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May 12, 2011 06:45 AM

Kowloon, Floating Rock, More Attitude at Craigie, and Guanachapi

I am way overdue to post some:

Dragged to Kowloon for a large group outing (I managed to beg off part two of the evening which took place further up route one at a venue whose name sounds like a produce stand but most assuredely is not. Though I am told the tomatoes can be appealing.)

So Kowloon. American Poo Poo platter fair. Competently done, but when the apps and mains all include heavily battered deep fried strips of chiken... And seriously just not that tasty. The char siu (boneless spare ribs) was pretty good. The Mai Tai's were pre mixed, too sweet, and just generally lame. I like a good Mai Tai. I even like a good crappy Mai Tai. This wasn't even a good crappy Mai Tai.

Floating Rock in the new local: They really need to be encouraged to bring the authentic stuff. The bar tender was very very nice but was not really keeping up with a bar that was 1/3 full. And the booze they stock is like something out of 1999. Seriously how many flavored vodkas do you need. An NO decent rum...

Tiger's tears if anything 2X the portion in the old local. Had to ask them to bring many extra bird chiles on the side to get the heat up, but the quality of the meat and the execution was top notch. Big ground meat main was unexceptional.

Chow Foon Alert!!! The Chow Foon with Chinese Broccoli and Beef with Brown Sauce was easily the best rendition I have had in Boston in the last few years. Spot on amazing and a good bargain for $10 or so. Fresh rolls and spring rolls were both nicely done.

They are getting up to speed, but I think will do fine. We need to get out and support this place in the early days so that they will be here 10 years from now. And talk up adding more real Cambodian stuff!!!

That same night we had (prior to my remembering that Floating Rock was open) tried to get into Craigie. There were 4 people waiting for seats at the bar. The lounge area was 90% empty at 7:15 but they told us, with considerable attitude, that it was all reserved up. Honestly it was just bizarre. They were bizarre, the usual Craigie weird behavior.

Lastly, hit Guanachapi (the River Street location) in Waltham. It was the Chowpup's first chowting at a never before chowed local. We had crunchy fried papusa thingies with shredded beef on top. The hit of the night, though the papusa thingies were a bit overfried.

Fried plantains were good. We had the Guanachapi plate to share for dinner, and quite frankly, eh. The usual Central/South American Montanero (mountain man) plate of everything. The beef was not that flavorful, the chicharron was pretty good. Everything could have used a little marinating or something. The beef could have used a quicker, charcoalier sear. They subbed plantains for the yucca listed on the menu. The version I et with alcachofa under the bridge in Chelsea a while back had 4X the flavor and 2X the meat. Oh well.

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  1. In the wake of Maws's brand-new Beard Award (overdue, in my book), that FoH attitude problem will likely only get worse at Craigie (though I think the bar staff and the new wine guy are still great).

    It's off-putting, like the owner at Neptune. You rave about the food at these places to friends, and they go, and they say, "You were right about the food, but those people are kind of dicks". A shame, and short-sighted.

    9 Replies
    1. re: MC Slim JB

      given the recent award; maybe craigie was actually booked?

      Is take-out readily available from Floating Rock?

      Floating Rock
      485 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02139, USA

      1. re: cambridgedoctpr

        Perhaps they were. I'm not saying they are liars, (though it did occur to me) but the way in which they communicated that they are full was just bizarro obnoxious.

          1. re: StriperGuy

            i never get attitude; i gotta see you there. Though I am a conservative midwesterner and dress the part. (though disillusioned by the republican party)

            1. re: cambridgedoctpr

              "conservative midwesterner and dress the part" that's me too!

              Okay not really ;-).

            2. re: StriperGuy

              I have only been once, and while the floor staff were great, I can definately see how the host staff can come off as.....well, alien.

          2. re: MC Slim JB

            screw neptune and their, "we dont really need your business" shoulder. in new york recently i walked into a well known restaurant that is booked a ways in advance, just to see if there was a cancellation for dinner, while there was no way, the front of the house was so apologetic and spent so much time trying to find out if there was any way they could accommodate me, i ended up apologizing to HER. " no, really, thats fine, thank you, im sorry to take up your time, really, sorry." they did not have to. im a nobody from out of town trying to walk in and score a res.they are full every night. they could not have been nicer. never happen at neptune.

            1. re: hyde

              Totally agree. Count me amongst the Neptune-Anti contingent.

          3. Re FR, We went to Thmor Dat the other day and I noticed some slippage in the Tiger Tears, not as much meat as before and meat was of lesser quality. Have to try the new FR. I hope they don't dumb it down. Both are equally (in)convenient to get to..:)

            I thought the Chow Foon was better at PFS there but Ms 9 liked Thmor Dat...but both good.

            1 Reply
            1. re: 9lives

              1 thing I want to add. The original FR/Thmor Dat is not cheap like many of the CTown places. Most dishes run about $10. So the TT, Chow Foon, Spicy pork, couple of sodas, and tax/tip were $40+ ish. Add in 2 r/t T tkts and we're close to $50 to eat in a place with little ambience and no alcohol. I'm not sure if going to Revere is a great $ saver. 2 people got 2 meals each, so we're talking $12/per meal. For dinner, the byo is a big +.

              If a larger portion of better quality TT at the new place is $16, the price may not be that different if you leave off the high price and poor cocktails.

              I have no doubt that the new FR will be able to put out the "good" food...the trick will be getting it.

              Without seeing it, I know that Ms 9 would prefer the upscale atmosphere of the new FR than the arm twisting required to getting her to Thmor Dat..:) and so will others.

              I'm on their FB and it DOES seem the focus is more on nightclub and my opinion is that restaurants that try to serve fine food and be night clubs fail at both. Ask Rene Michelena from his days at Saint.

              btw, here's a Thai Beef Salad I've made a # of times. It sound like a lot but if you assemble the ingredients first, it can be done easily..sub squid, chicken, whatever.


            2. The FR cocktail list is hilarious. Seems like it came from the mind of a frat house party planning committee a decade ago.

              We enjoyed the tiger's tears, the ground pork in pickled fish sauce, and the tom yum. We had to really press them to bring the heat, and they still could have gone quite a bit hotter. The wrappers on the fresh spring rolls weren't prepared correctly and left the outside really chewy. I wish the entrees were cheaper, but whatever. Service was weak, even in a near empty room with a full waitstaff. They hit one of my pet peeves by disappearing and not refilling water, which is all the worse at places serving spicy food (why doesn't every place just leave a carafe on the table to make things easier for everyone?).

              I'm confused about what concept they are going for. I want a good Cambodian place, but they seem to be striving for something that can double as a sports bar and nightclub. They advertise things like "Its Thirsty Thursday again, 50 cent MEGA Spicy wings at the bar and 1/2 OFF ALL APPS with a college ID!!!" on facebook. And why aren't the wings on the normal menu? Are they actually spicy?

              16 Replies
              1. re: DoubleMan

                My take is that they're aiming to be the asian TiTS, to compete with the real one down the street. It's really quite a shame. I never went to the original, but am pretty sure I would have loved it. Now, despite living a short walk away, they'd have to change pretty radically for me to ever go back.

                1. re: jgg13

                  Yeah, it's probably going to be a takeout-only place for me.

                  1. re: jgg13

                    Are you saying the chow is not very good or mostly the setting? I mean, given the choice of eating mediocre Sysco fare at Tavern in the Square or ground pork in pickled fish sauce at FR, while watching the Bruins, I know which I would choose!

                    Are they playing any cool Cambodian pop? Dengue Fever?

                    1. re: Bob Dobalina

                      A small group of Hounds went last week. Food is still good, atmosphere sleek but not offensive and prices are a little higher and portions a little lower compared to the original FR in Revere. I bemoan the loss of the old one as I love holes in the wall, but the new one is convenient and a good place to take adventuresome non-hounds.

                      1. re: gourmaniac

                        Honestly the portion of Tiger's Tears while $16, was twice the size of what I used to get in Revere. and the quality of the meat was top notch.

                        1. re: StriperGuy

                          Striper, is the Tiger's Tears large enough for a meal for one?

                          1. re: bear

                            Yessssss. It was huge. That and some rice and you would be stuffed.

                            1. re: StriperGuy

                              Thanks. I have some potential take-out opportunities in the next couple of weeks, so I'll put that high on the list.

                              1. re: bear

                                So, Striper, I did get the Tiger's Tears and rice for takeout last week. It was perfect. I asked for it extra spicy and boy did it deliver! I actually ate it over two meals to take a break in between. It was awesome. Thanks for the tip.

                                1. re: bear

                                  Glad you liked it. I thought that dish was spot on.

                                  1. re: StriperGuy

                                    Perfect for this weather, too, but I think I'll have to try the Chow Foon next time.

                                    1. re: bear

                                      i don't know if Kung Fu Panda has food scenes, but i can just imagine a huge Chinese army in full battle regalia,stomping their spears etc. while yelling,
                                      "chow FOON, chow FOON, chow FOON!" Hmmm, big smiley face.

                      2. re: Bob Dobalina

                        I went about a week after they opened, and decided to wait until I started hearing positive comments that weren't of the "OMG mega spicy wings!", "OMG half off wiht a college ID!" or "OMG! look at those schlocky vodka drinks, awesome!".

                        I hear what you're saying, and yes, even if the food has been watered down and gringo'd up it's still likely to be better than the Tavern, but if that's the sort of atmosphere they're trying to cultivate - maybe a better example would be the bastard child of Middlesex & the Tavern - it's not really somewhere I want to go, considering the prices seem to be nearly double what they were previously.

                        When I went, I liked what I had - tigers tears, some meatballs & the pickled fish dip thing, but for instance I'd heard for years how spicy the tigers tears were and there was none of that. None of this is getting into the multi-hour experience the whole thing became, and I noticed they're *still* getting dinged on ultra-slow service over on that red colored review site.

                        For the prices they're charging, the food I had would need to either be notably better or notably larger (preferably the former), we ended up paying $30pp which seemed pretty ridiculous as we didn't even have booze. That's a lot for me to say "that's was tasty" when I can do that in a less absurd atmosphere for much less money.

                        1. re: Bob Dobalina

                          During my dinner there they weren't playing any music, so it was actually oddly quiet, but DJ Slipwax, who's apparently known for his scratching, was going on later.

                          1. re: Bob Dobalina

                            We saw DF at Pailin City in Lowell in 2007. That was tons of fun- the cover included several family-style courses of food and a 2 liter bottle of coke. The Cambodian food wasn't the best, but the place was hopping- everyone was dancing the electric slide to DF. Not sure the venue still exists in that form, but if it does, I'd recommend a visit.

                            Plus DF is coming to Brighton Music Hall June 7! Maybe I can start up the electric slide there...

                            1. re: Bob Dobalina

                              They need to get the Imperialisms / Weirdo Records crew in!

                        2. It's the NEW new Floating Rock thread! I went last night with some friends and was happy to find that the old favorites that they were serving were as good as ever. We had: Tiger's tears; ground pork/pickled fish sauce; chow fun (I forget the Cambodian name); Amok (catfish fillets in coconut milk). I asked about the fish cakes (not yet on the menu; I think of them as Cambodian tod mun) and the server said they would be serving them as they incorporate more old dishes onto the menu sometime after the "grand" opening.

                          Tiger's Tears were fantastic as ever - not incredibly hot (which is fine with me) but perfectly balanced. Definitely better meat than at Thmor Da, as 9lives noted above, and cooked perfectly, with nice char and the right amount of chew.

                          The ground pork with pickled fish sauce (sidenote: that may be the worst-named dish ever. I assume it's a direct translation from Khmer, but come on now. I referred to it as meat dip, which is more descriptive but not much better-sounding; how about Cambodian bolognese?) was fantastic - we nearly licked the bowl. A little richer with coconut milk than the version at Thmor Da but otherwise very similar. Not especially funky, but the prahok deepens the meat flavor.

                          The chow fun dish (with chinese broccoli and flank steak) was very good though it didn't blow me away; could have used a little more char on the noodles for my taste. Very good though and, as Stripey says, a relative bargain at $10.

                          Amok was great - I've had catfish dishes at Thmor Da - not Amok though - and they are always cooked to the point of near-toughness - good sauces but the fish itself hardly seems worth fighting through the bones for. This was totally different - the fish was succulent and almost custardy, and the spices and coconut milk made it very gentle-tasting but delicious.

                          Rice was excellent. Service was earnest and friendly but clearly still on the learning curve. One person had one of their martini-glass drinks - a Cambodian Sunrise? very colorful with the green and red. did NOT try. I had a "Floating Rock" - somehow the muddled grapes lured me in, but it was pretty thin and weak and just not very interesting. I think I'd stick with wine or beer for the moment. The place itself *looks* great - I'd walked by several times as they were doing the interior but it was still disorienting to think about the change from the old place to this one. It's an awfully big space and there weren't too many parties there last night from 7-9; I hope they start filling it up soon. I agree with the comments about the cocktail list and the overall concept confusion - I don't mind them charging the (much) higher prices given the real estate costs but I hope they work on menu descriptions and focus in on what is so distinctive about their food, rather than marketing themselves as yet another upscale-ish Asian fusion place.

                          18 Replies
                          1. re: MichaelB

                            I'm not a fan of the prices and they will lead me (and many other hounds, I think) to not go there as regularly as I might otherwise. If I could eat there for around $15-20 per person for food instead of $30+, I'd probably be there once a week. I'll probably go once a month, at most, as things stand now. When I have a craving for Southeast Asian, I'll still probably make the trip to Phien's in Lowell, instead of go to FR, which is walking distance from my house. And frankly, I'm kinda pissed about that.

                            For a highly anticipated opening like this, and one that's been like 18 mos. in process, I think they should be a lot busier early on. I think the prices definitely have something to do with it.

                            And if they spent all this money moving to the city and getting a full liquor license, they need to be filling those seats and making money on booze like every other place. They should also consider hiring a new bartender or bringing in a consultant to design a menu instead of offering "Sake Bomb - Sake, Sake, SAKE! into a pint glass with Sapporo", "The Phenom of Phnom Penh - Caramel vodka, Goldschlager, Apple Pucker, Frangelico, triple
                            sec, splash of pineapple juice and lychee juice," and "The Bamboo - Splash of Jagermeister, tequila (of choice), cucumber vodka, limejuice, grenadine and lychee juice."

                            Those second two I think would justify the arrest and detention of the bartender who created them.

                            Phnom Penh Restaurant
                            309 Westford St, Lowell, MA 01851

                            1. re: DoubleMan

                              Oy, who do they expect to attract with that cocktail menu: teenagers with fake IDs?


                              1. re: MC Slim JB

                                Seems like it.

                                Maybe this pairs perfectly with fish sauce and chile:

                                Farmer’s Mind Eraser - Caramel vodka, Bailey’s, soda water

                                They should retire at least half the cocktail menu. I wouldn't order anything on the list, but I could see people liking something like the Ginger Crush. Replace the sake with rye and I could get down with that - add a couple dashes of ango and it could be like a super-gingery old fashioned.


                                re: the pricing issue. Looking at the drink menu, I think they could get away with increasing prices on their drinks as a way to lower food prices.

                                1. re: MC Slim JB

                                  and therein lies the crux of the problem I see with the place. You combo their drink menu with their constant pimping to college students, and its clear what sort of atmosphere they're trying to foster in there.

                                  1. re: jgg13

                                    You saying you don't like the Kong? ;-)

                                    Hong Kong At Harvard Square
                                    1236 Massachusetts Ave, Cambridge, MA 02138

                                    1. re: emannths

                                      hahaha. actually i do have a special place in my heart for the kong, but at this point it's largely nostalgia driven :)

                                  2. re: MC Slim JB

                                    Its a family restaurant going from an inexpensive 20 seat dive in Revere with weekly karaoke to a place where landlords stick you up for rent, sweet talk about how you will make a mint and pretend to play nice providing financing for equipment, then suddenly take an interest in your business based on contract language (there is a reason why so many new restaurants are taking bets on Kendall). Not to mention the permitting delays which you don't have to the same degree in Revere. They barely had enough money to open their restaurant ; they definitely did not hire a menu consultant nor mixology specialist. Its a pretty good bet that the cocktail list came from a friend of the family or family and heck, some 21+ year olds in Revere, Everett, Malden, and Lynn drink that stuff -- I personally know a few. :-) (And despite being a rocky "soft" opening, at least Facebook has given them a way to get their name out.) The FR of Revere is gone, but being in Central the next Brother Cleve might happen on them who knows, and if they can get their business on track I think the "new FR" may ultimately be different than what they have shown on the soft opening.

                                    1. re: itaunas

                                      I hope that's true. Letting them realize that early by reading boards like this could/should help.

                                      1. re: itaunas

                                        don't get me wrong. as a local resident i hope for the best, and could definitely see them go in a direction that I like. However, my belief is that you can tell the sort of environment a place aspires to be by the way they advertise themselves - and when a lot of their PR seems designed to appeal to the college/frat/etc crowd, that's not exactly what I hope for when I think of them transforming the way you describe. To steal from emmanths joke above, that sounds like a fancier hong kong.

                                        1. re: jgg13

                                          You know, there are a lot more of them than there are of us. I fancy the idea of sophisticated, firey-hot Cambodian chow, but that just may not really pay the bills all that well, without appealing to the masses.

                                          1. re: Bob Dobalina

                                            Last Friday there were only about 10 people in the restaurant at 7:00 when I left. I guess it hasn't caught on yet. Or maybe it's packed at 11 when DJ Slipwax is spinning.

                                            1. re: Bob Dobalina

                                              That's basically my point. If I were an owner and my only motivation was to make some bucks, I'd go that route as well because it pays the bills. Doesn't meant that I wouldn't expect the CH type folks to bitch about it.

                                      2. re: DoubleMan

                                        eight of us dined welll for $19 per person. which I found to be fair value for Cambridge (high for lowell or revere). Having a group helps with the price.

                                        1. re: gourmaniac

                                          All I can say is that the two of us split two mains (tiger tears and the pickled fish dip), an app & 2 ice coffees. After tax & tip it was about $60. While we were both pleasantly sated, neither of us were stuffed. I'm generally about quality over quantity, but the quality wasn't to the point where I was willing to spend that much money for that level of fullness.

                                        2. re: DoubleMan

                                          a trip way up there costs some time and gas and wear and tear on the car; how do you value your time?.

                                          1. re: cambridgedoctpr

                                            I like to spend time with my fiancee and eating good stuff. That time is better spent for me going to Lowell than FR, especially when even after factoring in gas, I think I save some by going to Lowell. I'd have no problem driving even further for their papaya salad. (It's my gold standard, and if anyone has had better in the area, I'd love to know.)

                                            I also really like the owner's daughter at Phien's who runs the FoH. She's much more delightful than the guy we had at FR, who was a total brah.

                                            1. re: DoubleMan

                                              For $25 2 people can stuff themselves with great Cambodian at Simply Khmer in Lowell and still take home enough leftovers for 1 more meal.

                                        3. re: MichaelB

                                          man, i'm getting what you got. sounds perfect! thanx much.

                                        4. I know that it's not cool to admit it, but I've got a lot of love for Kowloon. The pu-pu is standard-issue fried stuff and the usual malarky, but the Saugus Wings are always worth the trip and the awesomely tacky interior. Wish the tiki drinks weren't so pre-mixed.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: Boston_Otter

                                            Most of my dining experiences at Kowloon were late nights as a teenager and the food was ok (nothing special) back then. Not much has changed over the years. However, the Saugus Wings are addictive. I only go back once or twice a year when I get a craving for these wings.