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Trip Report from July 4th weekend- The Good, Bad and the Ugly (LONG)

We took the recommendations from Chowhounds and had some good and some bad, but overall we enjoyed our trip to Boston. We got in late on Wednesday night and only had time for a quick bite at a little place near the river so we could watch the fireworks. I can’t remember the name of the place and it wasn’t very good. The next day, we headed over to Neptune Oyster. We started out with four different kinds of oysters and one razor clam. I didn’t care for the salty oysters, much prefer the sweetness of our Gulf oysters. The Lobster Roll was by far the best thing I put in my mouth the hole weekend. Holy cow! Blows away any shrimp po boy in NOLA. It really was everything I was hoping for. The wines by the glass were a bit pricey and we ended up spending $110 on lunch. After lunch, we found our first cannolis at Bova’s Bakery. Wow! The Florentine cannoli is a revelation. Can’t believe how good it was. I’ll take that over a beignet any day.
Thursday night was a big disappointment. Someone had recommended Genarro's 5 and we were in the mood for traditional Italian red sauce. Everything about the place was a little bit off. We were seated upstairs without a view of the square and the waiter had to lean over me every time he poured water at the banquet behind us. The service was slow and inefficient, the music too loud and the menu was just dated. We ended up with a salad and gazpacho, followed by eggplant parmesan and a veal chop. The gazpacho was pretty good, the salad boring, the eggplant ok except the sauce was really watered down and the veal chop was so fatty it was almost inedible. After dinner, we grabbed our second cannoli of the day at Mike’s Pastry. The line was ridiculous, but we waited anyway. We loved the florentine so much that we got it again here. I thought the filling was a little too much, but I think maybe the quality of the cream was slightly better than at Bova’s. Overall I think I liked Bova’s crust a little better. I think the one at Mike’s was just too much, a little too over-the-top or maybe it was just a bad idea to eat cannoli’s twice in one day.
Friday I grabbed a quick bite in China Town at Wai Wai. It was exactly what a hole-in-the-wall Chinese place should be. The lo mein with roast pork was greasy, salty, yummy goodness. It took all of my willpower not to eat the huge portion ($6.50) to save room for Island Creek Oyster Bar before the Red Sox game.
I really liked the atmosphere of Island Creek. The industrial look and the wall of oyster shells were super cool and we were excited about the food. We passed on the Lobster Roll because it just didn’t look as good as the one at Neptune. Instead we got the littleneck clam appetizer which was very good, followed by the Lobster Roe Noodles and the special cornmeal crusted Cod Cheeks. My wife didn’t enjoy the fried fish that much, probably just ordered the wrong thing. I liked the lobster noodles, but I was hoping for a bit more lobster, especially after the generous portion at Neptune. The service was friendly and helpful, recommending a good beer to go with the meal.
We spent a lot of time in the North End and kept seeing the line at Regina’s Pizza so we stopped in here for lunch on Saturday. I liked the old-school atmosphere of the place and the pizza was priced right and came out pretty quickly. I had one of their specials- the puttanesca- and my wife built her own. My wife loved her pizza and I thought mine was pretty good. Not quite as good as New York pizza, but better than most of the pizza down here.
We saved our best meal for last and headed over to Cambridge for dinner at Craigie on Main. Unfortunately it didn’t live up to our expectations. My first impression was a little cold, being escorted to this half wall near the bar to order drinks. I would have much prefered to sit at the bar, especially after walking from Harvard Square. I kept asking about the open seats at the bar and finally the hostess acqueisced and let us sit there. It was fun watching the bartender make all these neat drinks. I had the Civilian made with mezcal, orange, lime, date molasses and thai peppers. It was good, but I expected it to be a little spicier. After we got seated, I noticed the partical board ceiling tiles which was a little surprising for such a highly acclaimed restaurant, but the lighting was good so it wasn't overly noticeable. When the server greeted us, she told us that she heard we were interested in the tasting menu. I had written on Open Table that my wife wasn’t huge on seafood and fish so as long as there was some meat on the menu, we would like to do it. We asked the server before ordering if she could tell us what was on the menu because WE WERE SEAFOOD-ED OUT and my wife wanted some meat. She said she wasn’t sure because it was whatever inspired the chef, but she asked if they could do a meat dish and they said yes. OK, well how bout wine-pairings? “Oh we don’t do that.” Since I didn’t know what we were eating, I decided on a bordeaux, which was very good, except that the first five things we ate were all fish. The amuse plate which was a little sardine on one, a shredded sockeye salmon and the third I think was some kind of trout. The second course was a bluefin tuna with red onion-shiso salsa, avocado, harissa-rose vinaigrette (best bite of the night) and then the third course was hamachi. Mine was warm and my wife’s was cold so not sure how it was supposed to be, but it was very fishy tasting and by this point my wife wasn’t really eating her meal. We were both really surprised that there was no soup or salad to break up all the fish. It just didn’t seem well-conceived. The fourth course wasn’t well-executed either. It was housemade pasta with fava beans and tripe. My bowl had about six fava beans, garbanzo beans and no tripe. My wife’s bowl had one fava bean and three pieces of tripe. They substituted the fifth course, which I think would have been the pork three ways for steak which is what my wife asked for. It was a strip steak cut into small pieces and wrapped around oxtail pastrami with forked potatoes and rapini. The steak was a little chewy and it wasn’t helped by the tough smoked pastrami. My wife barely touched hers. At this point, the manager made a visit to the table for the second time and asked if everything was okay. The first time we told him everything was fine, but this time we told him the truth. We were just very disappointed. It felt like there was very little thought involved in the preperation of this meal, like it was done a hundred times before. If someone tells you they don’t want a lot of fish, you would think a top chef could come up with something better, using the board full of local ingredients (I only saw two of them- the fava beans and the micro greens). He apologized and then they brought dessert- first was a palate cleanser of a 1/4 of a strawberry with cream followed by a sour milk panna cotta for me and a raspberry tart for my wife. Mine was really good, hers very dry and practically inedible.
The service throughout the meal was very attentive and the staff seemed genuinely concerned that we weren’t having a great meal. The manager came over with the bill and comped my wife’s entire meal and gave us a gift certificate to return. It was a very generous gesture and definitely the right thing to do. It’s unfortunate that we didn’t have a good dinner because they garner such high accolades that I’m sure they’ve done better. This could have been prevented if the server had just told us at the beginning that the menu is very fish-centric. I would have ordered the proper wine pairings or we could have ordered off the regular menu. Also, we asked if any of the tasting menu was the same as what was on the regular menu and we were told no. Actually, the pasta, steak, tuna and my dessert were all exactly the same as the regular menu.
A tasting menu is supposed to be about showcasing the chef’s talents for a select few patrons that want to pony up for a tasting menu. But here, half the restaurant was doing the tasting so all they’re doing is cranking out a few extra menu items and calling it a tasting. There’s nothing special about it. Maybe they shouldn’t offer the tastings on Friday and Saturday night and stick with their three course prixe fixe.
I know this is going to sound conceited, but we eat so well here in New Orleans that we often find ourselves disappointed when we travel to other cities, especially with fine dining where we pay about half the price for amazing food.

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  1. Thanks for the thorough report. Sorry you found it mainly disappointing. Boston is not a food-lover's destination. I'm reminded whenever I go to NYC and have delicious meals for significantly less money than they'd be in Boston...if you could find food that good in Boston. At least you had a great lobster roll and cannoli! I'm glad you were honest with Craigie. Sounds like they made a few bone-headed moves and maybe you've inspired them to clean up their act.

    1. I just want to thank you for taking the considerable time it took to write this report. It is so valuable for us to hear the details of your experiences so we can better advise others.

      1. It's interesting that many of your favorite experiences were at the less-fancy locations (Bova's, Wai Wai).

        Appreciate the feedback on Craigie - your Southern hospitality is showing by gently criticizing your server - she really fouled up.

        2 Replies
        1. re: Bob Dobalina

          Yes Bob. I enjoyed the things I can't get here- cannoli, good chinese food, lobster, good pizza.

          1. re: shanefink

            Had you told us, you would have gotten suggestions other than Regina’s and Wai Wai. But you did get good cannoli and lobster roll. Two out of four was not too shabby.

        2. Thank you for a great report: you tell it like it is and offer some great perspectives.

          I don't think you are conceited at all, just the opposite. You explained very well why a New Orleans (or any other famed food town) native may find cities like Boston underwhelming. Perhaps you let the enthusiastic recommendations here clouded your expectation.

          1. Thanks for such a thorough, detailed and honest report. Glad you called it as you see it. My own personal experience with Craigie on Main is that their brunch far outshines their dinners; I will happily go there for brunch anytime but they are off my list for dinner for some of the reasons you have stated so well.

            1. I've never been to Craigie....was always a bit skeptical about the enormous hype and the apparent ego size....I can't afford it anyway...but now I'm not at all regretful!

              1. Awesome report. Thank you so much for sharing. Now I don't feel so bad that I can't afford to go to Cragie.

                1. I concur with everyone else, great trip report. Honestly if you are looking for High End, Boston is underwhelming. Personally for special occasions outside of a few local favorites, Id much rather save our meals for when we travel out of town to other cities that do it much better.

                  As far as Craigie is concerned, I love it for Brunch and eating at the Bar. The Cocktails and some Bone Marrow and Crispy Pig Tails more than keep me happy. Full tasting menu though? I will typically pass.

                  On the other hand though, there are a great selection of lower end eats that make Boston a good place to eat in my humble opinion. The small sample size from your visit shows that is where the value is when eating here.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: Matt H

                    Or in the mid-range...the OP might have been better served doing the local/seasonal thing a few blocks away from Craigie at Rendezvous or Bondir, at a considerably lower price point.

                    1. re: robwat36

                      Very true, even when not factoring in price Bondir puts on as good if not better a show than Craigie.

                  2. I just got back from NOLA a few weeks ago, amazing food city. Highly recommend it as a foodie destination. I do think Boston's best does compare to NOLA but some of your destinations were misguided. Italian food just is never that good, in my opinion. You also missed out on a lot of the great ethnic food Boston offers. You had classic american chinese food but didn't get any of the legit stuff that Boston has in Chinatown. I feel like you would have benefitted from checking out Legal harborside and a place like Oleana.

                    I wanted to note, the service in NOLA is one of a kind and truly outstanding. Every nice restaurant down there blew us away. Basically every place treated us like L'Espalier in Boston, even if we were spending 30% of the bill L'Espalier would be. Boston doesn't have close to the same hospitality in most places and it was a rude awakening for us to come back here. Southern Hospitality is tried and true.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: AaronInBoston

                      i would never send someone from new orleans to legals. set up for sadness.

                      1. re: AaronInBoston

                        Compared to other cities I have lived in or visited, Boston sucks when it comes to hospitality towards customers.

                        The attitude of restaurants wait staff is not an exception, but the norm. Department store sales clerks, grocery check out cashiers, etc. all treat you like they are doing you a favor when you spend your hard earned dollars in their stores. Even when you thank them after you pay, they won't have the courtesy to reciprocate. And then there are the public servants in DMV, bus and train drivers ...

                        1. re: AaronInBoston

                          Having grown up in Boston and lived in New Orleans for 5 years in my 20s, I do have to say that the overall nice-ness of people down there totally freaked me out at first. It took me a full year before I stopped being suspiscious of random strangers that were friendly. It just doesn't happen up here in the northeast.

                        2. Thanks for the report. Sorry the Craigie experience was disappointing. We had a disappointing tasting ourselves there- we were given course after course of offal, while watching seafood and fish courses make their way to other tables. I would have killed for your menu! I still love the restaurant, but we never go with tastings or Chef's whimsy anymore.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: Parsnipity

                            Perhaps it's part of the whimsy that Maws will serve you exactly what you don't want.

                            The mathematician G.H. Hardy used to carry an umbrella to cricket matches hoping to trick god into making it not rain. In that spirit, what you need to do if you want the inner organs of beast and fowl at Craigie is to limp in as if you have gout. If you want fish, walk in smelling of it and saying loudly that you never want to see another fish as long as you live.

                          2. you can order off the menu at Craigie if you are not interested in the chef's whim.

                            The servers try to be flexible, but the management is not very accomodating. And the wine list is not terribly interesting.

                            (That said, I was suprised when I ate at Le Bermadin in NYC and was told that unlike 11 Madison or Jean-Georges or Per Se, BYOB was not allowed. The meal was excellent.)

                            1. Thanks for this great post!

                              Interesting to hear that you liked Bova's better than Mike's (or at least that's what I took away from it). Is Bova's still open 24 hrs?

                              Also cool that you tried Wai Wai — I haven't heard anyone mention that place in quite a while!

                              3 Replies
                              1. re: Dave MP

                                As I was saying to Nab some time back, Wai Wai would make a great PDT-style speakeasy...you would have to push your way through the hanging ducks and roast pigs to get to the speakeasy

                                1. re: Dave MP

                                  Mike’s was just a little too much. We actually had another cannoli on Saturday afternoon from Bova’s. Just to clarify, we had friendly service everywhere we went in Boston, especially at Craigie. But, the problem seemed to be that they were not well-informed. Also, Tony Maws was floating around the dining room the whole time which is cool, but ya kinda wish he was a little more hands on with the food.

                                  1. re: shanefink

                                    Thanks for the review and the outsider-looking-in perspective. I think COM needs to up their game again, they be snoozing on the laurels of late. I did sit next table over from Peter Wolf last time I was there and did ask our server "I'll have what they're having" when it was clear the rocker was being fawned over. I guess royalty has its privileges. Thanks again for your review and I will always be so fond of NOLA because it's the only place I know where polite lunch conversation consists of either what you had for dinner last night or what you might be having for dinner later.

                                2. LOL, I feel the same way about your oysters as you feel about ours! Great informative report.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: Bellachefa

                                    I know, I’ve heard that. I think that’s just a taste thing. Some people find the gulf oysters to be bland. My wife and I were actually lucky enough to visit Knysna, South Africa ten years ago and we both agreed that they have the best oysters on the planet. No sauce needed.

                                  2. Thanks so much for the informative report. I think I could take some tips from you in being an adventurous (and polite) diner!

                                    As for Craigie, I went there eons ago when it was a tiny little charming place with decent food served in an unpretentious environment (a basement). When I visited them in their new spot, I found it too be very cold, the price point too high and the food no longer as delicious. Granted, this is just one person but I found myself missing La Groceria (the former restaurant which occupied that spot) which had been a loud, fun place with good Italian food and good drinks.

                                    I think maybe you should have snuck in for a drink + a bite to eat at the Plough and Stars. You'd have been able to enjoy some local music, too and maybe get to meet some local characters.

                                    1. "I liked the lobster noodles, but I was hoping for a bit more lobster, especially after the generous portion at Neptune."

                                      In defense of ICOB, I never thought this was supposed to be a lobster meat-centric meal. "Lobster roe" in the title is meant to describe the noodles, and it seems advertised to feature the short rib as the predominant protein with the lobster meat almost a garnish. OP may have misinterpreted the dish. Just think it's unfair to compare the amount of lobster in that dish to the amount of meat in a lobster roll.

                                      7 Replies
                                      1. re: chevrelove

                                        unfortunately there's very little short rib in it as well, at least in my experience

                                        1. re: barleywino

                                          Found this picture of the Lobster Roe Noodles, which looks about right to me. (In the end, it's still a "pasta" dish.) http://www.realfoodtraveler.com/2011/...

                                          1. re: chevrelove

                                            funny, the version I had looked nothing like that...watery noodles with tiny token bits of lobster and short rib...for $27, i felt cheated

                                            1. re: barleywino

                                              This has been my experience too, barleywino. ICOB isn't bad, but I'm not a fan of the food.

                                              1. re: rlove

                                                yikes, could it be yet another haunted location? starts out with a bang like Great Bay and then sinks?

                                            2. re: chevrelove

                                              Who took that picture and the ones here: http://www.realfoodtraveler.com/2011/... ? There are no credits (unless I missed them). If they were supplied by the restaurant, I'd take them with a pinch of salty roe.

                                              1. re: FoodDabbler

                                                Mine had about half the amount of lobster as that one. Again, it tasted good, but for $27, I’d expect a little more substance.