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Cambridge etc. during kitchen renovation (LONG)

This summer I renovated my kitchen. Actually, it's not totally done yet (sigh) but the important thing is I’m cooking again. In the beginning (July) I was optimistic about the opportunity to get eat out more. I like to eat out but on average that happens 3 or 4 times a month tops both for budget reason and because I’m such a cocky home cook that I really do think my food is better then a lot of restaurants. So eating take-out multiple nights a week for 10 weeks was a big change for me. I also learned pretty quickly that the take-out I may crave as an occassional treat vs. take out as my day to day sustenance were very different things (i.e. heypielady loves veggies and cannot live on pulled pork sandwiches and burgers alone.) So cast in that light, and striving to keep take-out under $20 for two, here is where I ate all summer long:

Rivergods (Cambridgeport): Ok, this wasn’t take out but this is our neighborhood spot. You can get beers and dinner for two for around $50 including tip. My standby is the chicken sandwich with avocado and side salad with peanut chili dressing. I could put that dressing on everything. They sometimes have interesting specials as well. The highlight this summer was zucchini purses stuffed with cheese and mushrooms. It was light and delicious. The last time we were there (September 29) they had a new special of braised pork loin with mushrooms. They waitress asked Mr’s opinion on it because they were thinking of making it a regular menu item. It was really delicious and I hope it does become a regular item. The pork was melt in your mouth tender.

Yoma (Brighton): We went here specifically for the salads. I love the green mango salad and the beef salad is also good. Mr. ordered and they asked him how hot he wanted it. He knows I like spicy food so he asked for it “7 on a scale of 1 to 10.” Ok, that was too spicy for me if all three dishes we ordered are the same pungency (not Yoma’s fault). I actually wish they hadn’t asked though. How spicy is the dish suppose to be? Then that is how spicy I want it. I’d rather not just have red pepper flake liberally applied at the end.

Genki-Ya (Fresh Pond): The new Genki-Ya recently opened in Fresh Pond in July. The sushi is fresh but nothing to go out of your way for (like say Oishii in Chestnut Hill). This was a real price performer if you know how to order. They have all kinds of deals on their website for 10% off if you order online and a $10 dinner special with 2 8-piece rolls, a salad, and a miso soup if you pay in cash. If you just show up at the restaurant at dinner time though you can’t get any deals and it would end up being way overpriced for just average sushi.

Emma’s Pizza(Cambridge/Kendall Sq.): We ordered from Emma’s a bunch of times mostly because it was comforting. The pizza with rosemary sauce, red peppers, and caramelized onions is my favorite. Add a green salad to that and I’m eating something close to what I would have made for myself anyway. We also got sandwiches there once (BLT and chicken sandwich) that were quite good. (they roast the tomatoes on the BLT so it seems to be a good winter BLT, the bacon was great) They sandwiches were also priced much better than say All Star Sandwich Bar whose sandwiches have just been a huge disappointment lately.

Guru the Caterer (Somerville/Teele Sq): I LOVE this place. I like the lamb and the chicken dishes a lot. The shrimp was pretty good but after you’ve had my Aunt’s coconut shrimp curry, you too would have a hard time having anything else. I wanted to like the goat curry but I got a lot of bones and not much meat in that order. The chicken keema (ground chicken with spices) is my favorite. This is also a price performer. I can’t finish a whole meal by myself. I think splitting one meal and an order of samosas would be the perfect amount of food for two people...but Mr. doesn’t like to share and can eat more than me.

Brown Sugar Cafe (BU/Comm. Ave): Man, I used to love this place. This was my go-to delivery option prior to this summer. We order Moo Yang Nam-Tuk (grilled pork with red onions,mint,scallions, coriander and sticky rice) Fresh Rolls, and chive dumplings. We spent close to $30 on this meal which just wasn’t worth it for two apps and a entree. I used to love the Moo Yang Nam Tuk but the pork this time was gristle-y. The serving seemed smaller but the price had gone up (from $11.95 to $13.95). The fresh rolls were ok, the chive dumplings were mushy. I won’t be back.

Red Lentil (Watertown): This was my favorite find the whole summer. It’s not cheap but it is worth it IMO. I thought the eggplant caponata was just great. The millet loaf was pretty good. The sesame crusted seitan strips were yummy and savory although perhaps overcooked for those of you who don’t like a little char. I love burnt bits though so it didn’t bother me. The veggie chili was good too. The mizuna salad was nothing exciting and the most disappointing item was beet potato latke. It sounded so promising. Maybe it would be better at the restaurant but it just wasn’t working for me... it was kind of slippery and boring.

Jo Jo Tapai(Brighton): We ordered the 3 cup tofu, scallion pancakes, and ginger eggplant. The tofu is one of my favorite things there. The other food was good too. And carried us over into lunch the next day.

Oleana (Cambridge/Inman Sq.): Wait, what is this doing on the list? It was our anniversary mid-renovation so this was our celebration dinner. We sat outside in the court yard and had a lovely meal of hummas in basturma, olives, sultan’s delight (tamarind glazed beef with eggplant custard), grilled octopus with chorizo (outstanding!), striped bass with blacked eyes peas and almond cremolata for dessert which was really gilding the lily after the food and wine.

Central Bottle (Central Sq.): What can I say? As the weeks went on and my contractor nowhere to be seen I just gave up on food and hit the bottle... jk. We did enjoy plenty of wine from CB but they also have a great selection of cheeses, olives, meats, and bread so some of my favorite dinners were iggy’s bread, burrata, finocchino or wild boar sausage supplemented by some green zebra tomatoes from the Belmont Farmer’s Market.

Ken’s Ramen (Brighton): There was one rainy night in August that we got miso ramen and it was perfect. I think its close to $9 for a ramen though. $18 for soup for two is kind of on the pricey side if you think about it. But I really like it! Next time I might get the vegetarian which is a little cheaper because I’m there for the noodles and broth.

Arax Market (Watertown): This place became a godsend in the dog days of summer. It was like 95 degrees out. I didn’t mind not having an oven and I just wanted something fresh. Highlights were the Nivik (chickpeas and chard), hummas, and black eye bean salad. I also had a good lima bean salad there. I tried the fava bean, tomato and artichoke casserole but I guess I’m just not an artichoke person. I try them again every couple years to see if my taste buds change but its doesn’t do anything for me. Stick to the basic bread. I had a Zaatar bread that looked good but was really dry.

Blue Asia Cafe (Brighton): On recommendations from my fellow hounds we split the chicken cutlet, sweet and sour cabbage, and pan fried dumplings. Damn, that cutlet is good! I will defintely be back here.

Green Street (Central Sq.): Needed a cocktail and went to Green Street. It had been a long time since I had dinner here and I was pleasantly surprised. I had a special of Camembert ravioli with mushrooms. It knocked my socks off because when it arrived it turns out they were chicken mushrooms! What a treat. Mr got angel hair pasta with clams which originally I thought was a risky order. Angel hair can be so overcooked and boring. These were quite the contrary. Totally fresh and toothsome noodles and clams full of flavor. We also split an order of mussels in white wine/ lemon/ fennel sauce. I even had a slice of tres leches cake for dessert. I will put out this caveat: Green Street loves to put lemon juice on their food. So if that turns you off then it might not be for you. I am liberal with lemon juice in my own cooking so I was right at home.

Basta Pasta (Cambridgeport): I think the sauces at Basta Pasta are really good. I especially like the puttanesca. Its significantly spicier than I make it but a nice alternative. They throw in some whole anchovy filets which is ballsy. But the pasta! Why or why can’t Basta Pasta cook their pasta just a little less so that its al dente? Now that my oven is back I’d love to buy just the sauce and make my own pasta to my liking.

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All Star Sandwich Bar
1245 Cambridge St, Cambridge, MA 02139

Basta Pasta
319 Western Ave, Cambridge, MA 02139

Brown Sugar Cafe
129 Jersey St, Boston, MA

Arax Market
585 Mount Auburn St, Watertown, MA 02472

Oleana
134 Hampshire St., Cambridge, MA 02139

Guru the Caterer
1297 Broadway, Somerville, MA

Red Lentil
600 Mt Auburn St, Watertown, MA 02472

Central Bottle
196 Massachusetts Ave, Boston, MA 02115

Blue Asia Cafe
113 Brighton Ave, Boston, MA 02134

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  1. Gran Gusto didn't make it into your rotation? If Genki-ya was within range, I'd think you'd get to GG.

    Just askin'

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    Gran Gusto
    90 Sherman St, Cambridge, MA 02140

    1. Awesome report, hpl. I cannot disagree with any of your comments, esp. Genki-Ya and Red Lentil.

      1. Guessing you must live and work in the same general radius my family does, based on the places you ate. Is there anything besides salads you like at Yoma? I am curious about that place, but we only eat out about once a month usually (budget reasons) and we haven't made it there yet. I agree Genki Ya is nothing special, but not bad and has good deals...I always order online as well. If you can make it as far as Genki Ya, for a short haul up Concord, you should absolutely try Golden Garden.

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        Genki
        398 Harvard St, Brookline, MA 02446

        Golden Garden
        63 Concord Ave, Belmont, MA 02478

        10 Replies
        1. re: little.tiger

          justbeingpolite: I love Gran Gusto. I never get there as often as I'd like. We did not eat there this summer because I didn't think it would travel well for take-out, especially the pizza. Eating at the Gran Gusto would cost less than Green Street probably but I live in Cambridgeport so for this list when we succumbed to the temptation to blow the budget and eat out, it often had to do with being lazy and that meant not getting back in the car.

          lt: I really want to try Golden Garden especially after the reviews from other hounds. It opened almost simultaneously with my oven being reinstalled so as soon as it was on my radar I was also off take-out at least temporarily. As for Yoma, I haven't had too much else there besides the salads. I had a noodle dish just for contrast. A while back I had a dish with shrimp and pumpkin- good but the salads are the shining stars.

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          Gran Gusto
          90 Sherman St, Cambridge, MA 02140

          Golden Garden
          63 Concord Ave, Belmont, MA 02478

          1. re: heypielady

            for salads, i first go to broadway market and second to Whole Foods. I probably get salads at least 3 times per week.

            1. re: cambridgedoctpr

              Oh, you just reminded me about Whole Foods. We did go there one night and got some polenta and roasted veggies and maybe some kind of bean salad maybe. My problem with Whole Foods is that everything looks so good there and then you get home and its just not that good. It's expensive to boot so I feel like I'm just paying for beautiful. Arax various salads were just way more flavorful and much cheaper. I realize that if you don't have a car then its not easy to get to.

              I don't know anything about Broadway Market. What's that?

              1. re: heypielady

                Arax is actually very conveniently located on the #73 (or is it 71 bus) that runs from Harvard sq to Watertown Sq, so it's simple to get to w/o a car.

                Totally agree about WF stuff, and re: the above poster, if one is really making salads 3-4 times a week, I don't understand why not buy the ingredients?

                HPL- nice post. I'm about to re-do my kitchen, and am not far from you, so it's nice to hear your suggestions. I'm hoping to eat a lot of the canned soups and such that I've laid up, and stuff like Tasty bite heat and eat pouches, but I'm sure we'll go out more often than we would otherwise..
                Broadway market is the expensive convenience store cum grocery on Broadway across from the high school and the library. I pick up milk or something there sometimes and I can't say that the salad bar looked like it was worth a special trip.

                1. re: cpingenot

                  Arax is on the #71 -- but on the #73 you can find Eastern Lahmejun Bakers! So hop on either bus, you won't go wrong. It has similar offerings to Arax/Sevan but the lahmejun is better and they have terrific hand pies, which I actually like better than Sevan's because they're not so doughy. (opinionatedchef, if you're reading this, you converted me! Plus I moved about half a mile closer to ELB.)

                  You could get takeout from there to bring home for dinner, and walk a few blocks to Sofra for lunch on your way back to the bus. Or better yet, go for a walk in Mt. Auburn Cemetery before catching the #71 or #73 back to Harvard Square.

                  I went to Gran Gusto once and liked the pizza, but didn't get what all the fuss was about. I guess I'll try it again one day.

                  heypielady, I already wished we could renovate our kitchen, but you are making me wish we could start today!

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                  Gran Gusto
                  90 Sherman St, Cambridge, MA 02140

                  Sofra
                  1 Belmont St, Cambridge, MA 02138

                  1. re: Pia

                    Unless there's a blizzard going on, Eastern Lahmejun is really only a block or two from the whole Arax, Sevan, Massis area. Easily walkable on a nice day...

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                    Eastern Lamejun Bakers
                    145 Belmont St, Belmont, MA 02478

                    Sevan Bakery
                    599 Mount Auburn St, Watertown, MA 02472

                    Massis Bakery
                    569 Mt Auburn St, Watertown, MA 02472

                2. re: heypielady

                  Broadway Market has good green salads and reasonable coffee and that is about it. It is located on Broadway not far from the Cambridge Public library. I prefer it to Whole foods for salads.

                  http://www.broadwaymarketplace.com/

                  1. re: cambridgedoctpr

                    cpingenot: It sounds like you will have a hot plate or a microwave to use during your renovation. That's smart. We didn't have that. At first we didn't even have a mini-fridge and that was just stupid.

                    Pia: I kept eyeing those lahmejun but I couldn't get them over the summer because I couldn't heat them. (You're supposed to heat them, right?) I have to get back there soon.

                    1. re: heypielady

                      Yes, you should heat them. I was assuming you'd have a plug-in toaster oven or something.

                      I just noticed your response on the thread about Sophia's yogurt -- it's just a few blocks up (away from Cambridge) from Eastern Lamejun Bakers, so that could be another stop on the #73 bus tour!

                      By the way, the distance between ELB and Arax/Sevan/Massis is about half a mile -- not quite a block, but easily walkable as okra says. So you could walk down to Mt. Auburn Street and hit all those places, plus La Romagnoli, and maybe a falafel sandwich at Fordee's, and take the #71 back. But it wouldn't be worth it to do all of that in one trip unless you had a fridge.

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                      Eastern Lamejun Bakers
                      145 Belmont St, Belmont, MA 02478

                      1. re: Pia

                        And while on that bus tour, you might as well pop into Fastichi (next to La Romagnoli) and get some pistachios and those candied almonds that come in the pink paper cone... just saying.

          2. I'm a big fan of Basta Pasta, and recently tried, and enjoyed, their putanesca for the first time. I think their fussili is excellent. In terms of its preparation, I have yet to try their products in house -- I always take them to go -- and don't know if it's possible for an order of past to go can arrive home al dente!

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            Basta Pasta
            319 Western Ave, Cambridge, MA 02139

            1. The tile backsplash was installed this weekend so it gave us another excuse to go out to eat.

              I finally tried Golden Garden. It was almost empty in there Friday night around 6:30 but for a couple people waiting for take out. But the phone was ringing regularly for take out orders. We also got take out: cumin lamb with spicy sauce and pork shrimp leek dumplings. I loved both dishes and the lamb had a real kick to it.

              Saturday afternoon we got some sandwiches to-go (because it was a zoo) from Flour in Central sq. Mr and the tile guy got roast chicken with avocado and I had the smoked turkey. Turkey was ok but I prefered the hummas or the BLT to it. I really like their bread though. The last bite of crust was actually my favorite bite of the whole sandwich. I also got a disgustingly good cookie (I think the Lola) with chocolate, oats, coconut maybe, and walnut (which I don't usually like). I had to eat it in shifts it was so big.

              The backsplash was looking so good by Saturday night that Mr. and I celebrated by trying and succeeding at a late dinner at the bar at Craigie on Main. With no reservation we showed up around 9:15 and they said it would be a half hour wait. I actually like having a little bit of a wait so I can enjoy a cocktail before dinner. I ordered the Ardoise (sage, Rain vodka, juniper, lime) and Mr ordered the Last Smash (bourbon, lemon, mint, chartreuse). He let me have his drink after a couple sips. The Ardoise was too sweet for me. The Last Smash was awesome. When we ordered our drinks the waiter was a little over serious with me. I wonder if a lot of jerks come in and just can't handle waiting hence the defensive by the waitstaff. When he came over I promptly ordered a drink and he interrupted me and asked what are situation was... did we have reservations in the dining room? etc. I told him we put our name in with the hostess and then he took our drink order but looked up from his notebook and sternly said "There's a queue." Yeah, ok I get it. After that though everyone was perfectly nice. We had the trio of pate to start and then couldn't resist the burgers delicious as always. I love all the little housemade condiments they give you both with the pate and the burger. And I'm glad they got rid of the shoestring potatoes. We skipped dessert for a Fernet and an Armagnac but they still brought us out a little taste of the sorbets. One was concord grape and one green apple. They were really outstanding. The apple was like biting into a fresh gravenstein apple and the concord grape captured what the air on Cape Cod smells like in September (that's probably my own personal association)

              Sunday morning when the tile was complete we set out to meet a friend from brunch at Highland Kitchen. I had never been here before and I really wanted to try it. When we drove past just at 11:00 when they opened a long queue at the door was shuffling in. In the two minutes of parking the car and walking back to the restaurant, the restaurant was already saturated. Doesn't matter...our friend wasn't there yet and I don't mind waiting. We ordered beignets, hushpuppies, pork hash, and smoked trout hash. The beignets were ok some very nice and some a little too oily. I liked the hushpuppies. My pork hash hit the spot but next time I'll probably get the trout hash. It was nice to start eating a little later because by the time we were seated the live music started. I liked this place a lot but for brunch I probably wouldn't go unless I'm meeting up with Somerville friends. It was just SOOOO crowded that I can't imagine making a regular thing of it. I can take a nice walk to East Coast Grill and I like their brunch just a little bit better. Not that ECG isn't crowded.... it's just on my turf.

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

              Highland Kitchen
              150 Highland Ave, Somerville, MA 02143

              Craigie on Main
              853 Main Street, Cambridge, MA 02139

              Golden Garden
              63 Concord Ave, Belmont, MA 02478

              2 Replies
              1. re: heypielady

                Thanks for the great write-ups! I've been thinking we need a tile backsplash... so, that gets you 4 opportunities to eat out?

                1. re: Parsnipity

                  Heh, heh... yeah, Friday night we didn't HAVE TO get take out but we happened to be near GG right at dinner time. But the other 3 meals... totally legit , we HAD to go to Craigie.

                  Oh and Blumie, good point about take out pasta. I hadn't thought of that. I will have to try to eat there some time.