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Aug 9, 2012 04:02 AM

Eastern Standard... standard issue

On a recent trip to Boston, I had dinner with my husband and two others at Eastern Standard. I had eaten there a few years ago, and liked it then, not so much this time.

Positives: One of the best things we had was a little bowl of pickled vegetables served with a limp basket of bread that was too soft for a French restaurant. The Saturday night Veal Chop special with potatoes rosti was delicious! A hefty chop, perfectly cooked medium rare with a crsipy potato cake.

On the down side: We had an overly enthusiastic server. As we were reading the drink menu he intervened and asked us what kind of drinks we liked so he could recommend them for us. In my case, I said I liked mojitos and in fact that was what I was going to order, but he said I would really really like a drink they had called an Old Cuban (or something like that). It tasted to me like orange cough syrup, so I sent it back and ordered a mojito. Every dish we ordered he announced was the best thing on the menu or some other superlative.

Beef heart meatballs had good flavor, but they were very dry and overcooked. The tomatoes in a caprese salad were vine ripe and fresh but the cheese was dull and rubbery. Rigatoni entree was very dry with pasty sauce. Tagliatelle with pesto had good flavor but there was lack of care cooking the pasta which was stuck together in several spots. It ruined a good thing. Because this was a special occasion, I decided to order a dessert for us all to share, creme brulee. Looked good with fresh berries on top, and had a nice crunch sugar top. But the creme was standard issue pudding.


1. Pickled veggies
2. Eh bread
3. Orange Cuban
4. Good mojito
5. Veal Chop
6. Dry rigatoni
7. Misfortunate tagliatelle
8. Standard issue creme brulee

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  1. O boy now you've done it. The eastern standard group of regular bloggers wil be very unhappy with you. I like it here but if it closed I wouldn't miss it. If you speak I'll of Neptune oyster, you will really disrupt the universe.

    12 Replies
    1. re: libertywharf


      Seriously just look at that rigatoni.... appetizing? Also the bread was like Wonder bread. Not kidding. I agree with the comment that "I'm glad it's there." I remember Kenmore Square back in the days of The Rathskeller, a/k/a The Rat, and Eastern Standard is a huuuuge step up. Unless they vamp up the menu, it's going to the bottom of the list for my future visits to Boston.

      On the flip side, we had brunch at Mistral the next morning and it was perfection. Another post on that later.

      1. re: TrishUntrapped

        C'mon, you are kidding about the bread, or else you never ate Wonder bread. I grew up on stuff, and the bread pictured above is nothing like it. I have had that exact bread on occasional visits to Eastern Standard and find it quite tasty - firm crust, nice grain.. Yes, if you are expecting a baguette you will be disappointed, but I don't think they are trying to be an authentic French bistro. I do agree that their pasta dishes need some work - go elsewhere if you are in the mood for good pasta.


        1. re: smtucker

          There was a period, a couple of years, as I recall, when the Hoodoo Barbecue was located on the ground floor of The Rat; it eventually moved up Beacon Street into the space that is now An Tua Nua. Garrett Harker's office is located approximately where The Rat's old stage was.

          I got a charcuterie plate at ESK the other night late, after the Sox: it was really good. Highlight was a blood bologna, but there was a lot on that board to love. Friend got a flat-iron steak frites, also very nice. I tend to stick to reliables like roasted marrow, offal plates, frisee salad, cheese. I guess pastas are a dodgier bet. Always outstanding cocktails.

          1. re: MC Slim JB

            I'm also in the camp of sticking to a few tried and true dishes at Eastern Standard. The steak tartare (which I think is the best in the city that I've tried), the charcuterie plate, the offal, and of course, the awesome cocktails.

            Jimmy Ryan, mandolin player extreme (ex-Blood Oranges member) was the cook at The HooDoo BBQ at the Rat, which did indeed, rock (just like the club). I miss the Rat so much, the only bar I've ever been to where the carpet (downstairs) was sticky!

            1. re: kimfair1

              I've been on a steak tartare kick recently (had ES last night). It was good. Very finely ground (I prefer hand chopped) but well seasoned and delicious.

              It was worthy but didn't beat my current favorite, the one at Russell House. Not for the faint of heart, loads of garlic, heavily seasoned, nice chunky hand cut. Give it a try.

              1. re: Klunco

                Haven't had it at Russell House. Thanks for the heads up, I'll definitely try it next time I'm there.

              2. re: kimfair1

                Easy mistake to make, but Jimmy Ryan, mandolinist, and James Ryan, barbeque chef, are two different people.

                1. re: katzzz

                  Damn! I thought it was weird, but someone told me that, and I repeated it without confirmation. Thanks for the clarification!

                2. re: kimfair1

                  I agree completely, my favorite tartare as well, and the frites are superb. I've also had very good experiences with charcuterie and offal dishes.

                  1. re: cods

                    this was our dinner there last night: the tartare which came with a small serving of frites. charcuterie plate, the frisee salad and a flatbread with tomatoes and olives. au provence cocktail to start and a bottle of ch. pradeaux bandol rose. everything was delicious and the place was super jammed before the springsteen show. food came out quickly, and our server, who kept getting jostled and bumped by the throngs, remained sweet and friendly.

                    i can't remember the last time i ordered from the center column of the menu -- always the side columns and i have never been disappointed.

                    1. re: hotoynoodle

                      ditto, except when my grandson comes with us because he loves the burger. otherwise its the bone marrow, the offal of the day, maybe the charcuterie, and the frisee salad, hold the hazelnuts, and we share these - always happy and I'm defintely a fan of the service - rather have over-perky than dead sullen!

              3. re: QCumber

                Crust wasn't firm. And thank you for your rec to go elsewhere.

          2. I love the cocktails at Eastern Standard, but have not really been impressed with the food. It's fine, but for some reason I have almost always gotten food that's either way over seasoned or way under seasoned. Still, I'm glad it's there...

            3 Replies
            1. re: maillard

              The one exception to my lack of excitement about Eastern Standard's food is the butterscotch bread pudding. That is maybe the best dessert I've ever had. So tasty!

              1. re: maillard

                the one exception for me is the house potato chips w/ onion dip

              2. re: maillard

                Yes, we have had meals there where things were over seasoned to the point of being inedibile.

              3. Just FYI, an Old Cuban is basically a Mojito with sparkling wine instead of club soda.

                7 Replies
                1. re: Klunco

                  Klunco, that sounds good. Mine was orange as you can see in the pic plus it had herbs of some kind other than mint.

                  1. re: TrishUntrapped

                    Maybe it was a riff on an Old Cuban then, bummer that it didn't seem to work. If there was one thing I could nitpick them about cocktail wise, I find their cocktails a bit over sweetened (but I have a low sweetness tolerance), which may explain your cough-syrup taste. I do know they are happy to adjust and I know most of it is based on their audience.

                    That said, and having just had dinner at ES last night for the first time in a while, I'm still a big fan. I think though it has to do with expectations. Given their prices, I really compare them mostly to other upscale pubs/bars. I mean a Brasserie at the end of the day is really just a beer-hall that serves classic "Brasserie" dishes (steak tartare, oysters, etc.) and serves food all the time. They are not really a French restaurant per se, but seem more influenced by Parisian Brasseries. This is one area where I think the American interpretations (ie. Balthazaar in NY or Eastern Standard here in Boston) have taken a French concept and improved upon it. Sure the rooms in classics like Bofinger, Julien, and Balzar are pretty to sit in, but the food is seriously mediocre, the wine lists boring, cocktails non-existent, and the service nothing to write home about. Before the FLO group bought up all the Brasseries in Paris, most were on their way to going out of business.

                    Where I think ES excels is well made cocktails, an interesting and well priced wine-list, engaged, friendly, and knowledgable service (if sometimes a bit over-the-top as you mentioned), a nice atmosphere, and reliable, if "standard," food. If someone didn't drink, didn't care about service or atmosphere and only cared about food would I send them to ES? Probably not. But taken as a whole picture I think they do a lot of things right at a reasonable price.

                    Anyway, great report and photos!

                    1. re: TrishUntrapped

                      The orange color in an Old Cuban comes from using amber, not white, rum and Angostura bitters. The green specks probably were mint and are expected in an Old Cuban.

                      I can understand rejecting an Old Cuban if you were in the mood for the light refreshment of a mojito, but here's a thought on experiencing cocktails: Give them time and more than one or two sips. I find that cocktails -- and my appreciation of them -- change as the drink sits in a glass. Sometimes the drink and I both need a few minutes to get to know each other. Surprisingly often, a cocktail will get better and better with every sip -- what at first seemed strange or strong starts to make sense to my palate. In your case, I suspect that you really wanted a mojito and were put off by the taste of something stronger. But since the Old Cuban and mojito are, in fact, closely related, I bet you could learn to love the OC.

                        1. re: katzzz

                          I don't like the Old Cuban at ES either. And based on your photo, Trish, that one had way too much Angostura in it. And of course everything tastes (looks, sounds) better the more sips of alcohol you take! I think you're the only person besides me who isn't keen on the cocktails at ES. I find their champagne cocktails to be pretty good (excluding the Old Cuban), but all the others I've tried have been mediocre.

                          I disagree with the butterscotch bread pudding love, too. It's like a flavored hunk of bread. Where's the pudding?

                          Also agree that the service can be overzealous.

                          But I still love their grilled cheese, fries, strawberry shortcake, tarte tartin, and the atmosphere, which feels more festive than most white-table-cloth places.

                          1. re: pollystyrene

                            on the whole I like that overzealous service compared to the possibilities and I find that ESK has held up remarkably well over time. I don't eat bread pudding and I don't drink much but I know I posted about this lovely bit of service: the waitress overheard my husband saying he loved the frisee but for the additionof hazelnuts which he found odd. The bill came with the frisee removed and the waitress said we don't want you paying for something you didn't enjoy. We were embarassed; we had enjoyed it but would have liked it better without the hazelnuts and hardly considered it anything to complain about. The point is, I'll take the "overtrained" chirpy staff here any day because they have also been trained to care about customer satisfaction. And I still consider the roasted bone marrow and most of their offal and charcuterie offerings among the best I've had anywhere. I love that I can bring my grandson here for a great burger while I enjoy bone marrow and we're both happy. So, while I'm sorry you didn't like it better, it stays on my regular rotation where it's earned its place. as for the creme brulee, the first time I had creme brulee was at willi's wine bar in Paris where they called it cambridge boy's pudding. I loved it then, and I love it now but it is, after all, pudding.

                            1. re: teezeetoo

                              I've been around the block when it comes to creme brulee and sometimes it's pudding, and sometimes it's ethereal.