cilantro & scallions, and served with bean sprouts & fresh herbs and a chili lime sauce on the side. They offered three different types of this Phở, including Tru-Việt Phở (local cage-free chicken), Naked Phở (boneless chicken), and Plain Phở (no meat).

During the winter, this was the perfect dish to warm the belly. There was a freshness to the ingredients which appealed to me, and that has remained a significant aspect of all their dishes. Everything tastes so fresh, and it's clear their vegetables haven't been sitting around wilting. The Phở broth was complex and flavorful, relatively clear, and each spoonful was pure hedonistic pleasure. The chicken was tender and meaty, and the noodles had just enough firmness to them. It was also an aromatic dish, the smells delighting you even before you take a taste. I need to check out their Beef Phở.

Mama Tran's Chả Giò are crispy fried egg rolls wrapped with ground pork & shrimp and seasonal vegetables, and accompanied by a chili fish sauce dip. Unlike the egg rolls you might be used to at Chinese restaurants, these wrappers are made from rice paper and are much thinner and lighter, though with a pleasant crunch. The interior is tasty, with a nice blend of meat, seafood and veggies, that works harmoniously together. The sauce has a mild heat which compliments the egg rolls.

The Summer Rolls are made from fresh rice paper rolls wrapped with pork, shrimp, herbs, lettuce, and vermicelli, and come with a peanut sauce dip. Instead of the pork and shrimp, you could select tofu or grilled sirloin. The translucent wrappers show off the plump shrimp inside. Again, the summer roll has a delicious blend of flavors with an emphasis on freshness. The peanut sauce added another level of complexity to the flavors.


Their iconic Bánh Mi is made with an artisan Vietnamese baguette, pickles, jalapeños, cilantro, signature aioli, garlic soy reduction, and you get a choice of a protein, including lemongrass sirloin, Big A** chicken, grilled prawns, crispy pork belly, or crispy tofu puffs. I opted for the pork belly and it was an excellent choice. The pork belly was tender and crispy, with crunchy bits and soft fat, and there was an ample amount within the sandwich. The freshness of the other ingredients, including the baguette, stood out and each bite beckoned you to have another. Again, the blend of flavors and textures worked very well together and I look forward to enjoying plenty more of their Bánh Mi in the future.

The Bánh Hỏi Bowl ($13.50) comes with square rice noodles, lettuce, fresh herbs, cucumbers, pickles, scallion oil, ground peanuts, and a choice of protein, along with a side of chili garlic fish sauce. I chose the lemongrass sirloin, tender and aromatic beef, enhanced by the crunchy peanut bits and fish sauce. The square rice noodles are little light packages of noodles, and can easily be dunked in the sauce. Freshness is the rule here as well.


Bò Lá Lốt is basically Grilled Lolot (also known as Betel) Leaf Beef, where the tender beef is wrapped in the thin leaves and then grilled. They can be added to a Bánh Hỏi Bowl or a Wicked Rice Bowl, which was my choice. This was another aromatic and delicious dish, and each beef roll was flavorful, moist and compelling. There were also slices of cucumber and Asian pear, and the pear was a slightly sweet and pleasant addition to the dish.

This dish is traditionally paired with Mam Nem Sauce, a pungent fermented fish sauce (usually made from fermented anchovies) and mixed with chili, lemongrass, and pineapple. It is not recommended for beginners, who might want to stick with their regular chili garlic fish sauce instead. Personally, I quite enjoyed this sauce, and didn't find it to be overly pungent bur rather had an intriguing and rather alluring aroma. I also loved the umami of this complex sauce, which had elements of both heat and sweetness. It enhanced the flavor of the Bò Lá Lốt and I could see it working well with other dishes too.

If you want a hot and spicy sauce, you could try their Mama Trans Chili Garlic Paste, which possesses an intense heat, as well as a nice depth of flavor.

Service has been excellent, as well as personable and accommodating. Việt Citron is still a new restaurant and it certainly needs your support in these troubled times. Your support is completely justified as they offer fresh, delicious Vietnamese food, a welcome addition to the Burlington region. I've thoroughly enjoyed my visits to Việt Citron and will be returning regularly. Check it out, get Phở, Bánh Mi, or another dish and you'll understand why I'm impressed.

What are you waiting for? Việt Citron is open all weekend.

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Thursday Sips & Nibbles

I'm back again with a new edition of Thursday Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting, upcoming food & drink events. For now, some of these events will simply be the opening of certain restaurants, generally ones dear to my heart for a variety of reasons. And I hope everyone dines out safely, and tips well.
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1) Uni, on Commonwealth Ave., has now opened the Uni Clam Shack! From Tuesday through Sunday, from 12pm-4pm, their Takeout Window will be open for a special Summer lunch. You can order items including Fried Clams and three different types of Lobster Rolls: Classic (with celery, Japanese mayo, lemon), Warm (butter poached), and Chilled Brown Butter (brown butter mayo, bacon). You can order online at Toast for a quick pick-up or visit them to order in person. You can also order from their usual Take-out menu as well, from Sushi Wagyu Beef Dumplings.

2) Woods Hill Table in Concord has launched a special BBQ menu that they will offer, for take-out or outdoor dining, every Friday and Saturday throughout the summer from 5pm-8pm. Woods Hill Table has added picnic tables for outdoor dining, and seating will be on a first come, first serve basis. Take out orders can be placed HERE or by calling 978-254-1435.

Chef Jesse’s Famous BBQ Menu (Pick 2 protein, 3 sides $55)
Proteins
--Smoked Grass Fed Beef Brisket
--Pulled Woods Hill Table Pork Shoulder
--State Fair BBQ 1/2 Chicken
Sides
--Chef Matt's Mac and Cheese (Elbow Mac, Aged Cheddar)
--"Boston" Baked Beans (Woods Hill Farm Bacon, Brown Sugar)
--Red Potato Salad (Whole grain mustard, Scallions)
--Cole Slaw (Celery Seed, Buttermilk)
--Uncle Jesse's Cornbread

Woods Hill Hot Dog Plate $22
2 grass fed all beef hot dogs (cheddar aioli, bacon bits, scallions)
pick 2 sides

Dessert
Pier 4 Chocolate Cake (Vanilla Icing) $4

3) Puritan & Company’s Chef/Owner Will Gilson and Pastry Chef Brian Mercury have worked with the team at Cambridge Crossing to create a new outdoor dining experience for the Summer months. Starting Thursday, July 16, Will Gilson and his team will debut “The Lexington at Picnic Grove in Cambridge Crossing”. It will be a new outdoor dining venue at the soon-to-open Cambridge Crossing development.

A completely outdoor venue, The Lexington at Picnic Grove by the Puritan & Company team is going to be a max of 80 guests, seated at socially distanced tables. The menu will include beer and wine, along with summertime favorites like burgers, hot dogs, lobster rolls, etc. There will also be some special menu items through the season that they will be testing out for The Lexington menu. Reservations will be required and can be made through opentable.com.

The name “The Lexington” came from one of Will Gilson’s three venues opening up at Cambridge Crossing in Early Fall 2020. The venues will be named The Lexington, a rooftop bar; Geppetto, an approachable Italian concept; and Café Beatrice, an all-day café.

The menu will include:
Appetizers including Oysters, Grilled chicken wings, Grilled bacon wrapped scallops, Potato chips & za’tar onion dip, and Buttered lobster toast
Grill including Wagyu hot dog, Grilled burger, Tacos (Fish, chicken, or impossible), Spice-roasted Cauliflower quesadilla, Lobster roll, and Chopped salad
Dessert including Sundae cup, Pistachio rice krispie treat, and Cookie bag (assorted 3)

Monday, July 6, 2020

Rant: Losing Taste & Smell

At this point, in less than six months, approximately 132,000 people in the U.S. have died from the Coronavirus, and of that amount, about 8,200 people have died in Massachusetts alone. Some people think our fears of the virus are irrational, and have even made silly statements such as you have a greater chance of dying from food poisoning than the virus. Such a load of BS.

In the U.S., about 3,000 people die each year due to food poisoning. In half that time, the coronavirus has already killed 132,000 people, about 44 times the amount who die annually from food poisoning. Just consider that statistic. It would take 44 years of food poisoning deaths to be equal to the amount of people who have already died from the coronavirus.

However, though death is the worst result of the coronavirus, we cannot ignore that the survivors may also acquire permanent and debilitating side effects. Just because you survived the coronavirus doesn't mean you have returned to your pre-virus health condition. Specifically, I want to address the matter of losing your sense of taste and smell. There isn't sufficient data yet about this problem, but the evidence does show it's very common for those who get the coronavirus to have a diminished sense of smell and taste. That diminishment remains with some people even after the coronavirus is gone.

A person close to me, who had the coronavirus about three months ago, still has a diminishment of their smell and taste. They might never regain their pre-virus smell and taste. And that is a scary and terrible situation! Would you want to lose your sense of smell and taste? Would you want a loved one to lose those senses? I very much doubt it.

For a food and drink writer like me and many others, that could be devastating. For chefs, cooks, wine makers, distillers, and those in similar positions, it would also be devastating. Even the average person would likely feel devastated if they could no longer taste their food, or if it tasted strangely different than it once did. It's not just some minor side effect of the coronavirus. This is a worrisome side effect that we must also consider when evaluating coronavirus risks.

There are other potential permanent effects from the coronavirus which could adversely affect your health. I just concentrated on one in this article. I know other people with other lingering conditions, which pose serious health threats. We can't just evaluate the danger of coronavirus by how many people it kills, even though that number is high. We have to also consider all of the potential risks to those who survive the disease as well.

Would you want to lose your sense of smell and taste?

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Thursday Sips & Nibbles

After a hiatus, due to many restaurants having been closed, I'm back again with a new edition of Thursday Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting, upcoming food & drink events. For now, some of these events will simply be the opening of certain restaurants, generally ones dear to my heart for a variety of reasons. And I hope everyone dines out safely, and tips well.

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1) Davio's is now offering a special New England Clambake. This classic summer meal includes Maine Lobster, New England Clam Chowder, Little Neck Clams, local corn, baby creamer potatoes, and blueberry shortcake with vanilla ice cream - all for $65 per guest. It's available for patio or in-door dining at the Seaport, Chestnut Hill, Lynnfield, Braintree, and Foxborough locations. Or you can order this spread to-go for any summer celebrations at your home.

2) The Tasting Counter, led by Chef Peter Ungar, is one of my top favorite restaurants, will be opening next week, at 50% capacity, meaning they will go from a 20-seat restaurant to a 10-seat restaurant. Their first dine-in service will be Friday, July 10. They will offer 2 seatings on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. Between services, they've built in a 30-minute buffer to mitigate congestion with guests coming/going, as well as to ensure adequate time for their staff to completely sanitize and clean the restaurant before and after each service. You may purchase tickets online here.

3) Chef/Owner Anthony Caturano has recently reopened three of his restaurants, and his fourth will open very soon. Prezza, Tonno Wakefield, and Tonno Gloucester are now open, with both outside and inside dining available. The Blue Ox will reopen on July 8, apparently for inside dining only, and they will also have a new menu incorporating the signature dishes of The Blue Ox. Reservations for all four spots are strongly recommended and can be made online.

4) Puritan & Company, led by Chef Will Gilson, has just reopened their interior dining room and they also have a small patio. Check out their list of some of the safety precautions they have taken to enhance the safety of their customers. Take out will still be available during this time, and they will be offering their famed Brunch on Sundays. Reservations must be made.

5) Tambo 22, led by Chef Jose Duarte, is located in Chelsea and opened just a short time before the pandemic so I haven't dined there yet but I'm excited to check it out. It offers Peruvian cuisine, from Ceviche to Paiche, and the Menu looks exciting. They are now open for patio dining or inside dining,  with all of the proper safety precautions.

Monday, June 29, 2020

Rant: Dining Out This Holiday Weekend

During the last few weeks, the weather has been usually pleasant, making outside dining even more attractive. With the dangers of Covid-19 still facing us, some restaurants have chosen to provide outside dining, from patios to tents. Although restaurants can also provide some limited inside dining,  many consumers are wary about doing so, especially considering that issues about HVAC systems have not really been resolved.

I've been dining outside at several different restaurants, such as Prince Pizzeria, District Kitchen and Feng Shui. So far, I've felt safe at all of the places where I've dined and these restaurants seem to be following proper safety precautions. The food has been delicious, and the experience almost seems normal once again. None of these restaurants were especially busy when I dined there, and they certainly deserve more patronage, which they could still handle properly.

We all have seen how initially outdoor dining in the North End raised some concerns, but the state quickly took action to remedy the situation.  And since that time, I haven't seen any additional concerns raised, and possibly all of the North End restaurants are now taking the proper precautions. And if they don't, they could lose the ability to offer outside dining.

With the July 4 weekend upcoming, and the weather looking like it will be quite nice, outdoor dining might be on the agenda for many people. In general, that is a very good idea, helping restaurants which have endured harsh financial issues during the last several months. It can be a pleasant experience, enjoying the summer, dining on tasty food and maybe having a refreshing cocktail, beer, wine or nonalcoholic beverage.

However, the beautiful weather and holiday could bring out large crowds of people, and some restaurants might be tempted to bend safety precautions to cater to all of these potential customers. I understand their desire, wanting to earn as much money as they can, but they MUST still follow all proper safety and health standards. We do not want a new surge of Covid-19 cases, which might lead to people dying as well as businesses being shut down once again.

In addition, customers must play their part, following required safety precautions and not trying to bend the rules. Don't be selfish! Think about everyone else dining near you, and the danger you place them in if you refuse to follow safety precautions. Wear a mask when required, and wear it properly, covering both your mouth and nose. Socially distance when necessary, and don't crowd other people. Restaurants and customers both must work at making outdoor dining safer for everyone.

We can safely enjoy excellent experiences while dining out this holiday weekend. Don't be part of the problem!

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Prince Pizzeria Under The Big Top

Now that some of the Covid-19 restrictions have been loosened, a number of restaurants have been offering outside dining, and inside dining has also recently begun in some places. I've dined at some outdoor spots during the last few weeks, including a few times at Prince Pizzeria on Route 1 in Saugus.

For 59 years, Prince Pizzeria has been serving pizza, pasta and more. If you grew up in the area like I did, you probably visited Prince as a child. I've never stopped going there either, and still regularly dine there for lunch. I used to especially go for their pizza & pasta buffet, though that may not return because of the virus and safety concerns. However, there are plenty of reasons to still dine at Prince, and their new exterior tent offers increased safety while dining there.

The large tent is set in their parking lot, to the left of the restaurant, and seats about 90-100 people. Two of the sides are open, allowing plenty of fresh air to circulate. And with a closed side facing Route 1, you don't have to watch the passing cars as you dine.

The interior of the tent is spacious, with all the tables properly spaced apart. And when they seat people, they have tried to keep a good distance from others already there. All the servers wear masks, and guests must wear masks unless they are sitting at their table.

On one of the occasions, I received an Italian flag, which is supposed to be used to summon one of the servers if you need anything. A nice little addition.

Prince currently offers their entire menu, from pizza to pasta, steak tips to chicken marsala. Plenty to choose from and all reasonably priced. As I was there for lunch, pizza was my choice, such as the basic Cheese. Sometimes simplicity is what you desire, especially when it is done well. Prince's pizzas are their own unique style, reminiscent in some respects to Greek pizza but with their differences as well. The cheeses, sauce and crust form a delightful combination, pleasing the senses, as well as the soul. It's just pizza but then it's also so much more.

The Scampi Pizza is made with shrimp, garlic, olive oil, a blend of cheeses, and no sauce. Again, it's a relatively simple pizza but well executed, with a rich garlic flavor, tender shrimp and lots of tasty cheese.

Owner Steven Castraberti has been at the restaurant every time I have recently dined there, and he has been ensuring everything runs smoothly. He's not some absentee owner, but a man with a passion for his restaurant, a man who takes an active role in its success. The longevity of the restaurant, when so many other restaurants on Rt. 1 have closed over the years, is a testament to the family's dedication.

I'll also note that Giggles, Prince's comedy club, is being moved outside as well, with weekend shows planned. This will help to ensure proper social distancing, rather than trying to space everyone in a small room within the restaurant.

If you haven't been to Prince Pizzeria in a long time, if at all, then please check it out. Dine outside, under the tent, and you should feel relatively safe. They are working hard to make a safer environment for all and are worthy of your patronage. It's a difficult time for all restaurants right now and they need our support. Get some pizza and pasta, maybe wine or a cocktail, and enjoy a pleasant lunch or dinner at Prince Pizzeria.