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Apr 8, 2012 05:37 PM

The *NEW* East Coast Grill

Once upon a time, in the not-too-distant past, East Coast Grill was the darling of this board -- very much the (not a, but rather THE) board favorite.

But more recently (say in the last 5 years; perhaps a bit longer), many people concluded that ECG has jumped the shark, that it no longer was as fresh and excited and consistently delicious as we all once thought it to be.

Now, however, ECG has (or is soon to have) new owners -- long time ECG employees -- and I for one am wishing great success upon them. In that vein, I visited tonight for the first time in several months, and have the following comments, delivered in the hopes that some constructive feedback can help ECG return to its past glory.

Smoked n' grilled pork belly banh mi -- Ok, so I get that when ECG puts a banh mi on its menu, one shouldn't expect it to be exactly like what one would get in Chinatown or at the Super 88. Rather, I know full well that it's going to be some, hopefully creative, riff on a traditional banh mi. But using a soft sub roll rather than warm, crusty French bread is not a riff, that's just a poor product substitution. In the Vietnamese community, I understand that great care goes into selecting the proper bread to house a banh mi. It did not taste to me like the same care went into the ECG version. Also missing was the incredible crunch delivered by the plentiful Asian vegetables one expects in a banh mi. The ECG version had more of a smattering of veggies, not nearly enough to deliver that wonderful crunch. This sandwich, IMHO, needs to be completely rethought.

Crispy coconut fried catfish tacos -- Those who have spent as much time on this board as I have over the years know that Bostonians and Cantabrigians crave a good fish taco. Some want it to be just like the fish tacos one gets everywhere in San Diego; others of us just crave deliciousness, whether or not its true to the San Diego model. The ECG version wouldn't satisfy either group. The fish was lost in the heap of refrigerator cold and overly wet slaw, with too strong (at lest for my liking) of a pineapple flavor. The balance was just way off in every possible way: the balance of fish to slaw, guac and other filler, the balance of heat (hot fried fish) to cold (slaw and guac), and the balance of dry (once again, the fist) to wet (once again, the slaw).

Grilled corn on the cob -- One word of advice about serving vegetables (especially one as revered around these parts as corn on the cob) during the off season: don't.

I apologize to the new proprietors if this review sounds overly harsh; it is not intended to be. I am sincere when I say that I want ECG to be the success for the next 25 years that it was for its first. I just think it's going to take some dedication by the new owners to get it to where it needs to be.

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  1. I wonder whether the issue isn't that ECG has gone downhill but that it's largely stayed the same and been eclipsed by the likes of Neptune and ICOB. In a recent NY Times article, the departing owner discussed how customers reacted negatively when popular menu items were replaced or modified. (I for one would be pretty bummed if they stopped serving the tuna taco appetizer.) Under those circumstances, it's challenging to keep up with changing tastes, let alone push the envelope. Of course, as your post shows, the kitchen may not be ready to push the envelope either.

    1. thanks for this. good report and right intention. I wish them luck

      1. I agree with your telling of the history and the premise of the post 100%, but my recent experience was altogether different - all the chow was excellent, fresh and well thought-out - couple of specials (grilled shrimp over a risotto-like concoction, don't remember the second), all-veggie experience, wet bones among them. (I did not have any of the items you listed.) Hopefully, just an aberration.

        Re: non-traditional banh mi, does the one at Strip T's include crunchy vegetables? For some reason, I thought it did not, or at least not to the level of traditionals.

        14 Replies
        1. re: Bob Dobalina

          Crunchy daikon and carrot are the only things in there (OK, and mayo) that make it in any way a "banh mi." Otherwise it bears absolutely no resemblance to a banh mi. More specifically, it gets its heat from some kind of hot sauce instead of hot green chiles, it's on an Iggy's baguette instead of a Vietnamese style baguette, it's full of eggplant, etc.

          1. re: Luther

            Yeah, that's what I thought. To that end, if ECG had simply called it "yummy Smoked n' grilled pork belly bready goodness," it might not have set up the wrong expectations. Of course, if ECG expectations WERE to make an honest-to-goodness traditional banh mi, then that raises a whole other set of issues.

            1. re: Bob Dobalina

              I do think calling it a banh mi does set up certain expectations. It did include some sriracha-based aioli, so perhaps that was the only intended nod to a banh mi's Vietnamese heritage.

              1. re: Blumie

                I guess... mayo on a sandwich is not exactly Vietnamese specific though

                1. re: Luther

                  I meant the sriracha, not the mayo .... (or am I missing your humor?)

                  1. re: Blumie

                    I wasn't aware of a connection between banh mi and Sriracha, except that Vietnamese restaurants tend to offer cock sauce on the table. When you ask for "spicy" in a banh mi it should come from tiny hot fresh peppers...

                    1. re: Luther

                      Don't disagree. The point I was trying to make was that sriracha was the only thing of Vietnamese heritage in the sandwich. It wasn't banh mi-like at all.

                      1. re: Blumie

                        I guess, but Sriracha is not a Vietnamese style sauce, it's Thai. Huy Fong brand was started by a Vietnamese immigrant in Southern CA, but it's in the style of a Thai sauce.

                        1. re: Luther

                          Just to keep it going. I thought the original "mayo" reference was to Kewpie mayonaisse mixed with a little Siracha, which I thought was typical for bahn mi, no?

                          1. re: justbeingpolite

                            The mayo on the banh mis I've had at the various chinatown joints don't appear to have any siracha. I probably wouldn't notice it in any event due to the chopped chilis.

                            1. re: nsenada

                              I think you're right. I retract my previous post. Just thought I'd read that somewhere.

                            2. re: justbeingpolite

                              No, though it is typical for a delicious pile of spicy tuna!

                              1. re: Luther

                                AH!! Maybe that's what I was thinking of..

                            3. re: Luther

                              Just reread a great NYTimes article about American Sriracha, and am reminded that its origins are more Thai than Vietnamese. So then there's nothing particularly Vietnamese about the banh mi at ECG, other than its name!


            2. I was there a couple of weeks ago and I had a much better experience. The past couple of years things seemed just ok and the restaurant at brunches always looked a wreck. Kind of dirty and rushed service. I also had the pork belly bahn mi,. I think it's ok for a restaurant to have their own playful version. I also had the tacos and a catfish entree. I enjoyed my whole dinner and experience. I found there to be a fresh new energy and that the new owners wanted to create a sense of hospitality. We were greeted as soon as we walked in the door by the bartender with a big smile and a warm hello. Our waitress was wonderful and very helpful. The manager made the rounds and I thought to myself that they were trying hard to let their customers see that things were going in the right direction.

              2 Replies
              1. re: cherrytomato

                One thing I want to be clear about is that I never have had bad service at ECG. My suggestions about my meal last night notwithstanding, the service was superb, as it always is.

                1. re: Blumie

                  ABSOLUTELY.such a nice gang of folks.

              2. I wonder about the back story. Why did Chris sell his restaurant? Why did he walk from the Back Eddy? Why did he stop selling Inner Beauty? That was what made my salsa famous. Why???

                14 Replies
                1. re: Bellachefa

                  He sold the rights to inner beauty YEARS ago.

                  1. re: StriperGuy

                    But why? And who bought it? And why aren't they making it? I crave a bottle now and then, but don't have it in me to make a big batch of it myself. Both of them were my alltime fave condiment next to rooster sauce.

                    1. re: Bellachefa

                      If you eat at ECG or All Star Sandwich Bar, you can ask for some inner beauty on the side.

                      1. re: Blumie

                        I once bought a pint of it at All-Star. That was when Chris still owned it, but I wouldn't be surprised if they or ECG would sell it to you. As for the "backstory," I don't think there is one. Over a generation he has opened interesting restaurants, gotten them running and successful, and then sold them to others to flourish. ECG is 26 years old, he seems to just want to take a break and go surfing.

                      2. re: Bellachefa

                        bottled Inner Beauty (in another part of the country, probably aged in bottles a while) was a bit off - too mustardy, vs a giant bowl of it served as a condiment for a whole-pig roast at ECG - so much more bright & fruity. all the Inner Beauty recipes on the net are slightly different - cookbook excerpt, Seriouseats & NYTimes articles, and a photo of a scrawled recipe on a wall. i'm inclined to try the wall-scrawl recipe first but 5 lbs of habaneros is obscene

                        1. re: ix9

                          Got a link or photo for that wall-scawl? I haven't seen that version, and I'm always up for some quality time with a calculator to do some scaling.

                        2. re: Bellachefa

                          You can get very similar product in any store that carries Caribbean stuff. It's really just the classic Caribbean mustard/habanero/papaya hot sauce. Try tropical foods in Roxbury.

                          1. re: StriperGuy

                            The Haitian market across from ECG may have Matouk's sauces and there are other outlets on Cambridge street (several of the dozen convenience stores from Inman to Lechmere have it), as well as the bodegas on Columbia near Harvard St. La Internacional in Union has the 3 main ones. The basic West Indian sauce has some of the ingredients of IB (mustard, papaya) but is different, the Calypso sauce is a bit sweeter... mixing the two of them might be closer than one of the other but maybe sweeter than IB overall.

                            1. re: itaunas

                              I just want to put in a plug for the Windmill hot sauce from Barbados at Tite's Tropical (the little bodega on Norfolk St between Inman and Central Square). It's the best version of the West Indian hot sauce that I've ever had. Very hot, but not as spicy as Inner Beauty.

                            2. re: StriperGuy

                              striper, by any chance have you noticed if that caribbean store carries instant ginger tea granules? i recently used up my truly ancient jar and would like to get more.thx much.

                              1. re: opinionatedchef

                                Gosh, never noticed it, but will keep an eye out if I am anywhere likely. Give em a call.