SF hound report back on eating in Boston
- hhc May 26, 2008 10:51 PM
We were staying at Newbury Guest House and La Voile was right next door. Someone mentioned to me to try La Voile, though I can't recommend it.
First thing the waiter said was Still or Sparkling. I said Sparkling didn't know that he was going to charge us for it. It was $6.50 for a stupid bottle of French sparkling water. The lady next to use said Boston's Finest so that's what I recommend to you all. Get the Tap Water!!
FREE amuse bouche was fine. 2 small cheese puffs & 2 small slice of salami - both good.
I got a huge bowl of mussels. Supposed to come w/ fries, but I substituted w/ green salad. The mussels were boring, boring, boring. Sauce had no taste. Salad was the most boring ever.
Husband got a lamb stew - he mentioned that it was bland.
2 entrees, glass of wine, & the stupid Sparkling French water was almost $100.
Totally overpriced, Not Recommended.
Breakfast at Newbury Guest House was from La Voile: mini muffins, mini crossants: plain or w/ ham, oj, coffee, milk.
Neptune Oyster House:
We went to Neptune Oyster House after my friend recommended the place. I thought it was ok, but way overpriced.
It's a small place fits about 50 pp only, but we got there way before opening hr and had to wait around. It finally opened at 11:30am.
Same menu for lunch & dinner, but I thought it would be cheaper at lunch - not so, you've been warned!
bowl of chowder - nice, though overpriced $11. Waitress didn't give me crackers, though I saw her give it to another table later. That's evil.
Lobster roll - $24. One lobster roll w/ fries. Overpriced, but tasty. Didn't try the fries - husband said just ok.
Bowl of littlenecks $12 - tasty, lots of garlic in sauce.
One unisex bathroom in the back of the small restaurant, before the kitchen & bar.
Credit cards taken & you'll need it.
It's a hole in the wall. One middle age guy was the waiter and maybe owner. Since it was a rainy Thurs. night not many people were here. Only 2 tables besides us in the small place.
large pea sprouts (da do meow) - just so we got our fiber in. When you travel you don't get enough you know. All leafy green vegetables w/ garlic. Yum. $10?
Green beans w/ pork. Kinda on the sweet side, but it was fine. $9.50
xlb - mini pork dumplings steamed. We enjoyed them. Very juicy, though not much flavor & dough was not thin enough. 8 pcs for $6.
Total cost about $30. Husband thought it was expensive for Chinese, I thought it was way fair & good value.
Bathroom: one unisex. Decent, but not the best. No paper towels inside the bathroom, had to get one outside the door.
Modern Pastry Shop:
I don't eat fried foods so didn't get a cannoli. Oh well. I got 3 things here:
slice of ricotta pie -tasty
biscotti - fine
pizzelle cookie - half dipped in chocolate. I thought it was too think, bland & not tasty.
I loved the box w/ red & white string tied around the box.
Credit cards taken over $5.
Mike's Pastry:Mike's Pastry is up the road from Modern Bakery and went here after lunch at Neptune Oyster House.
I got 2 things:
pistachio macaron - tasty, lots of powder suger on the top so you'll get it all over you.
pignoli cookie (pinenut cookie) - love them, tasty almond macaron taste w/ many pinenuts on the top.
Total for 2 cookies $2.
It's a big place and there's plenty of seating.
Flat Patties: We wanted to eat at Bartley's the famous burger place in Cambridge, MA but the owner went on vacation Fri 5/23-Memorial Day. Bummer. Since we were hungry and didn't know where else to go we somehow ended up eating at this food court where Flat Patties was.
I got a shredded pulled pork sandwich. It was fine, but nothing special.
Got a cup for tap water.
Total was like $3.40 or so.
Bathrooms: Down the stairs before Ben & Jerry's.
Boston Chowda Co: Same food court as Flat Patties, Husband got a lobster roll and a cup of New England chowder. It's generic lobster probably from Costco, but fine. Chowder was decent.
Think he told me it was $11 for the roll & chowder.
L.A. Burdick chocolate is pretty good though pricey as hell. It's walking distance from the T, about 10 min walk.
I went twice on my trip. First time got:
7 flavors of the Luxembourgers macarons: raspberry, pistachio, citrus, chocolate, ginger, lavender, coffee. .75c x 7 = $5.25
plus a Large cup of Milk Hot Chocolate $4.5
All were good and sweet.
got the Assorted 15 pc chocolate that includes 1 white mice. $15
3 chocolate gift mice
2 chocolates for me: the penguin & the mice.
Total was $29
They take Credit Cards! One unisex bathroom in the back.
I've been wanting to try Toscanini's ice cream for years and finally went. The girl said I could sample as much as I wanted. I only tried 2: mango & the burnt caramel.
I got a single scoop of the burnt caramel and thought it was fine, though it's expensive at $3.25.
I've had as good in SF so I'm not missing much.
After walking around in MIT we went to dinner at The Middle East Restaurant, Cambridge. It's seems connected to ZuZu though I didn't ask about it.
There's a bar area that people were drinking at and one guy was eating some dolmas though looked good.
FREE pita - tasted store bought & brought in a bag -cold
bowl of lentil soup - tasty
baba ganoush - I liked it
husband got a lamb shank - he said pretty good
Meal was like $20+, so a cheap meal for Cambridge, MA.
Recommended, though I can be Loud in there with loud music & high ceiling.
Sweet: Since we were staying in the Back Bay area and I got the Daily Candy email I had to check it out.
It opened on Tues 5/20/08 and I went on Fri 5/23/08. Perfect timing for me.
Since it was around 7pm by the time I got there there had already run out of the Cappuccino cupcake. They had chocolate cupcakes w/ white or chocolate frosting, the carrot cupcake, or the lemon cupcake.
I got 1 lemon cupcake for $3.10 + .15 tax = $3.25 to go. They put it in a box with a separator so the cupcake doesn't move around and the frosting doesn't touch the box. It tasted fine. Cupcake a bit dry, but eating it with the buttercream frosting sure helped.
Very small store w/ cupcakes & some drinks. I think a few chairs to sit at near the window.
Credit cards taken.
I knew better to not eat at Bottega Fiorentina when it was way crowded across the street and nobody was eating here on Sun 5/25/08, but I just wanted a simple quick meal.
It took forever to get our food. It's order at the counter down and then if you want to eat outside, bring it out yourself the guy said.
Got a Caprese sandwich - mozzarella, tomatoes, basil & olive oil $5.95. The guy tried to sell me on the focaccia instead of a roll. I hate focaccia so no way Plus it's $1.75 Extra! Boring mozzarella, boring tasteless tomatoes, basil even yuck & no olive oil that I could taste. Roll I got it on was average.
Husband got a boring pasta: Spaghetti Andrea - supposed to be prosciutto, sweet peas, mushrooms, cream, & truffle oil. It was just tasteless. Plus a slice of bread - looked average.
What a wasted meal. They take credit cards.
63 Salem St Ste 1, Boston, MA 02113
23 Hudson St, Boston, MA 02111
300 Hanover St, Boston, MA
Toscanini's Ice Cream
899 Main St, Cambridge, MA 02139
261 Newbury Street, Boston, MA 02116
257 Hanover St, Boston, MA
L.A. Burdick Chocolate
52-D Brattle Street, Cambridge, MA 02138
81 Mount Auburn St, Cambridge, MA 02138
Boston Chowda Co
36 Jfk St # 1, Cambridge, MA
264 Newbury St, Boston, MA 02116
forgot link to Sweet, the new cupcake place.
49 Massachusetts Ave
between Marlborough St and Commonwealth Ave
49 Massachusetts Ave, Boston, MA 02115
Wow, sounds like a pretty mediocre trip overall (in terms of chow). Sorry to hear that, but thanks for reporting (it's natural for mediocrity to go underreported).
I'm partial to Christina's for ice cream, but I like some of Tosci's offbeat flavors. Middle East is okay for before a show or something. Unfortunately, can't comment on most of the places you visited - I tend to avoid the North End, Back Bay, and Harvard - er... all the places with tourists, I suppose... But I really like pignolis, so maybe I should drag myself over there sometime. I used to think I should go to Neptune at least once, but I'm over it.
> many of the locals here seem not to mind the prices at all.
It seems to me it's not a question of minding insomuch as not having a choice. I see two big factors contributing to this:
1) Our growing season is short. Compared to the Bay Area, we don't have the ability to grow anywhere near as much stuff locally. I'm not trying to start a discussion on the merits of eating local or not; the bottom line is that a lot of our fresh produce is imported from elsewhere, and this practice is costing an increasing amount of money.
2) Our cost of living is high across the board. Nearly everything costs more here than it does elsewhere in the country, from housing to entertainment to food.
Ergo, dining in and and dining out costs more than it does elsewhere in the US and in the world.
Your points are well taken but when I compare boston to another pricey city like NYC, the former seem to be lacking in places that offer not just good cuisine but also good value. Finding great non 'ethnic' meals around Boston that are well below 30 dollars after tax and tip is not an easy task.
the thing that weirds me out about the short growing season argument is that (following nasilemak's point), you can walk into the union sq. greenmarket in nyc at all sorts of weird times of the year and get great produce. and supposedly it's all grown w/in 100 miles of nyc. nyc is probably a bit warmer than boston, but not that much. so i'm plain confused about that.
also, finlero i agree with you completely about the high cost (esp. for rents) in boston contributing to high prices. but note that the OP is coming from the bay area, where rents are probably at least as high as they are in boston.
I'd have to agree. Other cities have more interesting food (more creativity and lower prices)...San Fran one of them. Trying Wing's Kitchen was brave. San Fran chinese food is much better.
The OP should have stopped by some of the places that have been around for a while...e.g., Franklin Cafe, Toro, Mistral, Sorellina...
I've never been offered sparkling water for free anywhere in the US or Europe. Still water sure, if it's tap, but sparkling never. Though $6.50 does seem a bit steep.
Thanks for reporting back ... I went back and reviewed the advice you were given when you first posted about your trip. In fact I think you got some good advice and some good warnings ... ie: La Voille was mentioned as an option but then another poster said it was on a downhill alert. Neptune was recommended and I'd still stand behind it. Yes, it's expensive but it's first quality and always leaves me happy.
I know you have a sweet tooth and I think you hit some of the very best sweet options in town -- Toscanini, Mikes/Modern and Burdick's.
I hope you come back and we can steer you to more reasonably priced options, especially in Harvard Square where I think you definitely struck out.
Another thanks for your report back, it doesn't happen enough on any board.
Local seafood is one of the area's best assets, but it is expensive and not always as good as it could be. All the usual problems contribute: high costs, low salaries, but there is some interesting cooking going on in local neighborhoods, a nice change from the old days.
Thanks again for your comprehensive report.
Adding my thanks for your report-back. It certainly was detailed, and informative for me because I would never even think to eat at the Middle East. Glad you liked Mike's though. It's the best IMO, and has been for years.
You may have noticed at the top of the board about a cancelled chowcrawl due to red tide, which would likely have impacted much of your shellfish, definitely on availability and local product, and likely a bit on price as well. Not a defense of La Voile's boring sauce, but good mussels can rescue just about anything, and we're not getting them. The clams for the chowder may not have been strictly local.
Our prices are what they are. You in SF have housing and transportation, we have food and winter. And I defy someone to find me a "non-'ethnic' meal in New York that includes a decent glass of wine for well under $30, including tax and tip" and no, diners and burger joints don't count.
I think most of the places they went to can be good and are often seen recommended here. They couldn't get into Bartley's but lots of people like Flat Patties. Burdick's, Toscanini's, the North End pastry places, all fairly universally recommended. As was La Voile. The Middle East was the only place that people wouldn't mention at some point. Your choices are all nice but most of them are pricey and some off the beaten track.
> let's not generalize cuisine anywhere based
i didn't get the sense the OP was trying to generalize. in fact, the only generalization i see going on is by, well, you. ("Though Boston is definitely nowhere close to the caliber, standards and sheer quantity of fine restaurants in San Francisco...")
and though i haven't been to all the places the OP mentions, with the exception of mike's/modern (both of which get consistent raves on this board), none of them really strike me as tourist traps.
Not necessarily all tourist traps but certainly not the best we have on offer, and it also appears that they didn't order too well in some instances (the pulled pork at Flat Patties, for example). But honestly, Mike's, Modern and the Chowdah Co. in the Garage? Tourist traps!
Further, with the possible exception of Neptune Oyster, which they seemed to have liked, notwithstanding the fries and the price, comparing San Francisco's fine dining with Boston's would be erroneous, given where they went. And they could have asked for crackers.
It's a shame they didn't have a great food trip. :-(
Have you tried the fish sandwich? Just had it at lunch - I think it's better than the pulled pork, which is fine for the price ($3.25 if I remember correctly). The fish sandwich is $5.00 and is a nicely fried actual filet, with a layer of creamy coleslaw to moisten the airy brioche bun. MMMMMMMM!!!!
I once saw it said here that they must put crack in those pulled pork sandwiches, and I personally agreed w/ it. Its somehow not good and yet the best thing ever ... which i can't stop cramming in my mouth. I haven't figured it out, but I like it a lot more than their burgers. At the end of the day though, its not like anything on their menu is worth going out of one's way for.
Though I can't comment on many of the places you visited, I think you've experienced the problem with food in Boston. Most places are overpriced and mediocre; many places are overpriced and great; not so many places are reasonable and great.
It's true most places charge for sparkling water, I just got carried away and said Sparkling to the waiter without thinking. In the SF Bay Area two places I know do have FREE sparkling water from the SF Hetch Hetchy (local tap water), they do in house: Chez Panisse in Berkeley and Incanto in SF.
This is a pretty great review. As an outsider you can say it as it is (certainly from your perspective at least). I've been more critical of the Flat Paddies pulled pork, more like a sloppy joe IMO - which I wouldn 't order again. As a "native" it is a little disappointing that you didn't find somewhere that you thought was great, but making good choices without prior experience is the great game. You missed the oysters at Neptune -- which for me are the great attraction. I would have gone to East Coast Grill as it is pretty unique, also the Publick House as it's a great beer-experience, and then maybe Locke Ober or the Oak Room/Bar as a high end old-time place.
A few observations:
1. This review has more mentions of bathrooms than any I have ever read !
2. Boston never has been considered a great food destination when compared to NYC Las Vegas, New Orleans, Chicago and San Francisco. I do think that it falls safely into the next tier (or just below) with cities like Miami, Dallas, and others (feel free to interchange any I have overlooked). It certainly beats Binghamton, NY.
3. Boston is all about two things: Great Italian restaurants in the North End and great Seafood. There are certainly some excellent Asian / Mexican / Greek / Etc. but they are limited and not what Boston is known for.
I have had some spectacular meals in Boston and look forward to many more to come. For a plate of raw oysters, a freshly steamed lobster, or a well prepared Italian classic, Boston is on a par with any city in America.
Overall it's not a surprising review of Greater Boston cuisine. Boston can not compete with NYC or San Fran. Visitors from there can only make due. San Fran has an established food culture which Boston can not compete with. People have mentioned the growing season. Yup, right off the bat that kills Boston. A 12 month growing season versus Boston's 5 to 6 month growing season puts us at a disadvantage. Could Boston imporve on it? Well that's a loaded question. The first thing Boston could do is improve service. Hungover, tattooed, pierced servers usually do not give a good first impression. That's been one of my biggest problems with the Boston food scene. Nothing against the pierced or tattooed. But having spent a lot of time in San Fran, the thing I miss in Boston is the enthusiasim. Ask a server in Boston about a dish and the response is "oh, it's really good, i've never had it, but I hear it's tasty." Ask the same question in San Fran and the response is varied: "Oh I had that for lunch, order it before they run out" or " I tried it and I wasn't thrilled, but the ______ is great!" San Fran is a food friendly society, Boston, well has a way to go in food culture.
maybe we could stop generalizing for a moment, as the point is not is boston better or worse than sf, nyc, fill-in-the-blank for chow. maybe it is and maybe it isn't, who knows. the point is whether a visitor can eat well during her stay in boston, and maybe even have a few things that are unique to the area. i would suppose the answer to that question is yes, though as hhc demonstrates, it's more than a bit hit-or-miss.
I also think hhc didn't get particularly good advice in terms of recommendations, if that list is any indication. I mean, I love Wing's and Flat Patties as much as the next guy (more than the next guy when it comes to FP, because that's my go-to burger in this town), but I wouldn't necessarily recommend either to an outlander as an exemplar of Boston cuisine, and some of the choices are frankly kind of weird. (The Middle East? Really?)
I've long said, as have others, that where Boston falls down is at the midpoint. We have some good high end places, and the streets are paved with great cheap eats (admittedly, I'm spoiled by my Allston-centric view), but there is nowhere near enough in the middle. Would that we had a couple dozen more places like Ten Tables.
Here's my 2 cents, as a former SF'er: There are only a few places I've been that could make it in SF, but the OP didn't hit them. Ten Tables would be considered a great restaurant, and a great value, in any city, including SF. Antico Forno may not be the most exotic, but it's a solid, true red sauce place, and it's way better than the tourist traps in North Beach in SF. Regina's is much better than any pizza I had in SF, by far. Despite the OP's experience, Toscanini's, or Herrell's, is much better ice cream than anywhere in SF, and the homemade hot fudge at either place would be considered "unique" in SF.
There are also great places to get lobster rolls, fried clams, and steamers outside of Boston, and these things don't exist in any of the other cities mentioned.
Thanks, winedude. I think this is a very reasonable assessment of things. I've been a mite disappointed with the analysis here (and the sweeping generalizations). And though I haven't spent enough time in San Francisco to truly understand why that fine city has so many great restaurants (and what those great restaurants are all about), you've made clear that Boston, at least in its current state, is not "food hell."
I'm actually with continuum on this one, as I had the vege tasting menu once, and, while delicious, I was still hungry at the end, and I'm not a big eater either. The Wednesday prix fixe is a better deal, as the portion sizes for the regular main courses and regular size starters are fair, and fairly priced, whether on Wednesday or the rest of the week as well.
My DC, on the other hand, always orders the vege tasting menu, and loves the fact that it's all delicious, and she's too full when it's over.
Excuse me, but lobster rolls, fried clams, and steamers don't exist anywhere else? My family and I vacation at the New Jersey seashore every year, and we regularly enjoy all 3 of these dishes at several different restaurants. They also appear on menus in NYC. That would be like saying steaks don't exist outside of Omaha!
I forgot to add:
Salumeria Italiana-We went here after I got some goodies at Modern Bakery and before lunch. It's an Italian specialty grocery said one sign, the other sign said "Boston's best Italian grocery".
They have all kinds of meats. I can't remember the name of the salumi we got but it was tasty.
They also have tons of other Italian items. Some I can remember from my pics:
San Marzano sauces $6.99 ea. for a big glass jar
bucket o' olives - all different kinds for $11.99 a bucket
different kinds of Italian breads/rolls by the window
Bialetti expresso machine
Small shop, can be really busy.
Some food pics from my trip to Boston:
151 Richmond St, Boston, MA 02109