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Reporting: Craigie on Main (dinner) and The Friendly Toast (brunch)

plafield May 31, 2010 01:18 PM

We were in Beantown this weekend cat-sitting for my daughter's kitty and took the opportunity to have a couple of meals out. When researching on Chowhound I'm always sad that so many people ask for recs and then never post back so whenever I eat somwhere worth reporting on (good or bad) I try to write.

I've eaten at Craigie's a few times in the past: once for New years Eve and once for brunch. It was good enough that we decided to try a straight ahead dinner on Saturday night. The place was packed, the service was excellent, and food, mostly fantastic with the exception of dessert. In fact, if I had thought to ask to see the dessert menu before going for the 3 course prix-fix, I probably would have stuck with ALC. Oh well.

For $75 a person, there was plenty of delicious food, starting with a choice of 3 amuses. I had the cod rillette with crunch sesame toast and my husband the cured pork belly with parmesan crisp and baby blue potato. Both delicious. Then came a first course of creamy vidalia onion soup with comte and cheddar grilled toast. This dish was to die for. Husband had a very nice pate campagne with 5 or 6 various accompaniments, served with perfetly grilled country bread. For mains we had pork 3 ways (should have been called FAT 3 ways!) a delicous rib, a portion of crispy pork belly and pork confit. Rich, fatty and fantastic. The other main was baramundi (Australian sea bass) with clams and chorizo. Excellent. The table bread is also really good and the butter, top quality.

Then things headed downhill. The "pre dessert" was tea infused panna cotta, One was roibos, the other jasmine. Personally, I've never been a big fan of the tea flavored desserts that seem to be all the rage, but these were particularly odious. The jasmine floral flavor was so strong it was like eating soap. One bite and that's all we could handle. The roibos one wasn't quite as offensive, but the tea infusion added nothing delicious.

Most of the dessert choices had strange flavor/texture combinations that made me think the pastry chef really likes to experiment but goes a little over the top in my opinion. Clearly they don't value straight ahead, classical desserts, and they don't seem to think dessert ought to be sweet. But if you like tart, sour and bitter, the dessert choices will be sure to please: Sheep's milk cheese cake, sour milk panna cotta, strawberries with grits and anise ice cream were the choices we passed on. We tried the taza chocolate tart with expresso ice cream and the house crisp, which was mango with buttermilk ie cream. The crisp was exceedingly tart, and the ice cream added even more pucker. The chocolate tart had almost no sugar in it, making it on the very intense, bitter side, which might have been OK with say vanilla bean ice cream, but the expresso ice cream tasted just like unsweetened expresso and did nothing to cut the bitterness of the chocolate tart.

So overall, the dinner was great but dessert not my cup of tea. I definitely found myself wishing we had just had the first 2 courses and gone next door to Toscanini's for ice cream for dessert.

The next morning, on my daughter's recommendation, we went to The Friendly Toast in Kendell square. This is a cute, very kitchy place with not one person under the age of 25 working (or so it seemed!) The vibe is very laid back, service a little on the slow side, and of course, it's packed with a line out the door by 10:15. But the food is fantastic! Lots of the most delicious looking brunch choices ranging from the classic to some far out combos. They make their own bread for toast (4 different kinds) and everything is from scratch. Even the whipped cream is real and homemade, not out of a can! With food of this quality though, I was surprised that they didn't offer real maple syrup for their pancakes, waffle, and french toast choices.

We had an eggs Benedict and substituted regular bacon for the classic Canadian. It was perfect, with the bacon cripy, meaty and smoky, the eggs cooked exatly right and a smooth, lemony hollandaise that was definitely house made the right way. Served with excellent potatoes. We also had pumpkin pancakes. These were light and fluffy and were made with raisenettes in them and served with real whipped cream. Really fantastic. The coffee was seriously hot ( a huge plus in my book) but refills were slow to come.

All in all, I would highly recommend this place. If you can get there before 10:00 on the weekends you'll probably beat the rush. I'll be going back here next time I'm in town!

Craigie on Main
853 Main Street, Cambridge, MA 02139

The Friendly Toast
1 Kendall Square, Cambridge, MA

  1. barleywino Jun 2, 2010 03:29 AM

    best dessert at Craigie is probably one of their cocktails (or mocktails if you prefer)-- ask them to surprise you-- you can also split one if you just want a "taste"

    1 Reply
    1. re: barleywino
      plafield Jun 2, 2010 06:22 AM

      For me, the bitter chocolate of the tart would have been fine with an ice cream that wasn't also in the bitter category. Even the tartness of the buttermilk ice cream (that came with the crumble) would have added flavor interest. I can enjoy tart and bitter flavors with dessert but I'm looking for a bit of complexity so the pairing of a super bitter chocolate with bitter ice cream or a super tart fruit with tart ice cream just doesn't show either off well on my tongue. The dinner flavors and textures werecomplex and wonderfully mixed and matched in a way that dessert simply wasn't.

      Rendevous looks worth checking out, particularly for Sunday dinner. That lemon dessert sounds devine!

    2. lipoff Jun 1, 2010 01:35 PM

      I have to say that your description of their desserts sound wonderful. Tart, creative, and not too sweet --- sounds like heaven! I actually don't really recall their desserts from previous times I've been there --- maybe they've stepped up their game recently. But it just goes to show people really do have different tastes. Thanks for writing such a detailed and informative review so we can all know a little more about this place!

      2 Replies
      1. re: lipoff
        greenzebra Jun 1, 2010 06:07 PM

        I absolutely adore the Taza chocolate tart at Craigie, but then again I find chocolate that is less than about 65% dark too sweet.

        1. re: lipoff
          kobuta Jun 1, 2010 07:31 PM

          I usually pass on dessert because it's too sweet too, so this would be totally up by alley. I would agree though that desserts are generally only ok at Craigie. Although at my last meal, the dessert was a step up from the previous meal. I will say that the sheep's milk cheesecake was quite tasty! Tasted like a real creamy cheesecake - no sheepy taste to it as I would've expected (I think goat cheese tastes goat-y, if that last descriptor confuses anyone).

        2. p
          pollystyrene May 31, 2010 10:52 PM

          Thanks for the report. I haven't been to Craigie yet, but can relate to your "should have gone to Toscanini's" comment. I can't remember ever NOT thinking that after having a restaurant dessert, most of which are mediocre no matter how good the rest of the food is.

          I love the Friendly Toast, too. It's a great place to go for late-night pancakes after a movie at the Kendall. They're open until 1AM and there are no crowds.

          The Friendly Toast
          1 Kendall Square, Cambridge, MA

          5 Replies
          1. re: pollystyrene
            StriperGuy May 31, 2010 11:36 PM

            Go to Rendezvous and have the lemon curd with huckleberry dessert. I don't even like lemon desserts and it rocked me.

            1. re: StriperGuy
              BostonZest Jun 1, 2010 05:00 AM

              I adore lemon desserts and that one rocks me too!


              1. re: StriperGuy
                pollystyrene Jun 2, 2010 07:49 PM

                I'm going to Rendezvous next weekend so I'll do that. That last time I was there I had the pear crostada, which was okay. Has anyone had their chocolate cake? I believe it's from the original Julia Child recipe.

                Everyone used to rave about the lemon dessert at Hamersley's, too, and I thought that was just okay, but I'm game to try Rendezvous' lemony concoction.

                The only desserts I can remember having that I have or would order repeatedly are the mud pie from Tupelo, the tarte tatin and the strawberry shortcake at Eastern Standard, and the apple cake at Gaslight. And I love dessert.

                Eastern Standard
                528 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston, MA 02215

                1. re: pollystyrene
                  BostonZest Jun 3, 2010 06:13 AM

                  It is very similar to Hamersley's Souffled lemon custard so if you weren't mad about that you may want to make another choice. The sauce is a different twist on it. If the chocolate cake is like the one Steve used to make at the Blue room, go for it!

                  I'm addicted to salads at Rendezvous so I just don't eat dessert that often so I've never tried it. Love food but I have limited capacity.


              2. re: pollystyrene
                Scruffy The Cat Jun 1, 2010 01:41 PM

                Well, I have been to Craigie and I thought the dinner was spectacular. I also thought that dessert was the weakest part of the meal. I had some peanut butter mouss-y thing that was average- oddly one-dimensional in contrast to the layers of texture and flavor that I experienced during my dinner. I completely agree with the OP that the chef is experimenting and missing. There are some other restaurants in town who have excellent desserts- perhaps that's another topic.

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