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Superb dishes at mediocre restaurants

I was stuck at the Cambridgeside mall for 2 hours today while a genius at the Apple store repaired my daughter's macbook. We lunched at California Pizza Kitchen, an establishment that I would avoid under normal circumstances. Big surprise - the fusilli with fresh tomatoes, sun-dried tomatoes and brocolli rabe was superb. The pasta wasn't anything special - could have been prince or muellers - but it was cooked perfectly al dente and the sauce was amazing, redolent of decent olive oil and roasted garlic. I wouldn't have sent it back at Prezza.

So here's the question. Have you encountered any superb dishes at mediocre restaurants?

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    1. This is a great thread.

      Funny, I like the BBQ chopped chicken salad at California Pizza Kitchen. I also like the sweet corn tamale cakes at the Cheesecake Factory.

      I can't believe I'm about to say two things nice about Legal Seafoods on the same day, but I like their falafel salmon.

      The Chateau in Waltham makes excellent roasted red pepper and ricotta cheese pizza.

      Speaking of unusual pizzas, you can ask for the "Nolio" at Bertucci's --- it's prosciutto and carmelized onions in a light cream sauce.

      I really enjoyed the tomato, mozzarella and pesto omlette at Zoe's diner near Harvard Square.

      The Hong Kong restaurant in Harvard Square makes decent steamed chicken Peking ravioli, Hunan beef, roast duck noodle soup, and ginger and scallion noodles.

      18 Replies
      1. re: lipoff

        Wow, I love the fact that you found something good on the Hong Kong's menu! I haven't been back in years, and I don't remember a single thing I ever ate there (which is not really a comment on their food).

        http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

        1. re: MC Slim JB

          FWIW, they completely revamped the resto level of the building. I haven't eaten there so I don't know if it affected the food in any positive way, but it definitely looks spiffier.

        2. re: lipoff

          The only thing I've ever ordered at CPK is the BBQ chopped chicken salad. Stick with what works.

          1. re: lipoff

            Speaking of bertuccis, I am still a sucker for the "sporkie" which is italian sausage and ricotta.

            1. re: cassoulady

              Second the sporkie ... could have something to do with the name. Heh. Sporkie. Say it.

              1. re: cassoulady

                I too am a fan for the sporkie. A great dish in the winter!

                1. re: CookieLee

                  yeah for the sporkie. i go there only for that.

                  1. re: hotoynoodle

                    I'm getting the "sporkie fanclub" t-shirts printed up now. ;-)

                2. re: cassoulady

                  Wow, who knew there'd be so many sporkie fans. I like mine with the addition of caramelized onions. Mmm.

                    1. re: Ralphie_in_Boston

                      Oh man. another run of the t-shirts ....

                  1. re: cassoulady

                    LOL!! My mum and I are big fans of the sporkie too! I was almost too ashamed to add it to the list until I saw how UNalone I am! Of course, these day-- food snob I've become-- I prefer my own homemade, amped-up sporkie at home. Roast red peppers, sweet roast garlic, and red pepper flakes. And sometimes make it with ::gasp:: homemade tofu "ricotta."

                    1. re: globalgourmand

                      Has anyone tried eating a Sporkie with a Spork? Just had to ask.

                  2. re: lipoff

                    I didn't realize you could still get the nolio. When I was in college, my parents & their friends would get it often at their local bertuccis (and I liked it too), and I remember them saying that as staff started to turn over that the new folks didn't know how to make it.

                    1. re: jgg13

                      Okay, this thread prompted me to order it today, when I unexpectedly found myself there at lunch. And I think the Nolio would have been decent if they didn't burn/blacken so many of the carmelized onions. And I do mean charcoal burnt. I had to pick them out, and they made a pretty big pile on the side of the plate. The "free" salad though, just royally stinks.

                      1. re: SuperFineSugar

                        To be honest, I haven't had it in at least 10 years, so I can't say much about it other than I liked it at the time :)

                        1. re: SuperFineSugar

                          The "free" salad though, just royally stinks.
                          ~~~~~~~~
                          TRUE!

                          You mean, it hasn't changed since I worked there 10 years ago?

                    2. At Rustic Kitchen, the calamari can be pretty decent (have them hold the aioli, or put it on the side; they have a heavy hand with the stuff). Their pizzas aren't bad either, expecially if you have them add the same fresh sliced jalapenos they add to the calamari.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: Blumie

                        A close friend of my son's insists on Vinny T's takeout for his birthday every year. The Rhode Island Calamari is actually quite good. The sauce has a nice balance of vinegar, cherry peppers and garlic, and they pack it separately so the calamari doesn't get soggy. Looks like it's still on the menu after the ownership/menu changeover.

                      2. the antipasto appetzer tray at Appetito used to be my standard order for dinner when i had to eat with my parents there. its quite good and a deal, though the last time i got it it was ice cold, so i took it home with me and by dinner it was fine

                        1. Higaditos Mexicanos (spicy chicken livers) at Sol Azteca.

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: BobB

                            The chicken livers are excellent, but I actually like most things at Sol Azteca and don't consider it a mediocre restaurant. I love there nopalitos (cactus) whether on their salad on in the appetizer with salsa verde. I find there salsa incredibly fresh, unique and flavorful. I love their black bean soup. Their mole sauce doesn't taste like it was 15-20 ingredients in it, but has a few simple strong flavors that are very appealing. I often have enchiladas suizas there which aren't on the menu but often appear on the specials board. The carne asada uses very high quality meat. Their flan, lemonade and margaritas are all excellent. It may be a little dated and not exactly 100% authentic Mexican food, but I love the place. =)

                            1. re: lipoff

                              I'd say Sol Azteca is more spotty than mediocre - sometimes the food has been very good, sometimes it's been darn near awful (even the salsa). Ditto the margaritas - sometimes good, sometimes tasting like they used a horrible bottled mix. But their chicken livers have never let me down.

                              1. re: lipoff

                                Really like the carnitas and enchiladas verdes, and can happily put away quite a bit of their sangria when that carafe is in front of me.