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Eastern Standard sub-par

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Had dinner before the ball game at Eastern Standard on Saturday. We were very disappointed and in fact shocked. The quality has slipped a long way! Ordered cocktails (they were fine), and then we both ordered the frisee salad. Frisee was very sad, and I'm not even sure if the brown cubes in the salad were supposed to be lardons. I should have sent this back --really quite inedible. Then I had the steak-frites. The frites were great, steak was OK (maybe a B-) but the sauce was almost cold and very blah. My DC had the roasted chicken -- nothing special. I won't be back until I see really good reviews again on Chowhound, and who knows if that will ever happen. Did I miss the bulletin -- has the quality been slipping for a while?

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  1. Ive been wondering this myself. I havent been for dinner recently, but Ive stopped in for a late night bite (Mussels), and for brunch recently. I was extremely disappointed in the mussels- the broth that was served with them was far too thin, and without any real flavor. Brunch was good- though nothing out of this world about it. My blueberry and corn pancakes were good-but I feel like its hard to mess up pancakes. One of my companions had their soft shell crab salad and complained that it was far too salty...

    I was sort of hoping that they were just two "not great" experiences...

    1. My most recent experience also was subpar -- a bartender who didn't think to inform me of the specials (one of which I would have ordered had I known about it before I ordered) and an overcooked burger. But I've had too many good experiences to write off the place just yet. Can others post about recent experiences?

      4 Replies
      1. re: Blumie

        I also ate there Saturday night and had a positive night with a few misses. On a negative, they couldn't answer a question about a menu item and never offered to check. We also sent back a duck that needed more time.

        On a positive, the food was delicious, especially my duck and my SO's roast chicken. The Au Provence cocktail is still unbelievably good. Outside of the lack of knowledge on the food item, the service itself was wonderful. They also brought out several complimentary glasses of muscat to make up for the duck.

        1. re: Mr Bigglesworth

          Duck should generally be served rare.

          1. re: StriperGuy

            unless it's confit and wasn't warm enough...

        2. re: Blumie

          I concur on the downhill alert. Last August, we had a fabulous meal with highlights being the salt cod fritters and the marrow. Been twice since and while still OK, it's not knocking them out of the park. Mediocre mussels, steak frites, and salt cod fritters. Other tastes OK but disappointing compared to where it was a year ago. I hope ES staff are reading this. In these hard times, quality is the only thing that will keep one solvent.

        3. Bartending is as strong as it ever was -- that's the reason I give the place my business -- but there was almost no marrow in my order of marrow bones on a recent visit. I pointed this out, and they agreed, but then didn't do anything about it.

          http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

          7 Replies
          1. re: MC Slim JB

            I have had one recent experience that points to a worrisome trend in their bartending.

            I was there about three weeks ago late in the afternoon before a game. It wasn't getting crowded yet, but the place was obviously staffed to get slammed. I ordered a Heather in Queue and when the bartender was putting the finishing touch on by flaming the lemon twist he burned it and let some of the residual blackness (not sure how else to describe it) fall in my drink. He quickly pointed out that this rarely happens, and then walked away. I was a little too stunned and generally non-confrontational to ask for another. I drank, it was drinkable, but absolutely had a distinctive burnt taste that took away from the experience.

            I was ready to forget about it as a "one off" due to their usual care in making drinks, but for the second round I engaged another bartender about what to drink next. She was very informed (as one might expect) but soon after starting my cocktail left it to another staff member who had difficulty smoothly mixing it. I mean this fellow looked almost uncomfortable and had to ask what I had again even after doing the straw tasting and pouring it.

            I know they get slammed on game days, but are they retaining a few bar foremen who know their stuff and then going inexperienced/cheap for "grunt" work of actually mixing the drinks?

            1. re: Canadian Tuxedo

              I have had the same problem with soot in the drink and sent it back, they remade it no problem

              1. re: barleywino

                Soot...that was the word I was searching for...

                The important point wasn't a little mistake involving soot, but the fact that on a game day they were staffed with at least two people not up to what one would expect for ES standards (the soot not being the only indication that the particular bartender in question was not the most skilled).

                While I understand the need to staff up on game days, it would be a considerable turn off for me to know that these same staffers were getting regular time behind the bar at Eastern Standard. Not to be snobby, but I would go to ES for well crafted cocktails (having been disappointed in the food during three separate visits). If they are truly going to a one or two person foremen plan with a number of inexperienced (i.e. cheap) help, then I can stay on the Cambridge side of the river and enjoy an embarrassment of cocktail riches without amateur hour.

                1. re: Canadian Tuxedo

                  Some soot is unavoidable with the flamed garnish (the only way to avoid it is to not flame the peel itself but just the oils in the spray). What is unacceptable is when they don't burn off the match before doing so, such that it imparts a sulfur flavor (from the match head) to the drink. If you're picky, you can wave off the flamed garnish and ask for it just to be a normal twist (I know of people who do this).

                  The cheap "grunt" work are the barbacks, many of whom are rather talented. And the ones who aren't are being brought up to speed the only way possible - through on the job practice. And straw tasting is mainly for determining if the balance is right.

                  1. re: yarm

                    i like the way Tom flames peels at Craigie, inside a glass of flaming arrack (or whatever he uses)-- no soot to speak of...other places (not in Boston that i've seen, though) will flame them in a glass with a mini-torch and 151, plus bitters

                    1. re: yarm

                      It was the amount of soot--actually visible in the drink. And as far as my untrained eye can tell, the idea behind a successful flamed garnish is the oil and not actually "cooked" garnish itself.

                      I was probably unfair to use the word "cheap." However, these two people were not rather talented. On the job practice is important, but for an establishment like ES whose reputation is built (in part) on their cocktail craft a certain level of talent must exist before they should be serving drinks. Would you go to Drink or Craigie or Green St or Deep Ellum and be happy with your experience if the bartender had difficulty making (literally difficulty in mixing) or recognizing your drink?

                      In regards to the straw, it was the lack of knowledge about their cocktail list that struck me. How can they determine the balance if they don't recognize the ingredients (and hence the drink and what it is supposed to taste like)?

                      Again, just pointing out something that I hope is not a trend but just an unfortunate experience.

                    2. re: Canadian Tuxedo

                      I thought the proper way to flame an orange peel is to squirt the oil through the flame. I thought it's just a bit of showmanship, not about caramelizing the fruit rind, and certainly not charring it. I imagine the oil passing through the flame changes its flavor somehow, too.

                      On further digging, I found this: http://www.chow.com/stories/10931 I don't see any black stuff produced here.

                      http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

              2. Was there about a week ago and had a fair-to-middling lobster roll (it may have been a special?). Meat was lightly dressed, tasted fairly fresh but was mostly the stringier body meat, and the roll itself was awful: big and doughy, way out of proportion for the amount of meat, and not toasted or buttered. The sandwich was also also not seasoned properly. Homemade chips were good, though, and cocktails superb.

                1. ESK has really always been about the cocktails and oysters/clams for me.

                  looks like it'll be staying that way.

                  on a side note, i had Hugh do an off-the-cuff Tiki drink for me on Saturday and he put together a delicious concoction with several rums and peach bitters, it was Awesome.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: ScubaSteve

                    Is Jeremy Sewall there yet?

                    1. re: drewames03

                      i'm pretty sure i saw him taping some kind of cooking demo over by the shellfish station a few weeks ago.

                      1. re: drewames03

                        he's been there awhile, but is consulting, not handling daily line duties.

                    2. I was there the same night an hour or two later - we've learned that one of the best times to go is in the middle of a Red Sox game, we were able to walk right in and get a a table for four with no wait - and also had the steak frites. It was excellent, though I've learned to ask them not to salt the fries - the herb mixture they season them with already has enough salt to flavor them well, when they add more salt it's just too much. The bearnaise sauce was room temp, not cold, and quite tasty.

                      My only food complaint was re: the offal of the day, sweetbreads cooked with cranberry beans. I love sweetbreads, and the flavors in this dish were absolutely delicious, but the meat itself, while nicely crisp outside, was unpleasantly raw and chewy in the center. The sweetbread dish I had had there a week earlier was perfectly cooked, so I'll take this as an anomaly.

                      I do hope they're not going downhill, this has become one of our favorite restaurants of late.

                      1. I too had a substandard snack a few weeks back. Salt cod fritters (which I've had before and dream about) were cool and doughy, almost soggy. I had dragged a friend there specifically for these - what an embarrassment. Pressed pork sandwich was just unappetizing - don't remember the details, just that we barely ate it. Steak tartare was great however. We were there immediately prior to a Red Sox game, so perhaps that affected the quality, but I'll still not hurry back.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: laura jean

                          Don't be embarrassed, laura_jean! Every place has their on and off days. Besides, they had Steel Rail on tap that night, which certainly made me happy.

                        2. I think it's still a good spot, but the food can be uneven. Last night's pork chop was absolutely to-die-for. Best pork I've had in years. Salmon and ratatouille was fine but nothing to write home about. Fig and goat cheese tart was amateurish, not worth the calories. With all the staff turnover in the past year or so, the bar has lost some of its charm. ES has still got the manpower to bring it, but sometimes makes excuses for itself (yeah, yeah the game, the lack of a game) and rests on its laurels.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: peelmeagrape

                            My jury is still out on this one. I have also had some misses lately, the bartending is still mostly good but they are scrambling to bring some new staff up to snuff. That may take a while, but the ones I've seen seem eager so may make it. Still need the talent there and they've got a couple of the original bar staff there still coaxing things along.

                            The food, well. I've been a few times recently and it's been all over the place. The fritters were once not as good as I recall, and I used to dream about those. The burger always seems to be good, but one day my DC had the pulled/pressed pork sandwich, and that was really bland and awful, mustard was the only thing to save it and you should not have to rescue a sandwich at a place like that. Raw bar stuff is always good. At a recent breakfast, the waitstaff did not seem to know the menu well and could not answer a couple of basic questions about preparations/ingredients.

                            Still and all, I love this place, so will keep on going and hope for the best.