Category Archives: Restaurant reviews


Actual Neopolitan pizza in Manhattan!

We were surprised in 2014 when we were in Naples for a pizza binge (the five most highly-regarded pizzerias, two of them twice, in three days) to discover that Starita had a new branch in New York City: Don Antonio by Starita on 50th just west of 8th Ave [website].  We resolved to give it a try (as we do all new promising pizzerias) and can now tell you the shocking news: it’s indistinguishable from what you’d get in Naples.  (This is shocking because with all the attention to true Neopolitan pizza in New York over the past five years, nothing we’ve seen hits the mark.  Roberta’s is probably the closest.)  Here’s the Margherita:

02-Margherita

Much of the result is probably due to this fine oven:

03-PizzaOven

 

We also tried the closest thing to my favorite pizza (mascarpone, speck and arugula) which was simply arugula on mozzarella:

04-Rucola

 

We recommend that you give it a try the next time you’re in the neighborhood!

This is a diner? (in Queens no less!)

We just came back from our last trip to NYC before heading off to Italy and Greece for the summer (blog here) but, before that, I have to report on a most unlikely find: the M. Wells diner located next to the Hunter’s Point stop on the 7 train in Queens. Here’s the outside:

The inside is about what you’d expect except for a decidedly modern-day hippie aspect:

The food is an amazing cross between retro diner fare updated for a foodie aesthetic and far-out variations on the familiar. We had two items which we are determined to reproduce at home and which we highly commend to your attention. The first was escargots on a marrow bone split lengthwise–absolutely brilliant:

Here’s a half-eaten view which gives a better idea about what’s going on:

The second item, equally compelling, was a “gravlax pie” with creme fraiche (the puff-pastry contains cubed potatoes heavily seasoned with dill):

We suggest that you hurry right over! Second best: ask me how I’m coming getting Fred the butcher to supply me with the marrow bones.

[I found out about M. Wells via Sam Sifton’s review in the Times; there’s an audio feature and a slideshow as well!]

Ah, New Orleans!

Just returned from three days in New Orleans (programming language conference) and thought you might like to see the most photogenic things I ate. I carefully researched the best local spots and wound up at Mother’s for their oyster po’ boy (very impressive):

I particularly enjoyed this sign hanging on the wall:

The second stop was the Bon Ton Cafe for their famous crayfish etouffee:

The final meal was at Emeril’s which offers the most spectacular lunch special for $19.99. For that price, in addition to soup, I sampled the grilled shrimp:

And the chocolaame eanut butter pie:

Check it out!

Back to Jean-Georges’s Market

After checking out the oriental rug auction at Skinner yesterday, I stopped at Market in the W hotel, eating at the bar. It was my third visit and I’m still a big fan of Jean-Georges. Started off with the butternut squash soup with mushrooms; a bit runnier than I had expected but the flavor was there with an undercurrent of onions:

Then the off-menu, first-of-the-season Nantucket scallops with a cranberry(!) vinaigrette, fairly tart and a nice play against the tiny dabs of wisabi on each scallop:

Finally, the “rice cracker crusted tuna [log] with citrus-chili emulsion;” the cracker crumbs are adhered by egg white(!) and flash fried to crispness:

Highly recommended for those who like adventuresome eating. Amusingly, the menu also contains a column with the heading “Simply Cooked”: all the proteins from the rest of the menu, simply pan-fried without any sauce. Sort of like going to Le Bernardin and ordering filet mignon!

Really Good Japanese: Basho

Attended the Culinary Guild of New England Supper Club tonight at Basho, a very large and serious Japanese restaurant on Boylston Street in the Fenway Park area. A remarkable meal which should be brought to the attention of other Japanese food lovers.

First course was home-made organic (?? — what would you call the other kind?) tofu with edamame and spicy tuna on a rice cracker. All terrific with the tuna a standout.

Second course was three skewered items from their grill: shitake mushrooms, pork belly around asparagus, and very nicely garnished pork slices. Each a delightful few mouthfuls.

Finally, an assortment of nigiri and maki such as I’ve never experienced. The nigiri were mackerel, salmon and yellowtail, each with a terrific garnish of, for example, cilantro aioli, jalapeno, etc. The maki were spectacular: tempura shrimp and crab, tuna around avocado, and soft shell crab inside “white tuna” (which is really a very white and oily variety of mackerel from Hawaii).

The tempura maki:

The tuna avocado maki:

Hamachi nigiri:

Saba nigiri:

And the incomparable soft-shell crab maki with white tuna:

Rush on over!

Menton: Boston’s Latest Try

As a relatively new member of the La Confrerie de la Chaîne des Rôtisseurs, an international culinary group, I attended their fall black-tie event last night at Menton, Barbara Lynch’s (and her financial backers’) bet that Boston is ready for really high-end dining. The four-course prix fixe menu goes for $95 while the chef’s seven-course tasting menu is $145; if you’d like wine with the latter, add $105 for a nice round $250 per person.

Happily, I was seated at the chef’s table in a hermetically-sealed room adjoining the kitchen where I could see all 17 of the kitchen staff doing their thing or, mostly, milling around waiting for the service of the next course. We had taken over the entire restaurant so the service was discontinuous and, given the four-hour length of the meal, there was a lot of downtime.

The meal began with a bang with this fine Butter Soup with meaty chunks of lobster and a littleneck clam. The nine black dots were called “caviar” on the menu. Don’t overlook the flower in the middle: I hope it was edible but at that size there’d be no harm done in any case!

The second course was “Shetland Salmon Chaud-Froid” with white sturgeon caviar and root vegetables: about as much salmon as one would get in two small slices of sashimi, just barely cooked and coated with horseradish flavored crème fraîche. Unfortunately, the minuscule amount of horseradish could not be tasted (a serious error) but I thought the idea was wonderful and I’ll be trying to duplicate the intention at home very soon. (We had a good discussion of whether the salmon had been cold-steamed, starting with cold boullion, or simply plopped into a microwave for sixty seconds. Could have gone either way.)

Then on to the East Coast Halibut in a corn velouté with chanterelles and scallion. The fish was properly seared and the corn velouté was tasty (if a bit weak) but the filled pasta (not described on the menu) was tasteless even if pretty.

Onward to the pheasant pot au feu with a quenelle-shaped forcemeat blob said to contain both foie gras and truffles. As you can infer, I tasted neither in that dry, unappetizing excuse for using up the legs of the pheasant. The pheasant breast was delightful and the vegetables, all different, were quite competent.

Finally, the meat course: Short Rib of Beef, beef tongue, mille-feuilles potatoes and “bone marrow” (could that have been the green stuff?) with a thin slice of mushroom masquerading as a truffle. All perfectly fine if a tad unimaginative. I do have to give them credit for serving tongue (one of my favorite things) and, I suppose, credit for cleverly using only the designation “langue de boeuf” on the menu.

The dessert; ah, the dessert, described as “Apple Tarte Tatin.” One of my sharpest pet peeves is the restaurant practice of using the name of a well-known dish to describe a home-grown variation which is wide, wide of the mark. As you can easily see, the thing that was served bore no more relationship to Tarte Tatin than that they both contained apples and that an unsuccessful attempt had been made to caramelize these. The vanilla glace was good and the apple chip is a wonderful trick that we’ll demonstrate at our October 6th meeting.

Loose ends: The wines were very fine, properly paired with the food, and served in generous portions. The cheese course did not exist and I consider this a major flaw (perhaps due to Chaine and not Menton).

The bottom line: really good high-end French food of the sort one finds, for example, at Georges Blanc in France, is simply not available in the US in my (admittedly) limited experience. (See my earlier review of La Grenouille, New York City’s last fine French restaurant.) This is not, in my opinion, a great shame in the big picture. It’s the sort of thing that requires a very large investment, in time, in money, and in experience eating French food. While the pleasures to be had at a successful meal of this kind repay the investment, there are many other less demanding ways of getting the equivalent pleasure. I wish those alternatives also received the attention and acclaim accorded to fine dining in the French style.

Lunch at Cafe Boulud in Manhattan

If you should find yourself near 76th and Madison (a block above the Whitney) around lunchtime, there is only one reasonable thing to do. That’s to drop in at Cafe Boulud (as annoying a website as I’ve ever encountered) for a top-drawer French meal for $24.  Now you may have heard that NY restaurants were taming down their prices in response to the financial crisis, but you probably didn’t think that someone like Daniel Boulud would have to react so decisively.  Not only can you have a splendid 3-course meal for $24, you can have a bottle of wine for the same $24.  Here’s the prix fixe menu:

So, what does it look like when it gets to the table?  Here’s the amuse bouche (the 4th course?), a slice of fresh date with something-or-other plus a sorrel leaf on top (and a cayenne dusted toasted almond on the side):

Here’s the duck terrine entrée (the French version of appetizer) which was so appealing that we both ordered it:

Then we had jointly selected (Deb and I always agree on our order because each eats half of every dish) as plats the hanger steak on celery root purée with Tuscan chard and cannelini beans.  The celery root purée has since become a staple of our what-to-have-with-the-steak repertoire:

Along with a very French version of potato gnocchi with spring vegetables:

As expected, the desserts were standard issue high-end (not a thrill for us): a carrot cake (note the terrific carrot chip garnish):

and a chocolaamebrownie:

The pièce de résistance, however, was the basket of miniature madeleines in place of petits fours:

Finally, the most  pleasant dénouement imaginable:

Needless to say, we’ll be back on every trip down.

Review of 51 Lincoln

51 Lincoln Restaurant, 51 Lincoln Street, Newton Highlands, MA; 617-965-3100; website

review by Heidi Vernon

I called for reservations a week in advance of this past Saturday evening. It was my husband Jerry’s birthday dinner with our youngest daughter and her husband as our guests.  I wanted this to be low key consistent with Jerry’s wishes but still a festive occasion. I made sure the restaurant knew it was his birthday and that we wanted a dessert to share after the meal.  We arrived five minutes early, were warmly greeted, and immediately seated while we waited for our daughter and son-in-law who arrived shortly after.  The owner brought us menus, and took drink orders. Our son-in-law knows the owner and we were treated like important guests. This is a restaurant that takes its drinks seriously. The bartender came over to introduce himself and brought a complimentary homemade hibiscus liqueur with a dark sweet, slightly tart, complex flavor that should not be missed. Our son-in-law had a sloe gin fizz (my high school choice of drink that I have not had in 55 years) made with imported English sloe berries. Jerry who loved Budweiser beer was happy with Narragansett beer as a substitute. The delicious breadbasket included cornbread, ciabatta, and French bread slices with a deeply flavorful olive oil and whipped sweet butter   

   We shared the following appetizers: crispy Szechuan calamari with lemon, smoked tomato aioli and tomato chili jam (a paper-lined bowl full of perfectly fried calamari bodies and tentacles with slightly spicy creamy aioli and a tart chili jam), charcuterie plaameof house made selection, cornichons and pommery mustard (two rounds of cured salami, a chunk of country paté, and paper thin slices of smoked turkey. Hot crispy grilled batons of bread accompanied this offering. The chef sent over a complimentary half order of rigatoni Bolognese that we devoured. It was a perfectly-sized blend of pasta, meat, sauce, and cheese. 

   My main dish was pan roasted all natural chicken on salsify and golden beet purée and a scallion hydrocress salad (a very generous boned crispy golden skinned chicken breast on a smoothly unctuous vegetable puree. The cress salad was a perfect foil).

Jerry had the miso marinated salmon with spring vegetable stir fry, sushi rice, and mirin soy reduction (perfectly cooked fresh salmon filet with delicious rice and vegetables). Our son-in-law Marc had the seared Wolfe’s Neck Farm skirt steak, queso fresco arepa stack, jalepeno jam, saffron pickled egg) The steak was done perfectly medium rare, the arepa is a Latin American corn cake with fresh cheese. Marc took one bite of the pickled egg and quickly handed it over to our daughter Jennifer. Jen, who said they had been eating non-stop on their recent trip to Florida had the signature appetizer of pan seared watermelon steak in a curried potato stick nest. Along with a side dish of spring vegetable stir fry, it was a light but ample meal. 

   We shared a wedge of spice cake with caramel that had a candle for the birthday boy. We had wonderfully friendly and expert service. We felt completely welcome and that this was a special dinner in a neighborhood bistro. We live in Newton and it is clear that the management is committed to making locals feel at home. Prices are entirely reasonable considering the very high quality of the food and lovely presentation. Hope you enjoy it too.