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SF Bay Area Chowhound and Chowpups need to redeem Boston dining scene

I haven't been to Boston in almost 10 years. Last time I was there the food was uninspired and meh, except that my husband loved some burger joint in Cambridge near Harvard Square.

Anyway, we are visiting again in late June and finally want to try the good chow but this time life is a bit more complicated. We have three kids (8, 6 and 1) and my son and i have Celiac disease (so no gluten). My kids are very used to eating at nice restaurants in San Francisco, but obviously a 3 hour tasting menu is out of the picture. They don't need a kids menu, and are well behaved.

We are staying near Hynes convention center, but will likely have a car.

We have a dinner at il Casale with friends in Belmont scheduled, but we have 1-3 dinners and a lunch for sure. I have my eye on Craigie on Main and Oleana - could they deal with kids? Also thinking of Casa Portugal.

I really want some great seafood, but my husband has a psychological allergy to seafood. I am aware of Neptune, but how is the non-seafood options there? Anywhere else that is great for non-fried seafood?

We also will be in Plymouth and either Cape Cod or Waldon Pond for one day with a large crew. For those we need kid friendly, inexpensive food - not only seafood, and have some gluten-free options (it isn't necessary to have a GF menu).

Finally, I have a huge sweet tooth. Most bakeries are not gluten-free friendly, and I am fairly picky about my baked goods, so unless there is an amazing gluten-free bakery I probably won't seek those out. But ice cream works and I hear Boston has the best ice cream in the nation. I was thinking of Toscanini's. Is that a good representation of Boston ice cream? I love Humphrey Slocombe in SF for those that are familiar with that. i prefer bold flavors, and less sweet. love unique flavors.

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Casa Portugal
1200 Cambridge St, Cambridge, MA 02139

Oleana
134 Hampshire St., Cambridge, MA 02139

Craigie on Main
853 Main Street, Cambridge, MA 02139

il Casale
50 Leonard Street, Belmont, MA 02478

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  1. Just addressing your ice cream question.... sorta.... Rancatore's, which is a close rival of Toscanini's, is literally on the same block in Belmont Center as Il Casale...

    1. Instead of Casa Portugal, suggest you try Muqueca, also on Cambridge Street a couple of blocks down. Brazilian seafood / shrimp stews are the specialty - maybe you could drop hubs off at the Midwest Grill for rodizio while you continue down the block to Muqueca....then you can adjourn to Christina's ice cream - all of this being in the Inman Square area - just had a lemon rose sorbet that was great, once your taste buds get over that first hit of rosey perfume.

      In my opinion, if kids are well-behaved, I think you could be ok at Oleana, especially if you are seated outdoors. But it is a very quiet crowd, so if the kids are not angels...
      Craigie on the other hand does not strike me as very kid-friendly especially in terms of the chow - do you really want to get the kids hooked on head cheese and watch out for tears when they bring out the pig's head...

      As for Walden Pond, nothing really in the immediate area, but about 15-20 minutes away on Rt. 2 toward Cambridge is Jasper White's Summer Shack, which should be able to accommodate everyone's needs and is great for a big group with kids.

      The burger place you reference is Bartley's - still there, still as good as it ever was...
      Where did you eat last time you were in town that was uninspired? A lot has changed...
      You are also near the Hynes, so consider the South End as convenient to your food needs. Also look up Mike & Patty's for a good walk-up breakfast place relatively nearby.

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      Muqueca
      1010 Cambridge St, Cambridge, MA 02139

      Midwest Grill
      1124 Cambridge St, Cambridge, MA 02139

      Summer Shack
      149 Alewife Brook Parkway, Cambridge, MA 02140

      Casa Portugal
      1200 Cambridge St, Cambridge, MA 02139

      Oleana
      134 Hampshire St., Cambridge, MA 02139

      3 Replies
      1. re: Bob Dobalina

        Second Summer Shack for a large, mixed age group. Other option for Walden is to pick up provisions at Verrill Farms in Concord or the Cheese Shop in Concord Center and have a picnic.

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        Verrill Farm
        11 Wheeler Rd, Concord, MA, MA 01742

        Summer Shack
        310 Northern Ave, Boston, MA 02210

        1. re: Bob Dobalina

          Oh my kids love strange chow. My kids would get a kick out of a pigs head. Very odd I know. Right now they are absolutely obsessed with trying raw seafood and steak tartar because we have always said they were too young for it. They have had sashimi, but they want oysters (which you can get here). My oldest son LOVE fois gras. If it is good they will eat it : ). But I don't want to have other diners feel upset about having kids in the room.

          1. re: jsaimd

            I haven't been to this place yet, but it is near Walden Pond and might fit your criteria.
            http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/698530
            Probably not inexpensive, but neither is summer shack.

        2. The burger joint in Harvard Sq. was probably Bartley's and many of us still like it.
          Craigie and Oleana could deal with well behaved kids but I don't think that's something you usually see there.

          Neptune supposedly has a great burger if your husband won't eat anything else there (he can take off the fried oysters). Might be tough with kids and their no reservation policy and usual waits. Lots of places have seafood, Lineage in Coolidge Corner, Meritage in the Boston Harbor Hotel, Atlantic Seafood on Boylston St. They all have other options.

          Toscanini's would be good for ice cream. Also Christina's in Inman Sq., the local JP Licks around town, Emack & Bolio's (altho the small cone I got there a few weeks ago was so tiny, it pissed me off).

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          Oleana
          134 Hampshire St., Cambridge, MA 02139

          Meritage Restaurant
          70 Rowes Wharf, Boston, MA 02110

          1 Reply
          1. re: Joanie

            Still like Casa Portugal for Portuguese food. Haven"t tried the Brazilian. place, hows the atmosphere?

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            Casa Portugal
            1200 Cambridge St, Cambridge, MA 02139

          2. I'm a former Boston resident now living in the SF Bay Area, so I'm familiar with what you'd find in both places. My one disclaimer is that it's been a couple years since I was in Boston. That said, I'd like to suggest another restaurant in Cambridge, T.W. Foods. It was by far the best meal I had in the area last time--creative, well-prepared, attentive to quality ingredients, seasonal (things that are easy to find in the Bay Area but not always in Boston). I plan to go again.

            Another place in Cambridge that has some similar qualities, although it isn't as creative in its execution, is Rendezvous on the Square in Central Square (good restaurant in a not very attractive location).

            As for sweets, I can no longer recommend Toscanini's, even though it was my favorite place for ice cream for the many years I lived in Boston. I tried it again during my last trip, and it tasted commercial, almost artificial. There were still a lot of flavors, but that's about it. It wasn't at all what I remembered, and not at all what you'd find at Humphrey Slocombe, Bi Rite Creamery, ici, or any of the other really good ice cream shops in the Bay Area.

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            T.W. Food
            377A Walden St, Cambridge, MA 02138

            1. I think Craigie would be accommodating and gracious about having kids who like to eat good food. It could be a long evening, however, so that might be the only caveat. I like the Rendevous recco a lot. I've not eaten there but folks are so high on it, it sounds definitely worth trying.

              How about East Coast Grill? Fun, and great food. Lots of non-seafood on the menu (although seafood is a focus), some barbecue, etc. Used to be vaguely latin american in influence, with some Southern, still has some nods in those directions. There are detractors on this board, but I think many others would disagree - I've never had a bad meal there in twenty years. And it is right next door to Christina's ice cream, one of our best locals with all kinds of interesting and some unique flavors.

              Not near many of your destinations, but Sofra is this great bakery/take-out sort of middle eastern/mediterranean influenced place on Cambridge/Watertown line (near Mt. Auburn cemetary). You could pick up stuff for a picnic - it's not just baked goods, all kinds of good stuff.

              The Cape is big - can you narrow down your location, or check the New England board. Plymouth might show on a New England board, too.

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              East Coast Grill and Raw Bar
              1271 Cambridge St, Cambridge, MA 02139

              Sofra
              1 Belmont St, Cambridge, MA 02138

              1 Reply
              1. re: Splendid Spatula

                Just wanted to mention that Sofra is owned and chef'ed by Ana Sortun, the Oleana chef. You might do fine with the kids at Oleana if you call ahead, get a reservation, and mention their ages. The garden would be the best, but they can't guarantee it. I have seen kids doing well there but it needs to be early, and Ana has a young child herself. Your adventurous kids might well love the options at Sofra, which are great....but it is a small space...google "parks near" and the take out option is a good idea. Oleana and Sofra are both very unique places, well worth trying for.

                I second East Coast Grill, also for brunch. Can be noisy, no reservations.

                Neptune Oyster opens at 11:30 for lunch and if you get there then, esp. on a weekday, you should be fine. Again, as someone said, the hamburger without the fried oysters should be good for DH. Maybe he will be tempted by the great menu to forget his allergy to seafood. Very small space.

                Finally, consider EVOO and Za, now in Kendall Sq, Cambridge. EVOO now open for weekday lunch. Za...pizza and salad, but you who need gluten free will be charmed by the salads.

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                Neptune Oyster
                63 Salem St Ste 1, Boston, MA 02113

                East Coast Grill and Raw Bar
                1271 Cambridge St, Cambridge, MA 02139

                EVOO Restaurant
                350 Third Street, Cambridge, MA 02143

                Sofra
                1 Belmont St, Cambridge, MA 02138

                Oleana
                134 Hampshire St., Cambridge, MA 02139

              2. We have early reservations at Oleana, and East Coast Grill looks like a good compromise. Do they serve local seafood? Can't tell from the menu.

                We'll have to skip Craigie as much as it pains me - don't think we can do more than one nice dinner with my 1 year old.

                Still trying to figure out how to serve a large crew of 4 adults and 7 kids (yes 7) for a good price (read cheap) near plymouth, north boston and in Belmont given the gluten-free requirements. Any ideas there would be appreciated. Their kids aren't used to eating out like mine, so hesitant to take them anywhere nice.

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                East Coast Grill and Raw Bar
                1271 Cambridge St, Cambridge, MA 02139

                Oleana
                134 Hampshire St., Cambridge, MA 02139

                4 Replies
                1. re: jsaimd

                  ECG I believe lists the seafood each day along with source on a blackboard above or near the bar.

                  1. re: Bob Dobalina

                    Definitely, it's about as local as seafood can get in Boston or anywhere else. Frequently they even serve fish caught by Chris Schlesinger himself.

                  2. re: jsaimd

                    For the meal with 4 adults and 7 children I agree with the Summer Shack recommendation. There are always children in that restaurant and the staff is very accomodating. It a fun, casual place with something for everyone.

                    http://www.summershackrestaurant.com/...

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                    Summer Shack
                    149 Alewife Brook Parkway, Cambridge, MA 02140

                    1. re: jsaimd

                      i know it's a chain, but Legal's has a gluten free menu and there is one in cambridge and several in boston - it is also kid friendly - summer shack (see GIO below) is also a good choice and perhaps the blue room in cambridge - might try friendly toast right near blue room for a kid friendly breakfast/lunch place

                    2. For unique flavors and not too sweet, I'd go for Christina's Ice Cream in Inman Square. They tend to have more herbal and spice flavors, though Toscanini's has a really delicious saffron they make occasionally.

                      I agree with the suggestion for Muqueca--I think the cooking from that region of Brazil (Espirito Santo & Bahia) is really special and delicious. The owners are wonderfully hospitable and children are welcome.

                      The other place I usually suggest when someone wants to have a nice dinner with kids is Gran Gusto. Delicious Neapolitan food and the seafood dishes are great. It's right across from a great park (Danehy), there's a parking lot, and there's a small room within the restaurant that kids can go to if they get antsy. I think they actually serve lunch, too, which can be an option combined with the park.

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                      Gran Gusto
                      90 Sherman St, Cambridge, MA 02140

                      1. Thanks for all the suggestions.

                        We ended up at East Coast Grill one night. Very good all around, although pricey for seafood. I enjoyed the cod special, and my husband had the BBQ pork sandwich. Very good with allergies.

                        We also did do Oleana. Also very nice, and the patio was fantastic. Thanks for the tip. Baby slept through almost all of it, so it was a nice peaceful meal. Good with allergies, and nice to the kids, but you could tell they were a bit nervous when we walked in. They commented that the kids were very good when I left. I had halibut cooked iwth rhubarb and a persian rice cake. Husband had the veggie tasting menu with the fideos being his favorite along with dessert. One son had falafel and the other escargot. All were good, although my dish the parts were better than the sum.

                        We went to RedBones one night at the request of our friends who wanted to try it. Yuk. Dry, bland meat, crazy noisy, crowded, miserable. Coleslaw was decent. Grilled fish was overcooked in most parts and tasteless. Even the sauce on the side was tasteless.

                        We did enjoy il Casale. The table favorite was the peach ravioli. The burrata was good. Our risotto was not good, but the rest was very good. I think it is a good value restaurant.

                        Finally, we hit ice cream -

                        Christina's: Great flavors - true and bold, firm almost chewy texture which was less pleasant than others. My second favorite.

                        Rancatore's - Meh.

                        Kimball Farms - Great creamy texture, good old fashioned flavors, but way to sweet for my taste. Worth the trip and fun for the kids though.

                        Toscanini's.. - Very very good ice cream. I expected to be let down, but the flavors were bold and I enjoyed the bitter burnt caramel. The texture creamy, and decadent. Similar to bi-rite here, but the burnt caramel cut the sweetness of the orange chip, whereas I find bi-rite too sweet in some flavors.

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                        East Coast Grill and Raw Bar
                        1271 Cambridge St, Cambridge, MA 02139

                        Oleana
                        134 Hampshire St., Cambridge, MA 02139

                        il Casale
                        50 Leonard Street, Belmont, MA 02478

                        Kimball Farm
                        400 Littleton Rd, Westford, MA 01886

                        13 Replies
                        1. re: jsaimd

                          I guess Redbones is reverting to form of old. Too bad. Next time try Blue Ribbon in Arlington. No beer, but WAY more consistent cue.

                          1. re: StriperGuy

                            I think even East Coast Grill has better BBQ than Redbones now.

                            -----
                            East Coast Grill and Raw Bar
                            1271 Cambridge St, Cambridge, MA 02139

                            Redbones
                            55 Chester St, Somerville, MA 02144

                            1. re: Alcachofa

                              For a LONG time I was on the Redbones sucks bandwagon. I just happened to eat there 2X this year and was pleasantly surprised both times. That said this post makes it clear they have really NOT gotten back in the game.

                              -----
                              Redbones
                              55 Chester St, Somerville, MA 02144

                              1. re: StriperGuy

                                Heh. For a long time I was on the "Redbones is not that bad!" bandwagon. But the last couple times (last summer and winter) have made me reconsider that assessment.

                                1. re: Alcachofa

                                  Count me among those who always thought ECG's BBQ was better than Redbones'.

                                  http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

                                  -----
                                  Redbones
                                  55 Chester St, Somerville, MA 02144

                                2. re: StriperGuy

                                  I always thought Redbones was the suck until we went recently. Then I had some great ribs, delicious fried okra and some killer mac n cheese. I was back on the "this place could be good!" kick so I'm sad to hear it's inconsistent.

                                  Dang.

                                  -----
                                  Redbones
                                  55 Chester St, Somerville, MA 02144

                                  1. re: yumyum

                                    I'm 0 for 5 in Redbones attempts, borderline giving up on it.

                                    -----
                                    Redbones
                                    55 Chester St, Somerville, MA 02144

                                    1. re: rchudy

                                      Haven't been to Redbones in about 2 years. Last time the food was cold, flavor just blah, tasteless, and blah. Another reason for me to cook at home.

                                      The smoker goes on at 7:00 am on 7/3. Someone please upload me some coffee!

                                      -----
                                      Redbones
                                      55 Chester St, Somerville, MA 02144

                                      1. re: jjbourgeois

                                        I just acquired a smoker. Any tips on how to use it?

                                      2. re: rchudy

                                        not an expert but i've enjoyed Redbones beef ribs several times recently, much more than the ribs at say, Soulfire in Allston

                                    2. re: StriperGuy

                                      I'm still a fan of Redbone's sides. Their collards are done right - not sweet as I've found in many places in the area, and the beans are good, too. Corbread still too sweet for my taste, but not the excuse for dessert during the meal that you find at many spots. I don't love the meat (which I assume is what most people who go there are ordering) but have had a couple of good beef ribs in the last 6 months, and the jerk chicken has the right flavor profile. Plus the beer list is nice - so all in all I don't get upset if we end up there.

                                      -----
                                      Redbones
                                      55 Chester St, Somerville, MA 02144