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Returning for a Visit: Good Chow List or a Bad Trip Down Memory Lane?

Greetings, local 'hounds! I'm planning a short visit to Boston, where I lived for more than a decade. I currently reside in Austin, a city with many charms but no good Italian food. I'm already planning on loading up on foodstuffs readily available there (Mulino Bianco products; prosciutto) but impossible to find here. I'm staying at the Nine Zero, which seems to be a popular choice among visitors who post to this board. I will not be renting a car. Here's my chow list so far:

late dinner at KO Prime on Friday: This is motivated by convenience, as that will be a long, tedious travel day. However, I've also read good things about items on the menu such as appetizers of fois gras and bone marrow; steaks like the Kobe-flat-iron; and sides like the fingerling potato puree and the pea tendrils. I don't remember reading anything about dessert. Should I already have made a reservation?

breakfast on Saturday: coffee and croissants at Cafe Vanille on Beacon Hill. Is this bakery still good?

snack or lunch in the downtown area: Mr. Falafel on Washington Street? Other ideas?

Saturday dinner: I already made a reservation at No. 9 Park. In fact, I can't be sure that I didn't subconsciously plan the entire trip around re-tasting their gnocchi.

light breakfast near hotel on Sunday: maybe Panifcio on Charles Street?

Sunday dinner in the North End: either Neptune Oyster or Prezza, unless there are other options that would be better. Cannoli from Modern Pastry?

lunch on Monday in the Harvard Square area: It's got to be a steak-and-cheese sub and/or Sicilian slice at Pinocchio's; or, I'll go for some of those skinny onion rings, a rickey, and a burger at Bartley's.

snack: many things chocolate at Burdick's

Monday dinner: Craigie Street, if I'm still in Harvard Square; if not, I was considering a late dinner at New Jumbo Seafood. Other ideas?

Some nostalgia choices will simply not be denied: I have to eat at either Pinocchio's or Bartley's when I'm in Harvard Square. The No. 9 Park reservation is a keeper, too. However, I wouldn't want my desire to revisit old favorites to blind me to delicious new chow opportunities. I'd very much appreciate your feedback on my choices, including where to load up on food items to bring back to Austin.

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  1. Those all sound good. I bet you can find more places like Craigie St. in Austin than Jumbo so depending on what you feel like eating I guess. I was thinking you might concentrate on Italian if that's a fave, maybe Grotto on Bowdoin St . which would be a short walk from the hotel. Or Via Matta is fun, by the Park Plaza.

    1. I love how obsessive you are in your planning, I hope you enjoy your return to Boston.

      Prezza vs. Neptune please seriously consider Prezza. Neptune Oyster *very* popular on this board but in my humble opinion the benefactor of a huge hype cycle. It's very good but Prezza is one of the finest restaurants in Boston of any cuisine at any price in any neighborhood. And a much more diverse and balanced menu that includes great seafood. Please, please go to Prezza you may hold me personally responsible for your experience.

      You'll need a reservation.

      3 Replies
      1. re: Carty

        or do a few rounds of oysters at Neptune..then Prezza

        1. re: Carty

          Well, if "hype" means lots of good notice because of excellent quality, then I guess you can call it "hype" - I would, however, by no means call Neptune Oyster's popularity any result of hype.

        2. You've got an excellent list, but I'd also suggest you try to squeeze in a trip to Toscanini's when you're in Harvard Square (the Harvard Sq. branch is closed, but the Central Sq. one is still open, though just barely). Or, if you can't do that, at least visit Herrell's in the Square. IMHO, ice cream is one of the few things that we do better than anywhere in the US.

          And I'd recommend the cannoli from Maria's over Modern, but I'm not sure they're open on Sundays, and definitely not after dinner.

          1. I'd suggest Chacarero for lunch on Saturday. Best sandwiches and something you are not apt to find in Austin.

            Enjoy your visit.

            1 Reply
            1. re: meg1641

              Unfortunately, they're not open on weekends.

            2. Thanks for the helpful feedback, everyone. As you can see, I'm trying to make every bite count. Hitting the oyster bar at Neptune and then having dinner at Prezza seems like a great idea. I can't wait to try the pasta at Prezza. Winedude, you've inspired me to try the cannoli at both Maria's and Modern Pastry, maybe as a pre-dinner snack so I don't have to worry about early closing times. (Someone brought me back cannoli from Mike's a while back; cannoli don't travel well, granted, but these really did not hit the spot.) And I don't know how I forgot about the ice cream options around Harvard Square. I've never been a fan of Amy's Ice Cream here in Austin. Lunch at Chacarero would have been great, but since it's closed on weekends, I'll just keep it in mind for Monday, on the chance that plans shift. There are lots of other good ideas here, too, about Jumbo Seafood over Craigie Street, Via Matta, etc.

              I loved living and eating in Boston, and I am looking forward to this trip. I really appreciate your input. Thanks again.


              2 Replies
              1. re: MPH

                MPH, gotta a coupla favours to ask of you:

                - slurp down a few dozen oysters
                - lobster roll
                - pay a visit to the Daily Catch
                - eat a cannoli
                - hit up Taiwan Cafe
                - eat at whatever is the best Portuguese place these days (I always liked Atasca, but I hear it's no longer)
                - pie at Regina's
                - soft-shell crab w/ curry sauce at Dok Bua (forgot the name of that dish)
                - pay respects to the Franklin Cafe
                - maybe an octopus sandwich, or a cuban, or oxtail stew at Cafe Miami (or is Miami Cafe ... the one in the S.End, not JP)
                - bring me back some salumi and anything else that travels !

                First round of tacos on me when you get back. =)

                1. re: Nab

                  Unless it closed very recently, Atasca is still around and is arguably the best Portuguese restaurant locally. Its sister place O Cantinho did close several months ago, though.

              2. I think this is a great itinerary. Let me weigh in on a few things:

                - I'd go for Bartley's over Pinnochio's.
                - I second Nab's suggestion of Taiwan Cafe
                - Oysters at Neptune and then pasta at Prezza sounds perfect
                - Hit Modern while you are in the N. End and take home some Florentines. THE most delicious cookie ever made.
                - I wish you could get to the Huron Ave. Formaggio to take home some salumi but it's difficult without a car (Not impossible.) Given your packed schedule, you should go to to the South End branch instead.
                - In fact, a walk through the South End will be surprising if you've been away for a while -- it's a food mecca now. You might pop into Toro (KO's tapas place on Washington Street) or Flour Bakery just to get a sense of what's going on in this new food corridor.
                - I don't really know from salumi in the North End so maybe someone else will recommend a purveyor.

                Have a GREAT visit!

                3 Replies
                1. re: yumyum

                  Formaggio in Cambridge is easily reached via public transportation. There's a bus out of Harvard Square that goes through Huron Village and right past it, though I don't remember the number.

                  1. re: bachslunch

                    Ya but did you see the dude's itinerary? Might not have time to take a bus trip out to Huron Village. I suggested South End because OP should check it out anyway to see what's what in this neighborhood.

                    1. re: yumyum

                      It depends on whether he's headed to Craigie Street Bistro or not. Formaggio isn't far away from there, and the same bus runs by both.

                      Otherwise, point taken and fairly made.

                2. For your breakfast on Saturday or Sunday, you could also check out the Beacon Hill Hotel's restaurant. I've heard lots of positive things about it. I haven't been there myself, but I have been to Panificio and I know it's not hard to beat =)

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: bobot

                    Actually, I just read that Panificio closed, so there you go.

                    1. re: bobot

                      Not the Beacon Hill one? I can see the Comm Ave. one closing. i wish someone could do something successful with that space.

                      1. re: Joanie

                        Yes- I posted too soon. It's the Back Bay / Comm Ave. one that closed.

                  2. List sounds great. Other posts have given some great recommendations.

                    Only one from me:
                    For Saturday Lunch, Felafel King on Winter Street is generally thought of as the best felafel downtown. It is open Saturday, and I'd highly recommend giving it a try. Only one issue: they don't have seating (just counters to stand at) and it's not supposed to be eating outdoors weather this weekend.

                    1. man!
                      i'm gonna have to try some of those places.

                      i love making a list of exactly where & what i want to eat when i visit my home in california.
                      i think food is the thing i miss the most out there!
                      especially MEXICAN FOOD! :)
                      still have to find a great mexican place out here...

                      1 Reply
                      1. Thanks for all the tips and feedback, Boston chowhounds (and former Bostonians turned Austinites, like Nab)! I've been back for about ten days, and I can honestly say that my only regret was that I couldn't stay longer. Here's the trip report:

                        late dinner at KO Prime on Friday—I mentioned that this was motivated by convenience (since this was the hotel restaurant), but this meal was actually quite good, and the service was great. Our group sampled the appetizer of bone marrow with oxtail marmalade, and it was as decadently, meltingly delicious as described elsewhere. I enjoyed the Kobe-flat-iron steak as a main course, which was flavorful and perfectly cooked, though I slightly regretted not ordering the very popular and dramatic-looking ribeye. Shared sides included the extremely rich fingerling potato puree and the jumbo asparagus with a lovely hollandaise. I also got in a few tastes of the veal schnitzel. The poached egg on top was spot on, as were the spaetzle. I liked the addition of sautéed artichoke hearts and baby spinach. My only minor complaint was that the breading was noticeably salty. Since I noticed that the bread they served was salty, I'm assuming that was the source of the bread crumbs. For dessert I had the mint mousse with the warm chocolate sauce in the middle, which struck a nice balance between light and rich. This was a great start to the trip.

                        breakfast on Saturday at Cafe Vanille—Ah, the croissants. If only there were any good ones in Austin. A cafe au lait and almond croissant at Cafe Vanille was just as good as I remembered, and I was pleased to note that Charles Street hasn't changed much at all. Unlike Harvard Square. What's up with that IHOP?

                        Saturday dinner (tasting menu) at No. 9 Park—A truly amazing meal with wonderful service. Every member of the staff seemed to be working together to make sure that our dinner was perfect. The experience started with a course of poached white asparagus with saffron, grapefruit, and uni; then, we moved on to a course of codfish with bacon, picked ramps, fingerlings, and aioli. This was followed by a tasty pasta course (bigoli with calamari and clams), and then the show-stopper of prune-stuffed gnocchi with seared fois gras. Still so good. The chicken confit that followed was fine, but in comparison it was probably the least exciting of all the courses. Things quickly picked up with the final meat course of roasted beef hearts, potato gratin, and fiddleheads. I'm very glad to have chosen the option of the cheese course, a decision which led to complete sensory overload. The wine paired with the cheeses was pure ambrosia. It seems like it was a Dolcetto, but I wish I remembered the details. A grapefruit sorbet palate-cleanser followed; then, the meal ended with a star-anise-tinged chocolate ganache with chocolate crumble and a peanut-butter glaze. All of No. 9's sauces were lovely; the housemade pastas delicous; and overall, the meal was just perfect. I just floated out of there. (A couple of Palmyras to start the meal probably helped with that!)

                        lunch at Panificio on Charles Street [which is still open, as noted above]—I was way too full to eat breakfast on Sunday, but a lunch of salad (the simple greens) and half a Caprese sandwich was very good. A friend ordered the chicken pasta, which didn't look very appealing to me, but I didn't actually taste it.

                        dinner at Pinocchio's—In retrospect, I agree that I probably should have gone to Bartley's, but I was still full after the blow-out dinner at No. 9 Park. A square slice and a shared steak-and-cheese sub at Pinocchio's hit the spot. Thankfully, this place hasn't changed, either.

                        dessert at Burdick's—This was really just about ordering the hot chocolate, which was even more appealing as it was rainy and cooler that evening. Their nüsse torte was enjoyable, though. Since they've expanded the dining area, it was easy to linger here for a while. I also picked up some chocolate samplers to take back as gifts.

                        Monday breakfast—I was again too full for a real meal and just had oatmeal at the hotel. No great shakes, but no complaints.

                        cannoli sampling at both Maria's and Modern Pastry—Both were delicious: You can't imagine how much I appreciated these unless you've been stuck with what passes for cannoli in Texas. After sampling cannoli at both pastry shops, I'd say that I also prefer the cannoli at Maria's. The sweetened ricotta was on the runny side, but it tasted good; the flavor of the fried pastry shells was great. I wonder what they fry the shells in. Modern Pastry had a crisper shell on the day of my visit, but the flavor wasn't as good as the one at Maria's. The filling wasn't too sweet, but it was less interesting.

                        drinks and a flight of oysters at the bar of Neptune Oyster on Monday evening—I loved this place. They seem to offer a great selection of local oysters, which were all incredibly fresh. When I realized that I hadn't yet consumed any clam chowder, I ordered a bowl. It was pretty thin, but fully of clammy goodness. It also seemed to have more fresh herbs than is the norm. I didn't order the lobster spaghetti that was the special that day, but it looked really good. I'm so glad I found time to dine here. Thanks for the recommendation.

                        dinner at Prezza on Monday night—Unfortunately, this meal was a total disaster, which suggests to me that the kitchen was having an off night. Rubbery, overcooked seafood ruined the appetizer of wood-grilled squid and octopus as well as the main course of lobster diavolo. Too many dishes or dish components were overly salty: the sausage, roasted tomato, toasted garlic, broccoli rabe, and parmigiano sauce that was served on top of a pasta course of ricotta ravioli; the sides of truffle "tater tots" and garlicky spinach that came with the grilled tenderloin; even the focaccia from the bread basket. The only dish that was not marred by saltiness and/or overcooking was the appetizer of arancini with pancetta, lobster, and fava bean cream. In this case, the lobster served on the side was perfectly cooked. The main course of grilled bone-in tenderloin, which was heavily salt-crusted as well, was overdone. The lobster diavolo was swimming in watery broth. It seemed like all of these dishes could have been quite good in different circumstances. For example, the light ricotta ravioli would have been fine, if it weren't for the salty-sausage-based sauce. The manager was off that night, and I wonder if the head chef was, too. Service was young and fairly clueless. Although the restaurant was only half full, it was hard to get our server's attention. He spent so much time chatting with the other servers and the bartender that it took ten minutes to get his attention when there was a problem with a main course. Prezza's service was quite a drop-off compared to the knowledgeable, professional staff at KO Prime and No. 9 Park. We left as quickly as we could—and without ordering dessert.

                        I did manage to load up on foodstuffs to take home at various places in the North End (for my Mulino Bianco products) and Formaggio South End. Thanks for the tip on the latter.

                        Despite the disappointment of the last meal, I had a great time and am already planning a return trip this summer. After all, I have to go back to dine at Craigie Street, New Jumbo Seafood, Bartley's, Taiwan Cafe, and the other amazing-sounding choices recommended here. Thanks again, Boston chowhounds! It was great to be back.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: MPH

                          Wow, Prezza sure sucked that nite, huh? Too bad, always nice to end on a high note but at least it was pretty good overall. You can eat some chicken fried chicken for us.