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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.