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Northampton/Amherst Area Dining...Another View

  • j

When my wife, Matt, and I first moved to Northampton (Noho to collegiate types, Hamp to townies), we had high hopes for the place and ate out a lot. Now, maybe, once a month. To be honest, for a place its size, there's a lot going on: two Thai restaurants, two Indian restaurants, two decent sushi places. Still, the Chinese restaurant that wins "Best of the Valley" every year for about ten years in a row is Hunan Gourmet, a place where the food is so bad that I don't understand how the waitstaff can serve it with a straight face. This isn't a comment on the restaurant but on the taste of the local inhabitants, which is, to say the least, low.

How low? There was a really GREAT Malaysian restaurant in Amherst (two towns away) that we visited everytime we could when we first got here. However, we noticed that we were about the only customers in there everytime we went -- and, sure enough, they were out of business in a year. The Northampton/Amherst axis is college land, and while college students like to think they have adventurous palates, they go adventuring all together to places which pose little threat to their cool, and where the emblematic is all: if a pizza slice is big and comes with fresh basil and raw garlic scattered over it, that's high end eating for them. Because many college students are vegetarians or at least pro-vegetarian, this word also regularly short-circuits palate attentiveness in favor of political correctness.

A word about my own tastes: I tend to prefer joints because I like my money to go to food, not decor. I’ve yet to eat in one pricy restaurant in the area, although I do want to try Green Street Cafe someday...preferably on somebody else’s expense account. Also, I don’t like “nice” food--which I don’t know if I can describe but I know it when I meet it: tasty but essentially uninteresting, with flavor hints of portion control and with ingredients added for their carefully calculated effect, not because the chef’s palate insisted on them. Finally, I have no interest whatsoever in vegetarian fare, as opposed to dishes that just happen to not contain meat. Vegetarianism is not about food but about denial, which kind of poisons a meal for me. For what it’s worth, I don’t go to steak houses either, for the same reason. So:

BREAKFAST. Jake’s. The coffee could be better but they serve poached eggs on corned beef hash and the atmosphere can’t be beat. I like the apple cider doughnuts at Atkins Farm Stand. Get them hot there in the morning and drive into Amherst for some good coffee. Miss Florence Diner -- lively diner ambiance and decent breakfast chow.

CHINESE FOOD. Avoid any Chinese restaurant in Amherst (including Amherst Chinese), any that has a luncheon buffet, any that serves alcoholic beverages. Also, in Northampton, avoid the Teapot, which is almost as bad as the Hunan Gourmet. This leaves Taipei/Tokyo, which also serves decent sushi. The food isn’t great, but the chef doesn’t seem to have his spirit broken, either. Also, big plus, you can get chow fun there. If you see a bearish guy with a white beard gorming down beef chow fun at the next table, it is very likely me.

FISH AND CHIPS. Usually, I drive to Greenfield for these, but on Friday, North Shore Seafood in Northampton does a great fry-up.

JAPANESE. Ichiban in Northampton. Avoid the Korean dishes. The rest are hit or miss, but I’ve been usually enjoyed my meals there, even if what I liked best is what someone else ordered instead of me. Try the smoked eel. The sushi is also good.

KOREAN. Gohyang (Hadley, on Route 9). This is one of very few restaurants in the area that I really look forward to going to. Two good signs: the menu is limited; on weekends, the place is usually mobbed with Korean college students having a good time. Try the homemade dumplings, the marinated short ribs, the rice and vegetable dish with the fried egg on top.

MEXICAN. La Veracruzana, with only moderate enthusiasm. At least they have the right moves. I haven’t eaten at La Cazuela...yet.

THAI FOOD. Northampton. I prefer Siam Square to Thai Kitchen, but the latter has recently moved to a funkier locale on the side of the railway bridge and I’m going to try them again. At Siam Square, try the beef in coconut milk.

PIZZA. If you like pizza for the crust not the topping, forget it. And if you think the crust is just there to hold the toppings, forget you. No, no, just joking. When, despite myself I get a hankering for a slice, I walk over to Pinocchio’s. If I lived in Amherst, I’d probably go to Antonio’s (although I once tipped an entire raw garlic pizza from them into a nearby dumpster after one bite. Otherwise, if I want a really funky, downhome pizza experience, I go to Joe’s and eat an entire pie with a pitcher of beer. Classic 1950’s pizza. (Don’t remember that, do you? But Joe’s does.)

PLACES I’M CURIOUS ABOUT, perhaps despite myself. I’d appreciate word on these places, if you have an opinion to share. Pete’s on Route 9. Molino’s. La Cazuela. Aqua Vitae (pizza crust?). Either or both of Northampton’s Indian restaurants, India House and India Palace. Place to get really good fries.

PLACES WHERE ONE VISIT WAS ENOUGH: Bub’s Barbecue (not bad, but not good either), Mezza Luna, Panda Garden, Teapot, Fresh Pasta Company, Bueno Y Sano (Sano ma non Bueno), Amanouz Cafe, Pizza Factory, Pizzeria Paradiso, Sylvester’s, East Side Grill, Northampton Brewery and the Amherst Brewing (although the brew wasn’t bad in either). Et cetera.

Link: http://www.outlawcook.com/index.html

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  1. John: What a wonderful and unexpected treat.

    I spent many summers in Ware, down the road a bit from you. I just knew there still had to be some good food in Northampton and environs because there always had been.

    I so look forward to my Simple Cooking. You'll be getting a change of address from me soon, as I'll be moving to....Maine! All the best to you both, pat

    P.S. There's a spot in Ware called Snow's where they have good fried seafood (scallops, clams with their bellies) and other stuff too. You can eat inside or buy to take away at the window. Just across the road is Snow's Pond and you can eat by the water. You could even swim in it if the weather is good. Only open in the warm months, perhaps to the end of Sept.

    8 Replies
    1. re: pat hammond

      “I have to disagree with you about vegetarianism. It's only about denial if you love meat, which not everybody does.”

      Not being a vegetarian doesn’t mean one doesn’t like to eat vegetables or that one believes that vegetable-only dishes aren’t worth eating. I’ve eaten, enjoyed, cooked, and written about all sorts of dishes like that. I also don’t think that very many people are vegetarians simply because they don’t happen to “like” meat. Meat is too various in flavor, texture, and kind: it’s like saying “I don’t like vegetables so I don’t ever eat them.” Vegetarians don’t like the >idea< of eating meat. This is a philosophical/religious position, not a culinary one; it’s like observant Jews not eating pork. Whether they like pork or not is beside the issue. How can you “like” pork if you believe it is unclean? I’m an omnivore but I don’t eat insects, which I understand are very tasty. This is because I believe they are “unclean” and I don’t have sufficient motivation to overcome that belief, no matter how much someone tells me that grubs are totally delicious. But if I lived in a culture where the majority ate insects all the time and relished them, and I spent a lot of my mental energy fighting that fact off, I believe I’d be culinarily crippled, and I do think vegetarians pay that price for their belief. Theirs is a sad little corner of the culinary scene; the rewards lie mostly elsewhere.

      “Amanouz makes great Middle Eastern breakfasts, pretty cheap to boot.”

      Seth -- so I’ve heard, and have meant to find out. I hear great things about their cumin-flavored fries. You also make Packard’s sound worth a visit. (Besides, I’ve even ridden in a Packard! in a Packard! I wonder if that gets me a free beer?) I have a close friend in Northampton whose palate I trust who thinks Carmelita’s is great. I forgot to mention it as a place I’m waiting for the opportunity to try. It’s a little on the pricy side for chowhound roamings. Thanks for your tips. (I also take your point about Bub's -- but have to observe that a free jukebox is a dangerous weapon to put in the hands of the eating public.)

      “There's a spot in Ware called Snow's where they have good fried seafood (scallops, clams with their bellies) and other stuff too. You can eat inside or buy to take away at the window. Just across the road is Snow's Pond and you can eat by the water. You could even swim in it if the weather is good. Only open in the warm months, perhaps to the end of Sept.”

      Pat, Ware is where they send Northamptonites do do their jury duty so I’m excited to learn about Snow’s. Now, when civil obligation calls, I’ll know where to spend my lunch money! (They do give you lunch money, don’t they? I hope it isn’t script that you cash in at MacDonald’s.)

      1. re: John Thorne

        "celebrity posting"

        My ass. Jim, you should know better than anyone that food writers aren't celebrities unless they appear in Cognac commercials. Chefs are celebrities. Restaurant reviewers are celebrities. Food writers, on the other hand, have the same status as screen writers, except they don't even have a union and nobody bothers to make jokes about them. "I wanted to be on the Food Channel so I slept with the food writer." No, no, no.

        1. re: John Thorne

          I'm not talking about stupid celebrities like Madonna, Regis Philbin or Monica Lewinsky. I'm talking about being known and admired for doing something surpassingly well, which is the only kind of celebrity that counts to those of us who are quality and value-obsessed chowhound types. And, like it or not, you fit that bill.

        2. re: John Thorne

          [Note to Jim: Sorry in advance. I realize this isn't the right place for tthis thread and I promise to move it to the General Topics Board if it continues. I just couldn't resist replying here; my somewhat overactive rightous indignation gland was stimulated.]

          For the most part, I agree with your assessment that the decision to opt for a vegetarian diet is most often based on reasons that have little to do with the taste of meat (although I do know people who were originally moved toward a vegetarian diet because, in fact, they really didn't like meat all that much). I certainly liked the taste of meat quite a bit back when I ate it. That being said, your remark "Theirs is a sad little corner of the culinary scene" smacks of the antivegetarian bigotry that is, sadly, not uncommon in the foodie world. Bourdain has made snide little comments like that too. Gee, if you can't eat diseased goose liver you must be sad.

          I admit that I am sad when I'm forced to eat nothing but side dishes or the obligatory penne with vegetables. Nobody likes to be marginalized, even if that marginalization is a conscious choice. That, however, doesn't make vegetarianism or vegetarian cuisine sad. Perhaps vegetarianism is a "little corner" of the culinary scene, but to assume sadness because we deny ourselves something that you can't fathom living without comes off as smug condescension.

          - VF

          1. re: VF

            “I admit that I am sad when I'm forced to eat nothing but side dishes or the obligatory penne with vegetables. Nobody likes to be marginalized, even if that marginalization is a conscious choice. That, however, doesn't make vegetarianism or vegetarian cuisine sad. Perhaps vegetarianism is a "little corner" of the culinary scene, but to assume sadness because we deny ourselves something that you can't fathom living without comes off as smug condescension.”

            Dear Irked, smug condescension is my middle name. That means we may be long-lost siblings! “Gee, if you can't eat diseased goose liver you must be sad.” I could have written that myself. Actually I can fathom living without meat; I did it for two years. The difference between you and me though is that I never thought of myself as a vegetarian. I did it out of curiosity, to save money, and to lose weight. (Besides being condescending, I’m also very materialistic.) Also, if we’re laying our cards out on the table, I hate the way most animals are raised for consumption. I think our cuisine would be improved, not impoverished, if restaurants served interesting meatless dishes. And I think a heavy meat diet does bad things to men psychologically (maybe women, too, I don’t know). Finally, though, I don’t think you take my point, except obliquely. “Nobody likes to be marginalized, even if that marginalization is a conscious choice.” Yes. But what I don’t think you see here is how much the marginalization corrupts the marginalized as well as those doing the marginalization. Only the marginalized take the brunt of it and pay a stiff price. And if this isn’t sad, I don’t know what is.

            1. re: John Thorne

              Animal lover that I am, I'll respond on the General board to avoid upsetting the Big Dog.

              - VF

              1. re: John Thorne

                Folks, let's please take this discussion to the General Topics board. Not to avoid "upsetting" me, but just to keep discussion organized for the surfing ease of all our hounds.

            2. re: John Thorne

              Oops. Watch the diatribe. The more you carry on, the more you can get snagged. I think you meant "scrip," not "script," which is method of handwriting. Perhaps you want to look that up. Perhaps it was a typo.

          2. Thanks, John, that was awesome!

            I generally refrain from making a big deal over "celeb" posters, but those who don't know John's work should go to his website (I'll link to it again, below), sign up for his newsletter "Simple Cooking" and buy his books (which are pretty much archives of previous newsletters). It's absolutely must-reading if you like food...even if you don't care much about cooking. He turns cooking into a chowhoundish adventure (mostly internal, but an adventure nonetheless).


            Link: http://www.outlawcook.com/index.html

            1. My knowledge of the Happy Valley dining scene dates back from my college days there in the early 90s, but I've been back to the area a bit over the past few years and appreciate the update. A few notes:

              Jakes also serves breakfast foods and burgers on Friday and Saturday nights from 11pm to 2am or so, when it is hopping with hungry college kids and nite owls jonesing for chocolate-chip pancakes.

              La Cazuela is great, although it's not really Mexican, it's more Tex-Mex. They change the menu seasonally--don't miss the chiles en nogado in the fall, two poblano chiles stuffed with pork (or an vegetarian filling) served in a walnut sauce with pomegranite seeds. They also make the best margherita in town.

              Both Indian places in Northampton are decent; India House has better food, India Palace has better bread.

              I'd have to differ with you on Bub's BBQ, Amanouz, and Sylvester's. Bub's is worth it for the experience alone--picnic tables with rolls of paper towels (you'll need 'em) and a free jukebox, not to mention an AYCE sides-n-soup bar. The sauce receipe supposedly came from the dying lips of a Florida ex-con. Amanouz makes great Middle Eastern breakfasts, pretty cheap to boot. I've always enjoyed brunch at Sylvester's, particularly the Huevos Rancheros made with corn bread instead of tortillas.

              So far no one has mentioned Carmelina's (Rt. 9 in Hadley), which gets my vote for best Italian. I remember being blown away when eating here as a college student because they served their bread with olive oil! Also, I still find myself jonesing for a Packard Burger from Packards, which was served with horseradish sauce. Probably as good as any fries that you'll find in the Northampton area.

              1. Thanks for the tips, everybody! I'm already planning my dining strategy for my next visit to the area.

                John, I have to disagree with you about vegetarianism. It's only about denial if you love meat, which not everybody does. If you had had the privilege, as I did last weekend, of eating Rebecca Ritter's glorious cooking at the Elat Chayyim retreat center in Accord, NY, you might agree with me that vegetarian cuisine is a celebration of the bounty of the earth. I cook mostly vegetarian at home too. It's not all TVP and steamed tofu. It's also fresh young spinach leaves sauteed with onion and garlic, and black bean and avocado rollups, and sweet potato tamales, and yes, tofu, cut into triangles and deep-fried and served with steamed broccoli and spicy peanut sauce, and, and, and. You can make quite a satisfactory chowhound's life-menu out of "dishes that just happen to not contain meat".

                1. l
                  Leslie Brenner

                  Wow! Thanks for the great report! I'm about to visit friends in Ashfield next weekend, and was going to search the site to see whether the area had ever been covered. I don't know whether we'll go out to eat, but if so, I'll report back...

                  1. j
                    judy leibovitch


                    Your comments on Chinese food in Northampton reminded me about the time I visited my kid sister at Smith in the late 80's. Craving home cooking we went to some Chinese place I know longer remember for chow mein and I swear to god the mein was actually spaghetti. Very gross.

                    1. re: johnthorne--

                      there's nothing worse than an uninformed critic. while i agree with you on some points, your lack of knowledge of the dining scene here is distressing.

                      why don't you hold your tongue until you've been around here for awhile so that you know what you're talking about.

                      1. John,

                        I'm going to try to be polite about this, but...Oh Hell! I think you're full of it! Having lived in the Valley for almost twenty years, I have to take issue with much of your dissin' of local eateries. It was very revealing to read what you claimed to like, as it gave me a sense of the state of your palate. Chow Fun -- please!!!

                        To refer to the taste of locals as being "low" is a slap in the face to all of us who eat out regularly, support a thriving restaurant community and contribute greatly to the local economy. While you might be offended by "nice food" and the prices of some of our more upscale restairants, let me point out that the quality of the food in such establishments is as good or better than some of the more reknowned food capitals in the country and bargain-priced by comparison. Running a restaurant that buys all of its produce and supplies locally from organic farmers and local merchants (Green Street Cafe, La Veracruzana,Eastside Grill and others ), not to mention supports valuable community efforts by hosting fundraising dinners for AIDS prevention and children's causes takes effort, investment, and a certain amount of capital. I am happy to patronize these places, as I know my dollars are being returned to my community.

                        So you go ahead being a snob about where you'll eat in this valley. I'll continue to patronize places that support good works in the community, pay their employees a living wage and buy from local merchants. I'll have a great time doing it, continue to pad the size of my rear end with delicious food, and studiously avoid any Chow Fun slurping malcontents I come across.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: Sarah

                          Hi Sarah,

                          The most persuasive and constructive thing you can say to someone who insists that there's no good food in a given locale is to bombard them with specific evidence to the contrary. "Is too!"/"Is not!" arguments don't tend to go far.

                          So we all await with great eagerness any bombardment you can provide. And I'm 100% sure that if you hip John to great chow he's heretofore missed, he'll gladly eat crow about his statement.

                          However, be aware that while organic ingredients and social consciousness are important things, this website happens to concentrate more on the deliciousness angle.


                          1. re: Jim Leff


                            Don't get me wrong -- I'm as big a fan of deliciousness as anyone, and bad food is not improved by any attending good works of its creators...

                            HOWEVER, I do believe that given a choice between great food prepared in establishments that could care less about the source of their ingredients, the welfare of the people who eat it and serve it, and great food prepared by people who do care about these things, I will always make the choice to support social good over indifference. In the long run I believe that the quality and deliciousness of our food sources are improved by supporting local growers and purveyors who have an investment in providing quality ingredients. Furthermore, I think our souls are improved by supporting good works in our local communities, and while it probably can not be proven, I firmly believe that eating food with a pure heart and a virtuous soul does jack up it's deliciousness.

                            So specifics you want? Here goes:

                            Teapot: try the Dinosaur Roll -- untraditional for sure, but delicious none the less. Their Rainbow Roll is a really yummy combo of tuna, tellow tail and salmon and perfectly ripe avcado.

                            Paul and Elizabeth's: fabulous veggie tempura -- light, crispy and perfect steamy tender veggies inside. Sweet Potato is my personal favorite. Nothing beats their Fish Lunch -- a beautifully broiled piece of whatever fish is freshest that day in a sticky/sweet/tangy soy-miso glaze, a bowl of nutty, slightly chewy brown rice, and a side of either green salad or steamed broccoli with lemon. It's the perfect restorative meal after too much indulgence in complicated, rich food.

                            Cha-Cha-Cha: spotty and often rude service from pierced counter staff and decidedly uncozy, chilly interior, but great food none the less. Particular recommendations -- Thai Chicken Burrito: great contrasts of grill flavors, marinated spicy red cabbage slaw and the sweetest grilled onions. Order evrything here as a combo -- that way you get the delicious side platter of black beans and rice and a small green salad with their tremendous vinaigrette. Smoosh it all together for maximum tastiness. They also make all their own salsas daily ranging from a very rough-chop tomato,red onion,garlic cilantro variation that tastes impeccably fresh even in the dead of the New England winter to a smoky, fiery puree that can peel the skin off the roof of your mouth.

                            Green Street Cafe: It feels like having dinner at your crazy Aunt Louise's house -- nothing matches and some of the characters are a little whacked, but you come away feeling well-fed with all of your senses satisfied. It's a rabbit warren of little dining rooms, one with a lovely fireplace in which they roast ducks on some nights. What I love about this place is that none of the food on your plate is in competition with its neighbors. While I usually trust them to pair all the sides with the main course, they are always happy to make any substitutions or changes that you ask for. Service is great -- well-paced, leisurely or efficient depending on your needs. Lingering is encouraged, and the lounge area has comfy couches for post-stuffing reclining. My recommendations: Chicken with Peaches and Sage -- a delightfully simple and savory dish on the menu only in the spring and sumer, often served with a comforting side of buttered fresh pasta and parsley. The gruyeye tart appetizer is smoky and dense -- best enjoyed in very thin slices with your salad. The chocolate pot-de-creme dessert is the cutest and most silky-on-your-tongue treat in town. Nothing pretentious here -- just good people who are confident in their own good taste and happy to share it with you.

                            At the much-maligned Hunan Gourmet I would suggest trying the chicken and Shrimp in Fruit Sauce (frequently on the Daily Specials menu) before writing it off completely. I think you need to accept the reality that Hunan is not attempting anything spectacular in the world of chinese cuisine. Their stock in trade is the kind of westernized Chinese food that we all grew up with before we knew any better, and this they do quite well. I'd suggest ordering off the chalkboard menu or the daily specials menu to get some of their more interesting options, but sometimes there's nothing better that a well-executed, completely understandable moo shu anything.

                            As for pizza, Bell's on University Drive in Amherst is absolutely tops in my book. While Mr. Bell has recently retired and sold the completely charmless strip mall storefront, the good news is that it was bought by a long time employee who is said to be the only one to whom Mr. Bell has entrusted the perfect crispy/tender olive oil-laden crust recipe. And they make a knock-out tuna grinder with thinly shaved bell peppers.

                            Always happy to share suggestions. I've eaten it all at least once.

                        2. This thread may be dormant but I'm in the midst of Thorne's "Mouth Wide Open" an was reading it on the TER from Sevres today and people wanted to steal it, with good reason.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: John Talbott

                            Does he still live in NoHo? I always thought he was a Downeaster.

                            I love the line written by JIm Leff: "However, be aware that while organic ingredients and social consciousness are important things, this website happens to concentrate more on the deliciousness angle." This is so true.

                          2. Come to think of it, this is a fascinating thread! Looking back at Northampton 10 yrs ago, are things much different today? Not pertaining to John Thorne's restaurant reviews per se, but specifically has the area's food scene changed much over a decade? My guess would be no, though please correct me if I'm wrong.

                            7 Replies
                            1. re: bewley

                              Basically, I'd say this post is pretty spot on for today.

                              There's a few things that have closed (Aqua Vitae) and new ones that have opened (Mi Tierra trumps Veracruzana anyday) and some things that I might disagree with the mighty Thorne on (I like Amanouz fine) but I don't think much has changed in 10 years.

                              It's easy for mediocre places catering to pedestrian tastes to thrive in Northampton of Amherst, and despite a lot of restaurants, in both towns I often find myself stumped about where to eat.

                              He mentioned driving to Greenfield for seafood (I assume he means Pete's Seafood, which is not bad at all, though not amazing - definitely trumps Webster's though) and actually, I think one thing that has changed in the past 10 years in the Greenfield dining scene. The People's Pint was excellent 10 years ago and still is, but now you have options like Hope + Olive and Magpie Pizza, both of which are excellent, The Siren Cafe as a great spot for lunch, and two Thai options as good as either in Northampton.

                              Pete's Seafood Restaurant
                              54 School St, Greenfield, MA 01301

                              Amanouz Cafe
                              44 Main St, Northampton, MA 01060

                              1. re: bewley

                                Have to say pretty amusing to me also having lived in the area since 1968. Interestingly Hunan Gourmet (used to be across from Pleasant St Theater right?), owned by good friend Richard Liu, eventually via my and some other friends hounding, started venturing to serve somewhat authentic Chinese cuisine, morphed into Butterfly on 9 in Hadley and now is, with maybe exception of The Wall in Florence, the only and best real Chinese in the area. (But ya gotta ask for and order from the separate "Gourmet" menu.

                                Hunan Gourmet
                                261 King St, Northampton, MA 01060

                                1. re: Chefmyron

                                  I thought Butterfly was owned by the former panda Garden people? That's whatt they said at Butterfly.

                                  1. re: magiesmom

                                    Butterfly is owned by Richard Lau, I believe he was a chef and Minority owner of the old Panda Garden in Northampton, which was across from Pleasant Street Theater. He owns the new Panda Garden in Williamsburg as well as Butterfly. There have been numerous posts here about how good Butterfly is. Most recommend ordering off the " gourmet" menu for an authentic meal as opposed to the standard Chinese/Japanese menu (which is also good) They have a Fried Rice executed with brown rice which is a totally different taste than most Chinese fried rice. I'd rave over the vegetarian menu as well, but I've done that several times in previous posts. He had NO connection with Hunan Gourmet which was on King Street and mysteriously received rave reviews every year and finally closed after several well publicized health issues.

                                    1. re: belcherveggie

                                      hunan gourmet (and all of the other places that have followed it into that spot on king street) were obvious ballot-stuffers in the valley advocate poll. someone from one of the subsequent restos also appeared on this site (more than once if i recall) plugging the quality of their buffet offerings. bluh. would you like rat with that? but when it's good, butterfly is excellent. the szechuan style dishes are huge and there are plenty of great weird offerings on the menu. i have found them to be "off their game" mid-week, but then i'm not all that consistent myself either. but between there, great wall, amherst chinese (esp. their veg specials) and -- lately -- china gourmet in greenfield, it's possible to get some very nice chinese around the valley.
                                      anyone been to the panda in amherst lately? i used to like that place when my kids were little, but haven't been for 15 years or so. any word appreciated.


                                      1. re: fatheryod

                                        Ok, right, my bad. I did get Panda Garden and Hunan Gourmet confused. It was Panda Garden (across from the Pleasant St), where Richard Liu was chef/owner. Then the real estate owners sold the building and he was forced out eventually opening Butterfly. Having traveled to and spent time eating in China several times and being a chronic habitue of Boston & NYC/Flushing's "real" Chinese eateries, feel somewhat qualified to say that, assuming you order from the "gourmet" menu, Butterfly is the closest thing to the real deal we have here in the valley.

                                        Hunan Gourmet
                                        261 King St, Northampton, MA 01060

                                        1. re: Chefmyron

                                          The fish dishes are really really good, both the whole fish and the one served in pieces atop the skin which is fried. OMG!

                              2. Just catching up here, but have you never had a bad meal in Chicago, NY or LA? I find it funny how people criticize the lowbrow tastes of Valley diners, as if there aren't crappy, mediocre restaurants staying in business everywhere. I've lived in NYC and had my share of nasty/sloppy/greasy & salty/dull/overpriced/inedible/and or just indifferent restaurant fare there.

                                5 Replies
                                1. re: jzzy55

                                  Yes, but the difference is you have a much better chance of getting great food in a major metropolitan area like Chicago, NY or LA vs a very good chance of having a meh experience in Northampton and surrounding area as there are only a few decent standouts in a group of mediocrity.

                                  1. re: bewley

                                    I agree that many of the Valley's "upscale" restaurants can and do disappoint, but I am a huge fan of Amanouz (never had a bad or even a so-so meal there), and Parisians have told me that the croissants at 40 Green Street are not only the real deal, they are better than many in France nowadays. Plus I feel taht Eclipse and Bistro on a good night are very nice. Granted that is not a long list!

                                    Green Street Cafe
                                    62 Green St, Northampton, MA 01060

                                    Amanouz Cafe
                                    44 Main St, Northampton, MA 01060

                                    1. re: jzzy55

                                      Mosaic, owned by the amanouz folks is good too.

                                      1. re: magiesmom

                                        I want to like Mosaic, and given how much I like Amanouz I really should, but it isn't on my go-to list for reasons I can't quite pinpoint.

                                        Amanouz Cafe
                                        44 Main St, Northampton, MA 01060

                                    2. re: bewley

                                      I've followed this thread for a long time.
                                      The "facts" can be correct --- and probably are, we haven't tried everywhere yet, BUT we are not seriously comparing Northampton with Chicago, NY or LA, are we?
                                      A little bit skewed, no??????
                                      Like the Marines, I will settle for a few good restaurants!