Eastern Standard is the red-bannered bistro holding Kenmore together.
Located in the Hotel Commonwealth, and featuring the best bar in the
city, ES is guaranteed to impress.
Before we go in, lets chat.
What do you expect from a restaurant? Do you want to be waited on by efficient, quiet service? Are you looking forward to talking about the food and asking questions? Have you looked at the menu and made basic assumptions on what you might be interested in?
I very rarely eat in a restaurant that I have not heard about. With careful perusing of individual restaurant sites (compiled on pages like BostonChefs.com), occasional checking of Chowhound and eGullet's regional boards, and conversations with other like-minded individuals, I manage to at least hear about most of the restaurants that I end up eating at.
In a city like Boston, however, its nearly impossible to know every single restaurant, especially if you include hard to find gems such as Coriander in Sharon. For every Coriander, however, there are ten crappy chinese places and twenty sub shops. Now, americanized supervalue chinese has it's place in my diet, but thankfully not a big one. As for sub shops: I'd take a Publix sub over any sandwich in this city. (With the possible exception of Super 88's Bahn Mi's and the Parish Cafe...)
There are very successful restaurant chains out there that appeal to the majority, and succeed in doing so. "The Cheesecake Factory : Something For Everyone!" is a great example: their menu has more variety than an international food festival. Unfortunately, they end up sacrificing taste for perceived "value" (cheap, overflowing dishes) and service speed. If I wanted a crappy, giant bowl of edible food-meal at bargain-bin prices, I'd find everything I was looking for in the frozen section of Shaws.
A Boston-specific chain that commits to this same mantra is Sunset Grill/Cantina/Big City. While I think their beer selection is great, I think they should drop some of the dead weight off the menu, and focus on making a small selection of excellent dishes. You are not selling enough swordfish to convince me its anything less than long-frozen. I don't even want to talk about the crab cakes.
Anyway. . .got a little distracted there. Back to the good stuff.
Let's have a look at the Eastern Standard website for a moment; you can often learn quite a bit about both the quality and the feeling of a restaurant from their website.
Wait, where is it?
Oh, it must be this first one here. Well, I guess this is their website:
"Eastern Standard offers casual fare breakfast, lunch, dinner and pre/post Red Sox games. It also features the only al fresco dining experience in Kenmore Square!"
Pretty standard: lets have a look around for more info.
Chowhound: Seems to have fairly good general reviews all 'round.
"Everything on the menu that I have tried has been great. The mussels are wonderful, as is the salmon. My husband enjoys the porkchop. The raw bar is always very good. Truth be told though, they have one of the best burgers in Boston. Not exactly what you want to have on your anniversary I imagine, but it is DELICIOUS." -mem53
"Oh yes - that was DEEEEEEELISH! I don't recall having it on other charcuterie plates in the past, just at Eastern Standard. I really liked it." - lisa13
"Extraordinary bartending: learned, passionate, skillful, creative. Get there early enough to have a drink and a conversation with the staff at the bar." - MC Slim JB
Now, I know it may seem strange listening to the reviews of people with names like "MC Slim JB," but I find these reviews to be the most candid and honest than the ones that appear in magazines and newspapers. While most people wont always go online to talk about a good restaurant experience, bad ones tend to make their way to the surface. In addition, people are forced to defend their opinions. MC Slim JB criticised ES for being "not especially high on technique or presentation." Another member of the boards, fullbelly, called him out on it, "It's rare I disagree with MC Slim above, but I have to disagree on his comment."
And whaddya know: Slim came back to elaborate:
"My comment probably came across as more dismissive than intended. I mean to say that ESK's food is comparatively unfussy, with fairly simple preparations and sauces. It mostly eschews rarified ingredients, complex sauces, and elaborate platings. That's mostly a virtue in my book." - MC Slim JB
Let's look at another page, comparing ES to Petit Robert Bistro, located just down the street (and certainly competition for ES):
Christina had a strong (but unsupported and second-hand), initial reaction, "I've heard nothing but disappointing things about Eastern Standard from friends who have been there."
Interestingly, the following posters had differing (and more well informed) opinions.
"Au contraire!! I've been to Eastern Standard about 5 times, and totally love it. The service has been super friendly (I've sat in the bar area), and the food right on the mark. Cod fritters - delicious. I've had a couple of the daily plats du jour, all have been very nice. I also really like the vibe of the room, you can really relax. Desserts are a bummer, if that's your thing, but the rest outshines most. Give it a shot." - Lilyliver
While I will agree about the desserts (often beautiful and always tasty, but never mind-blowing -- but I'm spolied. Come back to Boston, Stupak!), I'll save my comments for the food section of this review.
I think it's time we move on to Eastern Standard's official site. In my opinion, ES is suffering from a lack of web optimization. I have eaten there dozens of times, and even google them occasionally to see what people are saying, which is how I found the Chowhound reviews. Until writing this post, I actually had no knowledge of their website. Their official site (separate from the hotel's) shows up 8th in a google search for eastern standard. Since the hotel website shows up higher, and doesn't link to the restaurant site, I assumed it doesn't exist!
Now that I've found it, I want you to compare it to the websites of your favorite go-to spots. Are they as well-designed, easy to use, and most of all as beautiful as theirs? The only critique I can find for it is that it certainly needs a non-flash version to access the menus. The photo shoot looks fantastic though, and makes some of my photos look less than spectacular by comparison.
Let's talk about the food. Of all the people I have gone to Eastern Standard with, the only regular complaint I get is that the food can occasionally be too salty. While I have only had one dish ever taste overly salty (a late-lunch burger), I think it has more to do with the people eating being overly sensitive to salt than the people cooking overly salting.
Basically: do you put salt on your food? If you do, than theres no way you'll find ES salty (unless you salt it before you taste it). I adore salt, and everything at ES comes perfectly salted. Salty martinis, salt on chocolate, pass the salt please!
Even if salt isn't quite your thing, I guarantee you can find something you like on the menu. From Mac and Cheese to Marrow and Charcuterie, it runs the gamut. When I go to Eastern Standard, I have a serious problem: there are far too many "must-order" dishes on the menu. When I first started dining there, they included the short ribs, the calamari, the burger, the mussels (not pictured), the raclette and the tartare.
The burger was my original fixation there. I would be sitting in class, attempting to pay attention, but all I could think about was the juicy, tender, cooked-to order (for real -- you want it rare? you get it rare.), crispy delicious burger. Eventually, I weaned myself off, and got hooked on other things. This was a good thing since it's hearty, and filled up space that could be occupied by so many other dishes. Whenever anyone else order it, however, I always attempt to barter a bite.
Let me walk you through a meal at Eastern Standard. Ride the T to Kenmore and come up on the Hotel Commonwealth side (towards Fenway). Look for the bright red awning.
Speak to one of the lovely hostesses, and decide if you want to sit in the lounge, the dining room, or the patio. I generally prefer the lounge or patio, but the truest dining experience is only to be had in the dining room.
If it's crowded, you wait perhaps a few minutes for your table, but you'll have a chance to look at all three of their menus. In my opinion the most important one warrants the most time, but the wine list and cocktail list are quite interesting in their own rights. Perhaps a fine South African Rose will catch your eye, as it did to this lovely lounge patron.
As is the trend these days, you'll be asked if you want sparkling or still water. This is a choice that I appreciate, but scoff at restaurants who have gone so far as to hire a "water steward." That is some serious tomfoolery. What I like about ES is that choosing tap water is completely acceptable, even normal; something I tend to feel is looked down upon in other restaurants. I drink a lot of water, and I can't afford to be paying $7 for half a liter. Just doesn't work for me. I appreciate not having virgin-harvested glacial moon-rock water pushed on me.
After you finally figure out the menus, and start to get hungry looking at all the delicious choices ahead of you, you'll be presented with a bowl of house-pickled fennel.
I believe they used to served pickled veggies, but I far prefer the current iteration. Crisp and slightly sour, it's a perfect way to pique your appetite with some of their bread and a signature cocktail:
Now you need to select your food. Make sure you check the daily specials at the bottom of the menu (the Saturday Beef Wellington and Meatloaf are both perfectly executed), and ask your server about the ceviche and the offal of the day.
Monday? Make it meatloaf! (freakin awesome meatloaf, and look at the portion size! I enlisted the aid of my tablemates to even make a significant dent. Honey glaze + creamy mashed potatoes + succulent ground beef + seasoning = pure satisfaction)
Unless they're very new, all the servers know the food and wine lists fairly intimately, and are not shy about telling you their opinions. What I love is that they are just as eager to explain bone marrow to a newbie as they are to discuss the finer points of tripe-preparation with a offal connoisseur.
Have you ever had bone marrow? Do you agree with Emeril that pork fat rules? Well let me tell you that bone marrow is the ultimate unctuous delicacy.
"Bone marrow is a source of protein and high in monounsaturated fats. These fats are known to decrease LDL cholesterol levels resulting in a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, prompting some to make bone marrow a dietary staple." -- wikipedia.org
It's not even sinful! I have ordered the marrow every single time I have eaten at ES in the last year, and loved every plate of it.
Bone Marrow Breakdown:
1) Pick up the little spoon
2) Scoop some of the mustard
3) Apply to a piece of bread
4) Scoop marrow
5) Apply marrow
6) Top with parsley/shallot/grapefruit salad
7) Take blurry photograph
8) Devour with glee
While many restaurants in Boston are known for their seafood (Legal, Union Oyster, McCormick etc), the raw bar at ES is always extremely fresh and satisfying. Until recently, a selection of half a dozen oysters was my appetizer of choice. Then one day a few weeks ago I was introduced to the Alaskan king crab legs they carry regularly. Now I have to convince myself to avoid the rather expensive ($7/leg -- but these are the "Deadliest Catch") crab to indulge my other obsessions.
My most recent obsessions at ES have been the Baekoffe and the Frisse aux Lardons. Now, the Baekoffe (which i find nearly impossible to pronounce. . .Bee-coffee? Bay-koe-fuh? I still don't know.) has tripe in it. I do not like tripe, have not liked tripe, and did not think I ever would like tripe. The stomach lining of a cow both did not appeal to me, and did not taste good to me when I had it elsewhere. Somehow, when Chef Jamie Bissonnette puts tripe in his Baekoffe it becomes delectable; tender, mild, and perfectly at home in the stew. This is, to this day, the only restaurant in the world in which I have enjoyed tripe, both in the Baekoffe and the offal special that he runs from time to time. Jamie, I don't know how you do it, but I'd love to learn the secret.
Chef Jamie Bissonnette
The Frisse Aux Lardons was voted the best salad in Boston, but I didn't care. I didn't used to order salads in restaurants. This salad changed that. The bitter frisse, the acidic vinaigrette, the salty, chewy, crispy bacon, the oozy perfectly cooked poached egg, the hazelnuts and the sweetbreads all combine to form the ultimate balanced-contrast salad experience. I'm not joking -- this is the best salad in Boston (that I've had).
Beef Heart Salad -- This is the BEST VALUE IN BOSTON. Let me say that again; for your money, you will not get more effort and ingredients anywhere else than you do with this dish. Beef heart (tender, extremely beef-y), blood orange, shaved black truffles, AND foie gras. . .for $9. N.I.N.E. D.O.L.L.A.R.S.! I can spend nine bucks at Wendy's without blinking an eye. How can you turn this down? Even if you don't like it (which would be hard, cause foie + truffles + beef = winning combo), you just paid under ten bucks for a dish that probably would cost you fiteen to make yourself. The Beef Heart Salad is occasionally to be found as a "Daily Offal" and is not available on the regular menu. Ask about the offal!
Charcuterie (char-KOO-tuh-ree) Plate: this may or may not be for you. If you like housemade proscuittos, terrines, pates and sausages, Chef Jamie will not dissapoint you. Some people need a bit of warming up to some of the pates (especially the liver varieties), but will eventually be piling it just as high as the rest. My current favorite? The duck proscuitto -- the fat dissolves at mouth temperature, in the same way that $100/lb iberico ham does.
Go to Eastern Standard, let them feed you. You will be glad you did. If you're not, come back and tell me why. Try the bone marrow, the tripe and the beef heart salad (if you're lucky enough to find it) and if you like it, good! If you don't like it, think about why you might not like it, and tell me. I want to know these things, Jamie wants to know these things, and most of all, ES wants to know!
Posted at 1:35 AM in Dining - Boston
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A buddy of mine who works at East Coast Grill had been hounding me
for months to give Hell Night a try at ECG. He knew about my weakness
for hotter-than-hades peppers and the like, and encouraged me to get a
reservation. Hell Night is basically a niche-market
promotion/party/sweatfest that encourages diners to eat some really,
really spicy food.
About a week ago, he mentioned to me that a couple early tables were
still available for this go-round and I decided to give it a shot.
After checking out some reviews of the hell pasta and insane drinks
(one guy passed out on the way to the bathroom after taking a nuclear
tequila shot -- scotch bonnet peppers left in a vat of jose cuervo for
a week), we decided that proper attire would be in order.
Decked out in sweatbands, we made our way out to Cambridge. We arrived
early (reso at 5:30), and there was already a line forming outside.
The entire restaurant was decked out in hell-o-ween festiveness, topped
off by voodoo-santa.
In order to both maintain our budget and sample as much food as possible, we decided to order every single appetizer.
Scortching Crispy Sparerib with Molten Guava Lava BBQ Sauce (5 Bombs) These were awesome -- one of the highlights of the night. Really, really excellent beef ribs.
Hokkien Fried Noodles with Shrimp, Duck & Sambal Kancang (2 Bombs) Not enough flavor to stand out from the other dishes -- I would probably enjoy this by itself, however.
Folsom Prison Chili "Ring of Fire" Style (7 Bombs) Really great chili -- big chunks of beef, helluva kick.
Acar's Carnitas Tacos with Jalapeno Sour Cream, House Guacamole and Rippin' Hot Rojo Salsa (4 Bombs) -- Spicy, meaty, delicious. If Anna's carnitas could hold a flame to these, I'd be happy.
Mussels Mozambique with Piri Piri (3 Bombs) -- Second besh
dish after the ribs. These were the biggest, plumpest, most delicious
mussels I have ever had. Would return for just these.
Sizzlin' Shrimp & Scallop Ceviche with Mango, Avocado, Chipotle-Lime Dressing & Damn Good Tostones (2 Bombs)
Delicious and refreshing, but hard to taste with so much other spice
going on. And the tostones were in fact damn good; so damn good that I
forgot to take a picture.
The Jamaican Connection, with 1/2 Dozen Hell Oysters with a Scotch Bonnet Sausage Link
-- Very fresh, very tasty oysters. Wasn't as hellish as I might have
liked, but still very good. No pic of the sausage, which was slightly
overcooked but deliciously meatalicious.
Baked Stuff Crab Diablo, with Lump Crab, Corn & Avocado with Puya Mayo & Yuca Chips (4 Bombs)
Lots and lots of crab, served in a crab shell. I would have preferred
something other than the yucca chips, but that's just me. Again,
forgot to take a picture, and I'm pretty sure it had to do with the
fact that the next dish kicked me square in the face.
The Infamous Pasta from HELL, with Sausage Bolognese (You Must Sign The Release Form!) (9 Bombs)
Now, this pasta is where things started to get serious. It was the
last thing we recieved, and immediately I could tell it was in a whole
different ballpark. You can see the slices of peppers just sitting on
top (what I believe are either scotch bonnets or habaneros....or some
crazy south american superpepper), and the entire sauce was little more
than chili paste and meat. What made this dish so difficult for me to
eat was the fact that the pasta was slightly underdone, meaning I
really had to chew each bite.
I can honestly say I have never had anything spicier than that
pasta. It made my face flush, my nose run, my voice quiver and my
spirit shake. Seriously -- finishing that bowl not only took
willpower, but a tolerance for pain and hellfire. My tablemates took a
few bites and wallowed in agony while I plodded on, deaf to their cries
for me to stop.
Ike Sway was hurtin.
Chris Schlesinger (the chef/owner) came by a few times during the
night, and awarded me with a Hell Night t-shirt for conquering the
pasta. It was worth it.
In all, I'd say that Hell Night is awesome. The food was, on the
whole, delicious. I would absolutely return to Hell Night, and would
definately return to East Coast Grill. While I might not ever order
the hell pasta again (except for serious wagers), everything else
succeeded mightily. Thank you Chris for such a wonderful (and
Posted at 12:06 PM in Dining - Boston
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This is the sushi timeline of the Baber family:
Growing up in Atlanta, my loving parents taught me to enjoy sushi at an
early age at the (at the time) far away Hasaguchi restaurant. We then
moved to Hasaguchi Junior, when it arrived at Lenox, and we stayed
there for a while.
After Hasaguchi we spent a decent amount of time patronizing RuSans,
but found it lacking. (I was quite the fan of the flaming, crispy,
sickly sweet tempura ice cream, however.)
After a damned decent Harada moved in basically across the street
from our house on Peachtree, that became our quick sushi fix, which we
obviously needed at least 3 times a month. If not more. By the time I
left for college, they had ordered each of us our own personalized set
of lacquered chopsticks [I]from Japan[/I] and we used them every time
A co-worker of my father happened to mention to him Soto, a sushi
restaurant in Buckhead that he said was his favorite, and recommended
we try it.
Now, Soto was an intimidating place. It was not tremendously more
expensive, probably the difference between going to, say...well I can’t
think of a good example, but it was maybe $15 more per person. (Let me
say that when my family eats sushi, we eat a LOT of sushi, so $15 more
per person wasn’t that much.) We have gone to Soto so many times now,
that we actually have our own waiter, Ferdy. He knows all of our
tastes, recommends specials with an unnerving knack, and even gives us
all the latest gossip. (The hostess can even recognize my father and my
voice when we call)
Anyway, here’s the deal at Soto: not only is it by far the best
sushi I have ever had, it is also the best Japanese food I have ever
had. Soto has a full menu of appetizers and entrees that are just as
good, if not better than the sushi that they serve.
Let me start by talking about the sushi. Since just about anyone
with money can buy the highest quality fish available, that was not
what made it great. What made it great was the fact that he imported
the most perfect sushi rice from Japan, and cooked in absolutely
perfectly every time. In addition to being cooking perfectly (so that
it broke apart just as you put it in your mouth, while each grain
retained its perfectly cooked doneness), it was also served at the
Sushi rice should be neither cold nor hot at all. It should be
perfectly room temperature, or, more accurately, "hand temperature."
Soto and his two sous chefs were masters of this. One interesting thing
to note about Soto is that if Sotohirosan is not there, the restaurant
is not open. Soto does all the special sushi plates, one of his chefs
does all the nigiri, and the other does all the rolls. Once, my dad
showed up to for dinner and there was a small sign on the door:
"SOTO HAS GONE FISHING.
WILL RETURN IN ONE WEEK.
This dedication absolutely shows through in his food.
Now on to the rest of the menu. Sotohiro Kosugi has created one of
the most perfect dishes that I have memory of: ceviche of salmon. Now I
know, you're saying to yourself, "but Andrew, ceviche is South
American, not Japanese!" Cool your pants, hotshot. When I said that it
was the best Japanese food I've ever had, I didn't say that it didn't
take influence from anywhere else. What is basically is, is Salmon
Sashimi with a very light lime marinade. When my family goes, we
without fail always order two of them, and greedily hoard our portion,
including the small shaved cucumber that nearly always disappears while
my parents eyes are closed in ecstasy.
Now that I have you thinking that you must absolutely try this new
restaurant, I have a confession to make. This entire review is one
great big tease. Soto has been closed for about 8 months now, due to
the temporary loss of, shall we say, "edge" by Sotohiro. Evidently one
night (and this is second hand information, so we're going to call it a
rumor...I really don't want an angry Sotohiros on a plane to Boston,
knife in hand, looking to turn me into a tasty ceviche.)...I was
saying...Evidently one night, he informed his staff that they would be
"Closing in two weeks."
About a week later, evidently (<- see? very vague!), during a
busy night, a waiter returned a plate to Soto that had gone to the
wrong table. I have been told that Soto grabbed the plate and viciously
reprimanded the waiter in front of everyone, "I TOLD YOU table 3. [b]I
TOLD YOU[/b] table 3!!" I even heard rumors of plate smashing, and
kitchen crashing, egads!
A new day! Soto reopens!
Well, let me say first that I have been absolutely spoiled by Ken
Oringer's restaurant in Boston, Uni. I believe it is one of the best
sashimi bars in the country, and I recommend it to everyone I meet.
So, I was sitting in my dorm room one night when I decided to make
my weekly call to Soto to check on their re-opening progress. (Yes, I
did call about once a week).
But this time, instead of the usual recording, someone picked up!!
For the first time in 8 months!!! I nearly fell out of my chair, and by
the time I had confirmed that they were opening the next night, I ended
up running up and down the hall shouting gleefully. (When questioned
about my happiness, I responded "My favorite sushi place in Atlanta
reopened!!" and was met with dubious looks.)
Anyway, I was able to return to Soto at the beginning of summer
break. The room had been re-arranged a bit (a few less tables), and the
menu had been slightly cut back.
Nonetheless, it is still utterly amazing. The rice is still perfect, the composed plates are still outstanding.
To anyone who doesn't mind spending slight more on their sushi, please, take yourself to Soto.
(as a side note, Ferdy is not working there any more, but we're working on acquiring a new acquaintance)
Posted at 12:05 PM in Dining - Atlanta
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For those of you not familiar with the term Waffle House, let me
explain. Waffle House is the place people go after 2 AM when you have
been out all night, and need some good down south greasy food. The food
isn't classy, but damn, it's good. They even have the best fountain
coke anywhere, ever.
I always order one of two things. I either get a triple order of
their famous hash browns (the shredded, not the cubed kind), scattered,
smothered, covered and chunked. (For those of you not down with the
lingo, thats smothered with onions, covered with cheese, and chunked
If I don't get that, I get the Texas Cheesesteak Plate (Texas cause
they use good, thick Texas toast, which soaks up all that good grease),
and a double order of hash browns, in the same fashion as I get in my
Always with a Coke. And a smile.
Now, Waffle House servers are a tricky bunch. Sometimes young
college girls lookin to make some money, but usually it's older, black
women who call ya "suga" and "hun" and are quick with their wit. More
than once I have had servers who not only knew my name, and my order,
but would also know exactly what was goin on with me. "Hey there hun,
looks like you've had a rough night. Here, lemme getcha yah Coke."
It's the best.
Did I mention that it's dirt cheap?
And amazingly delicious?
NOTE: Do not, under any circumstance, use the mayonnaise that they give
you. It is there so they know what your order is, NOT to consume.
Posted at 12:04 PM in Dining - Atlanta
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Bazzaar - December 15, 2006
We pulled up next to the fabulous Fox at around 7, but the crowds
had already formed for Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat, which made
it trickier than normal to get a parking spot. The hostess, upon
hearing the name of the reservation, leaned in close and mysteriously
said, "Ah, yes, the Babers, I....have a question for you." I was
waiting for a query about this site, or an eGullet post, or perhaps
even a question relating to how I managed to stay so lean despite my
horrible eating habits. (Foie gras sauteed in Normandy butter? Yes
please!) Turns out that she really only wanted to know if it was OK if
we sat in the lounge downstairs for dinner, since upstairs was entirely
blocked off for a private party. There wasn't actually an option
really, either the high table or the couches. We chose the comfy
This decision proved to be a damn good one. We were seated at a
coffee table with two armchairs and a couch, located literally an arms
length away from the pass. Chef Blais was standing not three feet away
from our table all night. My mom thought for most of the time that the
Chef was the grumpy lookin guy in glasses in the kitchen, but I knew
better. The young, energetic guy who was dressed in waiters clothes was
the genius behind all the food.
One thing that Bazzaar allows tables to do that I haven't really
seen anywhere else is to let any number of people at the table order
the tasting menu. Now, I'm not sure if they usually do this or not, and
I don't want Chef Blais sending me angry emails, but at least that’s
how it was when we went. My dad, Kristen and I all got the tasting
menu, and my sister and mother just ordered a la carte. They later
admitted that their decision had in fact been a faulty one, but they
ended up nibbling on all our dishes anyway. By the end of the meal, we
had eaten every since item on the menu at least once, and a few of them
twice or three times. (With the exception of the steak for two, which
we were informed was just on there for the boring folks.)
The menu is broken up into three parts on a single page. The first
four or so are all little tidbits or "micro" plates. These include:
Beau Soleil Oysters
Green Tomato, Speck Ham, Coriander Ice
I thought these were delicious oysters, but the speck ham kind of
degraded them in my opinion. I always end up getting a little piece of
shell about once every dozen oysters, and it ruins it for me. The ham
was fried crispy, and it crunched just like a piece of shell. In two of
the oysters I pulled it out thinking that’s what it was. Once I got
over that, I enjoyed the combination.
It seems that they have changed the menu since I went, so I wont be
able to really give a play by play. Let me name some of the other
dishes that were memorable. There was a lobster with blueberries that
Whipped Parmesan, Figs, Micro Arugula was the first of the “im-pastas”
that we tried. There was no pasta at all; the proscuitto was acting as
The “Scallop Cous-Cous Corn Chowder, Huitalacoche, Dried Hominy,
Micro Cilantro” was amazing, and if I remember correctly was another
There was no Cous-Cous; the scallop was cut up to imitate it. Brilliant.
The third dish that he did this with was the squid pasta, in which
the squid was so perfectly cooked that it really did taste like well
Other highlights included Salmon, Bathed in Lime Juice Watermelon, Avocado, Horseradish Foam (I think we got 3 of these.)
Crispy Calamari Exotic Spices, Harissa, Papaya, Spearmint that had an exceptional dipping sauce.
The only dish that I thought was in any way plain was the Chicken
Fried Tofu with Inflated Edamame, Sweet & Sour Emulsion. It’s
probably because I’m not a tofu fan.
An interesting note is the fact that there was no bread to be found.
The “bread” was fried wontons with a spicy chili jelly (that I probably
spooned at least a few ounces of into my gaping maw by the end of the
night) and an “inflated” soybean mousse type thing that was a good
The famous burger with Foie Gras Milkshake was good. The burger was actually good enough that we got two of em.
The cheese course was unbelievably outstanding. Every single cheese
had an elaborate accompaniment. Even my dad, a guy who before this year
scrunched up his nose at cheese plates ordered and devoured the one
The chocolate dessert that came during the tasting menu was good and
rich with a delicious shell. The other desserts were phenomenal, but I
only got little bites of them, as they were ferociously guarded by my
Around the time we were getting dessert, the bar began to fill up
with blond models and tanned underwear models, and the bass started
booming from the resident DJ’s stand. Even so, the food came out
perfectly just as before.
Deconstructed Key Lime Pie was delish.
The last thing that I need to discuss was the waitstaff. The level
of service we received was far above what I am used to. The lounge was
pretty eclectic, and the waiters were in T-shirts, but were still
exceedingly professional. I feel absolutely horrible now, but it’s been
too long and I can’t recall my waiters name. However, he was the most
informative, most interesting, and most actually caring server I have
ever had. We exchanged stories about Italy (we had both just been to
Sorrento), ideas about food, quips about other restaurants (“Oh yeah,
they do that at Trio.” “You’ve been to Trio? “Nah, just read about it
on eGullet.” “Oh, eGullet? Chef Blais reads that all the time.” Et
cetera). The single most impressive thing about him, though, was the
fact that it was only his third or fourth night there, and he knew
every single menu item down cold. I mean, dead cold. I would ask really
obscure things like “Oh, what temperature was this cooked at
sous-vide?” and he was all over it. Other than Nelly at Uni in Boston,
this guy was the best server I have ever had.
The title says it all. If you can, get to Bazzaar as soon as
possible. Hop, jump, swim, run, fly, drive, hopscotch, whatever. Go!
Posted at 12:02 PM in Dining - Atlanta
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This meal sponsored by **
When people think of food in the South, they almost always
immediately think of barbecue. Now, this is a fair argument, since
barbecue is made quite well in the South, but it’s not the only food we
have. This is why I tried to stay away from doing a Barbecue review
until now. I feel like I have shown the full spectrum, and can shine
the light on the kings feast that is Dirty South ATL Barbecue.
If you ask someone where Harold’s Barbecue is, most likely you’ll get something like this;
“Hey, where’s Harold’s Barbecue?”
“You mean the place down by the prison?”
“Yeah, where is it?”
“Down by the prison.”
Basically, you have to smell your way there. No one knows precisely
where it is, but every day for lunch it fills up with business men,
workers, and local folks who are lookin for some good, old school,
southern style, barbecue.
Once you get there, the menu is a relief. There are very few menu
options, and your biggest decision comes when you order your pork
chopped or pulled. (There are also some secret options, like
inside/outside, which refers to the inside or outside cuts of meat from
the roasted pig.) Clearly the most popular option is the large pork
plate which comes with a big bowl of spicy, thin soup with huge chunks
of meat, cole slaw, and about a suckling pigs worth of meat. On the
side you get cracklin’ cornbread (cracklin’ referring to the pieces of
pork skin in em), and any true Southerner washes it down with some
sweet iced tea that has been poured by the same gray-haired woman for
the last 20 someodd years.
On all the tables are two squeeze bottles. One is hot barbecue
sauce, and the other; sweet. Personally, I like a lot of both, all over
just about everything. Once you’re done dressing your meat to your
personal preference, dig in. Once you feel like you’re about to burst,
eat some more cornbread and take a sip of your iced tea. Pause. Dig
back in. Repeat until finished.
All the meat is either chopped or pulled by hand, right behind the
register. You can even see the roaster in the room behind. Everything
is made on property, and it absolutely shows.
Don’t let the cars parked out front confuse you. Three quarters of
the lot behind the building are either Lexus or Mercedes. The one thing
you can’t forget about Harold’s is how to find it. Just follow your
**This is a joke. I don't want to get any emails starting with "This
message is being sent by or on behalf of a lawyer. It is intended
exclusively for the individual or entity to which it is addressed. This
communication may contain information that is proprietary, privileged
or confidential or otherwise legally exempt from disclosure. . ."
Those emails scare me.
Posted at 12:01 PM in Dining - Atlanta
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The location that I was on-screen for was the segment filmed at Mary
Chung’s. Now, let me tell you an interesting tidbit about Mary Chung’s:
it seems that it was the very first restaurant in the world to be on
the internet. If this is accurate: http://boston.openguides.org/?Mary_Chung's
"A major hangout for MIT geeks, and thus the first restaurant with a
Usenet newsgroup, alt.fan.mary-chungs," then Mary Chung's was most
likely the first dining establishment in cyberspace.
the proprietor (not pictured) is an amazing woman. In one of my recent visits, I was
so overcome with elation by the food, I stopped her as she was walking
by. I told her, "Mary, your food is so good..." (I was at a loss for
words, and looked her right in the eyes). "...so good." She stopped and
gave me her full attention (something a restaurant
owner/server/hostess/chef rarely gives), and said softly and almost
bashfully, "I know... I know. Thank you." She gave me one last look,
and whisked off to take care of a ringing phone.
Let me give you
a little background. I had never heard of Mary Chung's restaurant
before the filming of this show, and I'm kind of glad I hadn't. I say
this because I was able to start my addiction late in the game. What
addiction? Well, let me just say that Suan La Chow Show is without a
doubt the best new dish I have had in months. Since the shoot, I have
been there approximately 15 times. . .sometimes twice a day. Right now,
they are closed (Mary's on vacation), and I'm going into some serious
So you don't know what Suan La Chow Show is, eh? Well let’s check wikipedia -- I'm sure they've got something on it.
Well now, what do we have here? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suan_La_Chow_Show
La Chow Show (suānlà chǎoshǒu) is a dish of Sichuan Cuisine that
consists of a spicy garlicky peanut sauce over floppy steamed
meat-filled dumplings similar to wontons. The name means sour hot
A popular restaurant in Cambridge, Massachusetts named
Mary Chung's serves a dish called Suan La Chow Show, which are
dumplings with a spicy soy ginger sauce on a bed of raw mung bean
sprouts. This popular dish is slightly different from the authentic
Suan La Chow Show."
Let me see if I can describe the dish to
you, just in case that description doesn't work. Have you ever read
about orlotan? The tiny bird, considered such a deviant delicacy that
diners are encouraged to devour whole while wearing a blindfold to
avoid being ashamed? Well, for those who can’t afford the outrageously
expensive and seemingly cruel orlotan, I believe that Suan La Chow Show
is the closest thing you can get to it. Listed under soups, the spicy,
salty, sesame-y sauce in the bottom could easily be scrumptious orlotan
“juice.” The fresh bean sprouts – the avian bones. Lastly, the tender,
moist, perfectly cooked meaty morsels that are the dumplings obviously
correlate to our favorite feathered friend.
description discourage you? How about this one: these are the best
dumplings in America. I challenge you to find better.
Like I was
saying, I had my doubts about a Chinese restaurant outside of Chinatown
from the moment Sean (the producer) mentioned it to me. When I arrived
on the day of the shoot, I found an unassuming, 60 seat family-style,
sparsely decorated dining room, and a fairly large packed and active
kitchen. Mary immediately introduced herself, and offered me a beverage
After learning that I would be waiting for a while
(and after five different customers had recommended it to me), Mary
brought me a bowl of their world famous appetizer. I took one bite, and
knew immediately that I was hooked. I get the same feeling every time I
come across a dish that meets a few of my criteria for serious food
3) Spicy or otherwise uniquely flavored
just under $4 for a bowl, with a slow exponential heat and its
hailstorm of flavor and texture, Suan La Chow Show is on the forefront
of my mind nearly every time I get hungry.
Other favorites of mine include General Gau's Chicken, Dun Dun Noodles, Small Steamer Buns (Sat/Sun only), Crab Rangoon, Egg Rolls, and Scallion Pie. If you don't know what to get, don't even open the menu -- just order from the front specials list.
Posted at 11:58 AM in Dining - Boston
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These days everyone in Boston has access to extremely high quality
fish. Chef Ken Oringer still manages to take a giant leap ahead of the
other normal Japanese themed restaurants with Uni, his sashimi bar
located in his French restaurant, Clio. Uni itself actually originated
as Clio’s bar area, just off to the side and down a few stairs from
Clio’s entrance. Now, the small bar has been turned into a one-chef,
two server, romantic and luxurious sashimi bar. They do not take
reservations, but even for how small it is (about 20 seats), I have
never had to wait for a table. The décor is impeccable, the small black
bar dominates the room while the soft white lighting sets everything in
perfect illumination. Both the food and the service here are absolutely
flawless. Since the wait staff is so minimal, it is very common to be
recognized on the second or third visit. The menu may seem small until
you realize that it is small for a reason; it is the only way to
provide the absolute highest quality seafood from around the globe.
From surf clam to poke (an absolutely outstanding dish of Yellow Fin
Tuna), the solo sashimi chef does an excellent job both conversing with
customers and getting orders out in a reasonable time. If fact, many of
the items on the menu do not come from the sashimi bar. The dishes from
the kitchen, such as the airy, crispy tempura, delicate foie gras and
juicy and tender kobe beef (served with five different salts) are every
bit as good. Uni remains more expensive then a casual sushi bar
($60+/person) but the quality of the food more than makes up for it.
Posted at 11:56 AM in Dining - Boston
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Arnolfo - December 15, 2006
So the night after we ate at Pinchiorri, I noticed that there was a Michelin two star, Arnolfo, about 5 km from our hotel.
After a complicated reservation making process, we headed back to the hotel to change.
You aren't really supposed to park in the old city walls, but we did
anyway, and headed up to the restaurant. One odd thing about this
place, is that you can't open the door. You have to ring a buzzer, and
the hostess comes up and lets you in.
I have to make note here that the guy who took our reservation came
up with the most creative spelling for my last name that I have ever
seen. Baber became Piler! Oh well, no harm no foul. We were seated as
soon as this was figured out.
Now, this was much more like a regular restaurant than Pinchiorri,
and because of that, it seemed almost pedestrian. There were 2 servers
for 20 people, one sommelier, and the chef wandered around almost all
Again, we ordered the biggest tasting menu possible. (We decided not
to repeat the last night's charades and only ordered 2 bottles of wine.)
We started off with the now-familiar cycle of breads. The first set was good, small rolls with tomato, onion and garlic.
An amuse arrived quickly, the best of which being the goat cheese
nibble, and the tuna tartare spoon. (I had been SERIOUSLY raw-fish
deprived since I've been here, and it was a well needed hit for me.)
The next course is boggling me, I can't remember what it was. It
looks tomato-ey, but I can't remember what it was. I don't think we had
gotten to the menu items yet. Oh well.
Then we started with the first menu item. This was really good. The
shrimp was crusted with almonds, the eggplant terrine was delicious,
and the tomato “paste” echoed the one at Pinchiorri. The other two
tidbits on the plate were good, but not really memorable.
Two dishes then came at once. One, a hot tomato soup with a bit of
fried basil and fish. This was very good. The other “soup” was actually
more of a tomato jelly. Unexpected, but good as well. Very refreshing
and both very tasty.
Now, I’ve had lasagna before. In fact, the lasagna that Donatella
makes at the castle is my favorite lasagna in the world, especially the
next day when you overcook it in the oven and the edges get all
crispy…..but this wasn’t really lasagna. Even if it wasn’t what I was
expecting, it was still good in it’s own right. The sauce was
potato-saffron, and it was smooth and perfectly strong. It matched very
well with the shrimp. There was a tempura fried zucchini blossom on the
back side. This was the second or third tempura fried item we had seen
so far, which we both thought was a bit odd, but they were all
perfectly light and fried.
It really just isn’t fair to compare the lamb at Pinchiorri to the
lamb at Arnolfo. Pinchiorri blew me away so much, that the lamb at
Arnolfo almost tasted dull. It was clearly a properly prepared piece of
meat, and everything worked well, but I just couldn’t get my mind off
the previous night.
I actually really liked the cheese course at Arnolfo. For some
reason, at Pinchiorri they had forgotten to give us the little
marmalades and such with our cheeses, and we both forgot to ask. At
Arnolfo, I got prune, honey, and other that I can’t recall. There was
no cheese selection, it was just brought from the kitchen. I really
liked the selection, mostly cow and sheep, but the softer cheeses were
really excellent. In fact, it was so good that I totally forgot to take
a picture till I was half done. I got distracted by the little dishes
of honey and jams.
Some madman came flying into the restaurant and demolished my intermezzo before I got a chance to take a picture.
I was pretty pissed.
I was able to take a picture of the real dessert, though. There were
mini-panna cottas, a mint sorbet, and a bunch of gooseberries(?). The
berries were a bit too sour for my taste, but my dad scarfed em all
Afterwards came the mini-after-dessert-tidbit-tray. This is not something I should get used to. These things are really good.
I had talked with the chef a couple times during dinner, and he
invited me into the kitchen after I had expressed interest in seeing
the paco jet. It’s really a pretty cool piece of machinery. Its
basically just a really fancy immersion blender thing. You put a
cylinder of whatever you want blended, and an arm with a blade or whip
or whatever you want, comes down and mixes it really fast. He says it
makes great sorbet, and he let me try some freshly made peach. It
really was quite fresh and light, moreso than regular sorbet.
I took a couple more pictures of the kitchen, talked with the chef for a bit, and headed back to our hotel.
It really was not fair to compare Arnolfo to Pinchiorri. They are in
two completely different worlds. Here’s a fairly complicated analogy.
Arnolfo is to airplanes as Pinchiorri is to space shuttles. Lets say
that chefs like the one at Arnolfo are like pilots. Just about
everybody flies on planes. Some are better than others, some are
longer, and sometimes you fly first class. Pinchiorri is on a whole
level entirely. Only really, really rich people can go up on space
shuttles, and even then, they don’t do it often. The chefs have to
train harder, longer, and often just have something inside them that
just makes them one cut above the rest. But once you’ve seen space,
it’s hard as hell to go back to just normal flying. (This is the extent
of the analogy. The “traveling” part of flying doesn’t equate to
eating. Blah blah blah)
Posted at 11:55 AM in Italian Restaurants - Reviews
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I have been irrevocably spoiled for life.
Two nights ago, I dined at the three star Michelin rated restaurant,
Enoteca Pinchiori. This was not just a restaurant. This was a food
Not only was the food absolutely incredibly unbelievable (much more
on that in a minute), the service was as good as it could possibly get.
It seemed at times like every single employee was your personal server.
All the employees with either in tuxes, or impeccable suits. Since I
didn't bring a jacket (which was "recommended," but really meant you
had to sit on the patio, which was really hot) they provided me with
one, which was a bit short, but hey, I ain't complainin.
Let me set up the scene for you:
There is not really a sign. You see these two huge green columns,
with the maitre 'd hotel standing in the entrance. He gives you his
card, and directs you to the free parking lot that has lots of
incredibly beautiful (and fast) cars in it.
As you enter, everyone greets you. You are escorted to a sitting
room, where you await the person who will take you to your table. I had
to wait an extra minute while they tried to find a coat that I could at
least get into.
Once seated in a small dining room (of which there were many, so I
didn't really get a chance to see how many people could actually eat
there at once), you start to notice just how different things are here.
For women, there is a small side table behind your table for your
purse. The lighting is soft, but bright enough to see clearly, and
appreciate the beautiful food that is about to come.
First you are offered an apperitivo. I chose some Champagne. A
double magnum of Krug champagne was brought, and poured into our
waiting glasses. There was no silverware or plates on the table yet.
They would come….oh God would they come.
While you enjoyed your aperitivo, you were presented with the menu.
You can choose either a la carte, or tasting menu. I had already
decided that no matter what, we were going to do the tasting menu. We
informed one of our servers of this decision, and embarked on the best
meal of both me and my fathers life. (At this point, it was around
7:40. This will make sense later.)
Almost immediately after ordering, we were given a “gift from the
chef,” which was actually one of many gifts from the chef. Evidently
the chef is a really nice guy.
Now, I have a confession to make. I didn’t take a picture of the
menu, and it isn’t online. Now, I have emailed them and asked for it,
but I am incredibly sorry to report that it’s possible that I won’t be
able to tell you what everything was. Please, however, feel free to
enjoy the pictures and pretend you know what everything is.
Next, we got another gift from the chef. A sardine, perfectly
preserved in vinegar, split in half, deboned, and rolled up on top of a
geleed cube of strawberry and tomato. At this point, we both knew that
this was a bit different than anything we had ever eaten.
We then got the first course from the menu. I honestly can’t
remember what kind of fish it was, but the fish really isn’t what made
the dish amazing. Underneath the fish was sautéed sea cucumber. It was
so good, that when I couldn’t get the last little piece on my fork, I
made sure no one was looking, and picked it up with my fingers. In a 3
star restaurant. It was THAT good.
During this next dish, something happened that has never happened
before to me. I took a bite, and instead of just thinking “wow, that’s
amazing,” I actually felt tears welling up. It was so good that I
nearly cried. Right after that emotion, though, I started to laugh. It
was really just absurd. This was food like I had never had before. It
was so pure, so intense. It was a terrine of foie gras, with a gelee of
somethingorother, but the foie gras was so incredibly perfect. It was
all at once creamier, more flavorful, and more intense and amazing then
any other foie gras I have ever had. When I dragged the bits through
the salt and pepper, and they crunched in my mouth with the foie gras,
it even elevated the salt and pepper to higher standards. I really,
honestly, couldn’t believe it. It was served with bread with prunes in
it, but I had eaten most of my liver before I got to it, and I thought
it was good.
Oh, I have neglected to mention that up until that course, we had
gotten a different type of bread with every course. Around the 4th
course or so, the rotation started again.
Here’s an ok view of our dining room. I was playing with the camera
trying to adjust light settings, and I snagged this picture without
really disturbing anyone else.
I really am feeling bad now, because I don’t have the item
descriptions. This next course was very, very good, but did not illicit
the same emotional response. It was a fried piece of fish, with a
pureed vegetable which tasted like the best mashed potatoes I’ve ever
had. I really need the menu. Argh.
Next up – lobster two ways. On the left is fried lobster with a
avocado puree and on the right is sautéed lobster with fresh mango. The
reason I remember this course is because 1) it was very clean and
amazingly good, and 2) because there weren’t many ingredients.
Sometimes in fancy restaurants, they do too much to lobster, and really
muddle the flavor, but here it was perfect. The avocado went very well
with the crispiness of the meat, and the mango really brought out the
freshness in the lobster.
This course looks simple to the untrained eye. To put it simply, it
is spaghetti with olives, tomatoes, and some tuna. If you were to put
it in your mouth, however, you would not be able to speak for at least
a few minutes. This course, I honestly have no idea how the
accomplished. I thought I had eaten the best pasta to be found. I was
absolutely wrong. This pasta was so far and away better than any pasta
I have ever had before. It was absolutely tender, unbelievably
flavorful, and just unreal. For the second time, I was nearly moved to
tears. For someone who has never cried during a movie, play, opera, or
listening to music, it was a new experience. At this level, it really
is an art. For the most part, making food is a craft, a trade,
something you can learn. I don’t know how anyone learned how to do the
food that I was eating. It seemed like something sent down from heaven.
Honestly, it felt like a religious experience. If I had to find a place
to be Mecca for my to date food experiences, Enoteca Pinchiori would no
doubt be it.
Once I had recovered from the spaghetti, we moved on to a pasta
stuffed with meat and topped with shavings of reggiano (I believe). It
was great, but did not move me in the same way.
Just when I was starting to believe that I was not going to have
another experience like the spaghetti had given me, the lamb came. Now,
it’s hard to tell since I took the picture so close, but these two
pieces of lamb were less than the size of a quarter each, and about a
mm thick. Even so, they were bar none the best pieces of lamb I had
ever had. To say they were cooked perfectly would be an understatement.
I now believe that there is no other way to correctly cook lamb. What
really made this dish as good as the spaghetti, though, was the red
blob that the lamb was leaning against. This “blob” (which some might
call a quenelle) was tomato. Not just tomato, but the best tomato
flavor I had ever even conceived of. You know the tomato that I wrote
about? The perfect Umbrian tomato? Take the flavor of the best tomato
you’ve ever had, and multiply it by about 50,000. Then make a sauce out
of that flavor exactly. Just like the sea cucumbers with the fish in
the second dish, the tomato really made the dish unforgettable.
I really was thinking that at this point it couldn’t get any better.
I had drank enough amazing wine (which actually warrants a separate
post, which will come later), that I was just in a food induced haze. I
remembered that the next course was supposed to be pigeon, and was
expecting the same type of pigeon that I had eaten before. I was
wondering how they were going to take this gamey, tough, dark bird, and
turn it into something worthy of the name Pinchiorri. I’ll tell you
now, I have utterly not a clue how they did what they did with this
dish. I thought I had gotten a piece of beef. This was not bird. It was
tender, meaty, rich, and ungodly good. Again, the sides really enhanced
the whole experience. The gravy was, oddly, made with a mix of crack
and codeine, since it was utterly impossible to resist the temptation
to lick every inch of the bowl clean. The toast was covered with a
sweet molasses-type coating, and seemed to vanish all too quickly. I’m
sure it was quite a sight to see me gnawing on the bone like an animal,
to make sure that every single atom of flavor was sucked from the pores
in the bone.
This concluded our savory portion of the meal, and I was getting
full. A cheese cart, the size of which I have never seen outside of a
specialty cheese store was rolled over, and we were instructed to
choose whatever we wanted. I absolutely love goat cheese, and chose 5
different types. (There were about 10 goat cheeses in all, in fact,
they took up the whole non-pictured tray that stuck off the close side
of the cart.) All of these cheeses were at the same time different and
similar. They were all clearly goat cheeses, but the method of
production was so incredibly varied that I thought I was eating cheese
from completely different planets.
We were then presented with about 15 different desserts. There was a
main plate with one side that was all chocolate and the opposite all
vanilla, there were cones of sorbetto, a watermelon shot, a citrus
sorbet, and various other little nibbles. I was about to die, I was so
To give you an idea, and a preview of the wine post to come, these
were all of the wines we had tasted. Note: these bottles were not just
ours, we probably had 3-4 glasses from each.
Click to enlarge to see lables better.
After this, we drank grappa that was made just for the restaurant. Grappa = kerosene + amazing flavor.
I pondered slashing my wrists with the grappa glass and dying happy. Then I drank more grappa.
Now is a good time to note that there was a table next to us with a
couple that was simply phenomenal. John was from DC, and Grace was from
California. We had actually talked for a moment in the sitting room,
when they went to get me a coat. When I started taking pictures, we
struck up some more conversation. It turns out that Grace had gone to
BU (for a year, I think), and was seemingly impressed with my food
taste. I really enjoyed talking with them, and would like to see them
again. Hopefully they’ll find this site since I gave them the address,
but they, like us, had drank many bottles of wine. If you’re reading
this, Grace and John, email me!
Ah, that break was refreshing. We head on!
I asked for a tour of the kitchen, and was promptly given one. At
this point, it was about 11:45, and they were cleaning up. The kitchen
was spotless, and the guy I talked to seemed like a nice guy, even if
he did want me to get out of his kitchen.
I posed for a group photo of our sommelier on the left and one of the servers on the right. Notice the coat length.
We then drove back, slowly, to our hotel in Monteriggioni. This is not recommended. Get a driver. I’m serious.
Coming up next, why I shouldn’t have had that meal, the wines, and the next night’s meal!
Posted at 11:54 AM in Italian Restaurants - Reviews
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