Helmand & Mr. Sushi
Helmand (1st. St., Kendall Square):
Excellent, savory, unusual food (admittedly, I'm a sucker for fruit with meat). The pumpkin dish, kaddo, is particularly good. Appetizers are uniformly excellent. Wonderful, fresh out of the oven nan with various codiments is complementary. Nice little wine list. Sounds great, right? But the downside is the Jeckyl and Hyde service. We've been three times (we live nearby): once the service was impeccable, a second time poor and the third, just plain bad. Also, button mushrooms and wilting lettuce served under hot food are turnoffs for me. It would be nice if they would also loose the coffee table near the entrance, which makes it very crowded when waiting for a table (otherwise the atmosphere is very nice). So close to being a favorite, but those lame mushrooms really ruin it for me...
Mr. Sushi (Harvard St., Brookline):
Recently transplanted from Seattle, which has excellent sushi, I've been a bit worried by all the reviews suggesting Boston is a sushi wasteland. As chance would have it, Mr. Sushi was our first Boston sushi adventure. Although we weren't blown away by anything, we definitely enjoyed our meal. The menu looked like it might have some interesting items, but we stuck with the old standard nigiri combo. Made me a little nervous that they also serve Korean (is this an East Coast thing?), not that I dont like Bi Bim Bop. Fresh fish (although they should loose the lame Kamaboko fake crab nigiri), medium-sized portions, and surprisingly inexpensive ($13-14/9 piece nigiri). The fried goyza was particularly good. OK atmosphere and fairly quick service. We'll still keep looking for that one special place, but with Mr. Sushi conveniently located across the street from the Coolidge Corner Theater, we'll likely be back again soon.
Some quick thoughts on a few more places we've recently been:
1) Blue Room, One Kendall Square - excellent food, particularly the rabbit, which was cooked to perfection. Good service. Not cheap.
2) Legal Seafood, Kendall Square - nothing bad, and very good chowder.
3) La Groceria, Central Square - so-so Italian.
4) Pho Pasteur, Newberry St. - excellent Pho, but about 2X what I'm used to paying in Seattle (is the Harvard Square location cheaper?).
5) Thai's, One Kendall Square - OK Thai, but way too expensive for what you get.
6) Marrakesh, East Cambridge - Moroccan! Very interesting, tasty food in a funky little place. Take your shoes off in the back and relax on the sofas. Not much of a wine list. Worth going out of the way for.
Love the Blue Room!
I also at at La Groceria recently and found it has really declined dramatiacally. Used to be a great place.
As for your Mr. Sushi/Korean question, a very large percentage of the Japanese places in the Boston area are owned/operated by Koreans and have a mixed menu.
My personal favorite for sushi is Hiro Sushi in Natick.