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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.

                      3. We ate at ECG last night, and fwiw, it looks like they're no longer calling that sandwich a banh mi. It's just a "sandwich" now. It may have seen some other tinkering too--we didn't order it, and I didn't look at the description too carefully, but I did see it at another table.

                        Otherwise an excellent meal as usual, the service was oddly inattentive--it was hard to find our waitress sometimes, and the beer I ordered took a while to show up. I kinda wonder if someone called in sick or something--they seemed a little shorthanded. Nonetheless, the food came from the kitchen piping hot.

                        We got an appetizer of steamed razor clams and then ordered some grilled bread to take care of the big bowl of buttery, garlicky sauce they came in. My wife was in the mood for scallops, so she went with the standard shrimp + scallops entree, which was good as usual, but the noodle component was a little different and definitely spicier than she remembered (not in a bad way, at least for us). I got the fried catfish special, which was an entire large fillet with a magnificent crust and almost fluffy flesh, and came with ECG standbys, fried sweet potatoes and a huge pile of garlicky sauteed greens.

                        We may be more forgiving of ECG's...quirks than others, but to us the place remains an uber-dependable place with fantastic seafood.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: emannths

                          I'm glad to hear that dinner was still good here. I went for brunch on Sunday which in the past I have always enjoyed.

                          We arrived at 11:15 and the place was only about half full which is definitely a departure from my past memories of waiting for at least 20 minutes for a table. The bloody mary's are still awesome here. So the outing started off great.

                          Nothing was terrible but overall I left feeling a little disappointed. We sat near the kitchen. The atmosphere in the room and in the kitchen was rather subdued. I certainly missed the liveliness of my previous visits to ECG. A visit to ECG for brunch in the past was like a little tropical vacation. They used to have reggae pumping in the background... yesterday I could barely hear the music.

                          Next, despite the half empty restaurant, our orders took kind of a long time to come out... maybe a half hour?. The manager was very nice and came to check on us several times. He even brought some corn bread out to us... but it was a little late for that since our meals came out about 2 minutes later.

                          The food itself was just ok. Not bad but not great either. I had the smoked duck rellenos which in the past has been awesome. This time it was a little soggy and way too cheesy. The salsa and the braised greens were the highlight of that dish. MRs enchilada was good but he did get a few gristle-y bits of meat in there.

                          I hope they get their act together but I can't say I'll be rushing back.

                        2. They're now (as of today) serving Saturday lunch. I happened to be walking by and saw the posted menu. The hostess said it was unannounced, and it did seem to be mostly "friends and family," with everyone full of energy and enthusiasm. My catfish po boy had the great fried catfish others have mentioned, although the large and very crusty roll made it hard to eat as a sandwich; deconstructed it was still really good. A side of spicy red beans could have been cooked a shade longer, not a fatal flaw. The menu had a few raw items, a few "small plates" (including the tuna taco), sandwiches (including the pork belly), and a couple platters, and I'm pretty sure the blood mary bar was available. I hadn't been here in years and was glad I stopped by.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: Aromatherapy

                            thanks for letting us know. Chris's interview in the Globe indicated they would open for Sat. lunch and I'm glad to know that is happening!

                          2. I had no idea ECG had been sold and went there for my birthday yesterday...terrible. Had the BBQ...everything was lukewarm and, worse, completely not tender. It could have been any nondescript BBQ place anywhere. The BBQ plates are limited to beans and coleslaw...if you want another side you have to buy it (as far as I know, didn't ask if you could substitute). The ribs get placed on top of the beans, making it very hard to eat them. It was very bad.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: observor

                              We were there on Sunday for my SO's birthday. She got the pulled pork plate, and about 1/4 of was fat. However, their service has always been top notch, and they handled it like a champ, by bringing her a sizable bowl of pulled pork that was lean, as well as comping the entire dish.

                              They also got rid of our absolute favorite dessert - the guava flan. It was delightful and not overly eggy. The texture of the flan was more like pannacotta... a flannacota, if you will.


                            2. It is with great dismay that I now throw dirt on the grave of what was once among my favorite places in the city. I loved ECG, like with a passion. I loved the Mahi dish, the inner beauty, the Hell Bones and always loved the specials. I went recently, it was a rare night out as we now have two kids, and was so fired up that Jerk Chicken was a special. I thought if anyone in the city can do it right it's ECG.

                              What I got was two pathetic skinless, boneless breasts with a thin layer of flavorless jerk sauce. No heat, no flavor, no eye watering and no begging for a glass of milk. I couldn't have been more disappointed and I won't likely be going back any time soon.

                              I'm truly saddened by the precipitous fall of this place. I know that it had it's detractors on this board but there aren't too many places doing fish and southern food well in that kind of a setting. It was a nice balance between a dive bar and a very good restaurant. With nights out rare these days I simply can't waste them in uninspired food.

                              9 Replies
                              1. re: ChickenBrocandZiti

                                That's a shame, but it is what we were all afraid of. I haven't been since the switch over personally.

                                Has anyone had the tuna tacos. Are those still good if I stop at the bar for old time sake to say goodbye?

                                1. re: Gabatta

                                  Geez - wish I had found this thread BEFORE dining at ECG last night....I am so disappointed!!!!

                                  I knew about the ownership change but had no idea just how far the once so-mighty food has fallen...

                                  The greeting and service was mostly solid and pleasant for 7:45p dinner on Wed. Red Flag #1: Only the front dining room by the kitchen was in use - pretty much NO ONE at the bar or eating that room and the Volcano lounge was clearly shuttered and dark.

                                  Red Flag #2: Server provided friendly introduction but provided no pickles and walked away for at least 15 minutes.

                                  Red Flag 3#: We were excited to order a dozen of the Island Creek Oysters on the blackboard at the raw bar - it had always been a highlight in prior years. Surprise! only PEI oysters available tonight in spite of the chalk talk. OK - no raw bar for us. We ordered a Wet Bone each as an app. They came - looking gray and lukewarm with some congealed but flavorful sauce on top - the ribs were nice specimens, but not tender, smoky, and falling apart as I expected. There was a long wait after this, so after two requests, we finally did get a small bowl of the pickles - and they are unchanged and still delicious - maybe that's why they are hoarding them now....?

                                  Red Flag #4: The mains are generally $25-$30 each now, so this actually RAISED expectations...but common sense prevailed and 2 of 3 of us ordered a combo of apps and sides to diversify risk and save a few $$$

                                  KA-BOOM: Each and every plate served to us (probably 10-12 in total), with the exception of the soggy, lukewarm fries, was SO INCREDIBLY SALTY THAT IS WAS ALMOST INEDIBLE - we are not shy about salt and actually love it but this was insane! The beloved tuna tacos had nice little bits of seared tuna smothered by the saltiest greens / sauce you can ever imagine and wrapped in soft, gargantuan tortillas - the two tacos became one of only the tuna in a tortilla and it was just about OK but still salty. We were unable to get beyond a forkful of the seared greens or brussel sprouts (topped with way too much of what looked like that Kraft parmesan in a green can - blech!) The rice and beans were edible and yes, that is praise. The shrimp and grits was OK as long as you only ate the grits - the shrimp has also been showered in salt several times. And so on and so on...

                                  To the floor manager's partial credit, he noted the unfinished food all over our table and inquired if everything was OK - I told him that literally everything except the fries was oversalted - he said "I will have to let the kitchen know" - and he comped the two orders of seared greens we hadn't eaten. It was an easy decision to skip dessert (Harpoon IPA over Bacon Ice Cream - really? or a triple brownie blast topped with every syrup in the house - nope) and leave. Our bill before tip was $150 for three including two lame cocktails and a pitcher of watery, oversweetened sangria.

                                  RIP ECG - you were once amazing and I really miss you, but I can't come back again after this....

                                  1. re: rlh

                                    My several experiences there since the ownership change have been very disappointing. The Sat. lunch menu was ok at first but is now very minimal. (though I thinking adding Sat. lunch was a great innovation). The pulled pork is decent, but you have to ask for the Eastern Carolina sauce...it comes with no sauce, and if you didn't know they had it, you wouldn't know to ask. Same for the Inner Beauty sauce. You can get it, but you have to know to ask.

                                    The brunch menu no longer has the duck rellena we loved.....it was a special at brunch the last time we went. We were excited to see it and ordered it only to discover it is nothing like the original and tasted only of fat. The server noticed and took it off the check. I can't remember the food item, but the time before that we were there, it was inedible, again the server noticed and comped it.

                                    We talked to one server who had never heard of Chris Schlesinger. She was fine as a server, and I know this isn't a corporation that trains in culture of the place, but we found it odd since the cookbooks are still on display.

                                    It's great they notice and comp, but it would be far better to have good food!

                                    I understand that Chris needed to move on, but I agree, RIP ECG, we will keep our memories and never go back.

                                    1. re: rlh

                                      To validate this post a bit further - I received a long and thoughtful personal email on Feb 9 from the manager Kyla following my OpenTable comments that included a number of detailed questions from Kyla who genuinely seemed to care about ECG's service and reputation, along with a gracious offer of a gift certificate for a do-over on their part if we would return again.

                                      I spent significant time and replied in great detail on Feb 26 and accepted the offer of the gift certificate...

                                      There has been no response to that email nor have I received said gift certificate.

                                      RIP ECG again...now you really are dead to me.

                                        1. re: rlh

                                          Went to ECG recently and I got the sense that it was all hands on deck for the staff - I think they are trying to right a listing ship.

                                          That said, the food we had was...well, some of it was ok - dozen oysters, wet bone, BBQ shrimp nicely charred.

                                          But some of the chow was just poorly conceived...the shrimp came with a corn salsa...stop there! Sweetness of the corn played well with the smoky char on the shrimp. But then it was piled atop a sweet potato mash. The mash itself was tasty, but the sweet atop sweet lessened the dish.

                                          Bigger issue with a cod special with a Dungeness crab mash (?) - I felt bad because I suggested my DW order this and it was terrible. The crab was a grayish slop that hid the fish underneath there was so much, and it was just sort of sweet and characterless. Just not sure what the point if it was and it made the cod just a complete afterthought.

                                          Our other diner got fish and chips and the fries were limp and the fried fish not terribly crispy.

                                          The sum of these minor missteps plus knowing how great the prior cooking used to be plus the relatively higher price by a couple of bucks just bums me out. ECG used to sparkle and sing with flavor and it has just sort of lost its way.

                                          1. re: Bob Dobalina

                                            That's excellent writing and that last paragraph really pulls it all together in a vivid way. thx much. R.I.P.

                                    2. re: ChickenBrocandZiti

                                      Wow that sucks. Boneless breasts with jerk sauce slathered on it is my Jerk Chicken nightmare.

                                      Must be a whole bird, cooked low and slow, and obviously with the skin on... so, so sad.

                                      1. re: StriperGuy

                                        Totally agree, and totally what I expected. I'm heartbroken.