Thursday, December 15, 2011

Mr. Bartley's Burger Cottage - Cambridge

Still fuming over the terrible burger from Grendel’s Den, I started walking down Massachusetts Ave towards a more reputable hamburger vendor, Mr. Bartley’s Burger Cottage. In retrospect, this is what I should have done in the first place as no matter where I looked, chowhound, blogs, or Urbanspoon the praise was endless; even Hamburger America by George Motz praised Bartley’s burgers as “unbelievable”. So, it should come as no surprise that even at 1 on a Tuesday afternoon, there was a still a line out of the door.

After a quick wait and a chance to peruse the humorous menu, I was shown to a table amidst the chaos. It’s hard to know where to start at Bartley’s, everywhere I looked people were chowing down on a near endless variety of burgers. Although I was tempted to choose by name alone, I wanted a taste of a Bartley’s bacon cheeseburger. So, regardless of my opinion on the man, it was one Scott Brown for my table.

A short while later, the senator’s namesake touched down.
Served with a mountain of fries, this 7 ounce patty was ordered medium rare and topped with bacon, American cheese, grilled onions, and jalapenos.
The fries, while well fried, crispy on the outside and fluffy within, were in need of a little salt, but that was easy to correct.
Like Grendel’s Den, I have to fault Bartley’s for a poor burger to bun ratio.
I do prefer when the jalapenos are incorporated into the patty, but there’s a charm to the thrown together look of this burger.
However, any grumblings about presentation were forgotten when I took a bite of this freshly ground patty. A thick, well seared crust, a beautifully medium rare middle, this cheeseburger was big, beefy, and unbelievably juicy. Any taste of bacon was lost in a sea of well-cooked beef patty and cheese but this was burger simplicity attaining its near perfect form.

Leaving behind little more than a small pile of fries and a grease spot where my burger used to be, I was able to snap a picture of what helps make Bartley’s burgers so great.
A well seasoned griddle, 600 degrees, and a little bit of weight, it’s the stuff burger dreams are made of, and the pile of sautéing onions isn’t bad either. Needless to say, any ill will I hade built up towards Grendel’s Den was vanished by the sublime products of Bartley’s Burger Cottage. I only wish I had eaten at Bartley’s first if only to try more than one of their burgers and maybe one of their shakes. Regardless, the next time I’m in Boston, the first and last thing I will do is pay a visit to Bartley’s, just to get a taste of burger nirvana.

Bartley’s Burger Cottage Address & Information
1246 Massachusetts Ave, Cambridge, MA 02138 // 617.354.6559 // Bartley’s Burger Cottage Website // Bartley’s Burger Cottage Menu
Mr. Bartley's Burger Cottage on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Grendel's Den - Cambridge

It’s amazing what sticks out in my mind. While I was planning my trip to Boston, I was doing the usual bit of research when I remembered a Food Network segment on a Cambridge pub named Grendel’s Den. I don’t recall the pub being anything special, I think it stuck with me because of the name. Regardless of its origins, nearly six years after seeing it on TV, I was going to make sure and pay Grendel’s Den a visit before I left Boston.

Taking a seat outside, you couldn’t have asked for a better fall day. 60 degrees, sunny, the leaves had begun to change, and there was even a pretty decent guitarist playing in the small, adjacent park. However, disappointment soon reared its ugly head as I found out that Grendel’s Den was out of Cambridge Ale and their season special appetizer, Bavarian pretzels, was mysterious unavailable. No matter, an order of sambal chicken skewers would work just fine.

Expecting a few paltry strips of white meat chicken on a stick, imagine my surprise when I saw my order of sambal chicken skewers.

Consisting of few huge strips of white meat, I’ve never had an order of grilled chicken this juicy and well cooked.


Flavor wise, it tasted a lot like buffalo sauce with a touch of lime and Asian flavor. As for the side of ranch and celery, the chicken was damn good with the ranch but it only served to reinforce the idea of buffalo sauce. I only wish that all buffalo wings would be this juicy.

I expected the same oversized but well cooked portions would carry over to my Alpine Burger entrée, but that was not the case.


That’s a pretty poor patty to bun ratio.

Parts of the slice of raclette cheese were nicely melted but the rest looked as slapped on as the mushrooms.

When it comes to burgers, looks are not always the most important part of the equation but biting into the Alpine burger, every other component fell flat as well. This burger was little more than two odd patties with no discernible taste. There was no seasoning, no beefy flavor, and they were cooked to death. This wasn’t even worth eating.

Six years and how did it end? Well, outside of some pretty good chicken skewers, pretty poorly. I’m not exactly sure what I was expecting from Grendel’s Den, but the results were not inspiring. From the looks of other sites, the spinach pie was the thing to order, but that’s a mistake I’ll just have to live with. However the story did not end here. Having barely touched my burger, I decided to look up another Cambridge institution, Bartley’s Burger Cottage, but that will come later.

Grendel’s Den Address & Information

89 Winthrop St. Cambridge, MA 02138 // 617.491.1160 // Grendel’s Den Website // Grendel’s Den Menu

Grendel's Den on Urbanspoon

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Neptune Oyster - Boston

You would think that at eight on a Monday it would be a pretty easy to find a seat at a restaurant. At least, that’s what I thought as I put my name down for a spot at Neptune Oyster. I imagined that it would be a fifteen-minute wait, my number would be called and I would soon be dining on freshly shucked oysters and lobster rolls to my heart’s content. Sadly that was not the case. After an hour of waiting and wandering through the North End, I walked back to Neptune Oyster to find that a table for one still wasn’t available. Eventually, a sympathetic hostess made some room at the bar and I was able to plot my course on a journey through Neptune Oyster’s menu.

After watching the shucker behind the bar work her magic, my platter of cold seafood was set in front of me.

Four shrimp, two Johah crab claws, and eight oysters may seem like a lot for one person, but after waiting for an hour, I was amazed that I didn’t order more.

Shrimp cocktail, in my opinion, when done well, is one of the best appetizers available and Neptune Oyster does shrimp cocktail very well. The shrimp were large, juicy with a touch of lemon flavor, and carried an ever-satisfying snap with each bite.


The Kusshi oysters were smaller and brinier than the kumamotos, but just as buttery.

Kumamoto oysters, tied with Apalachicolas for my favorite, were small and buttery as always. I realize that neither of these are Massachusetts oysters, shame on me, delicious shame.


The Jonah crab, sweet and perfectly complimented by the mustard sauce, was an excellent way to round out the cold portion of this meal. If there was one downside to the plate it was the mignonette, there was nothing particularly wrong with it, it just paled in comparison to the heavy horseradish flavor of the cocktail sauce.

If there was a disappointing section of the meal, it came in the form of the clam chowder.


Thinner than I was expecting, this chowder came with a healthy dusting of chives.


The variety of textures particularly the crunchy celery and well-cooked potatoes were welcome features but the star of the dish was a let down.


Instead of clams with every bite, this bowl was populated with a few big, chewy strips of clam meat. Far from the worst bowl of clam chowder I've had, I was expecting more from Neptune Oyster.

Saving the best, or at least the richest for last, the Maine lobster roll finished out the meal.
When ordering, I had the choice of served hot with butter or cold with mayo, and who would choose mayo over butter?
At first this was possibly the most glorious sandwich I had ever seen. The roll was toasted from the grill and was simply overflowing with butter drenched lobster.
With the first bite, I came to know the true definition of excess. The lobster was moist and sublime, the butter rich and ever so lightly toasted, and the roll provided just enough crunch to hold it all together.

However, it became readily apparent that this was not a sandwich to linger over and savor. The roll, soaked from the river of butter, became soggy and quickly started falling apart in my hands. I did my best to keep it together, but there was too much butter, too much lobster and too little time.


As for the fries, they were all well salted and quite tasty but it was an odd mix of textures. There wasn’t any particular uniformity, some were small and crisp, other large and limp. Regardless of their size and texture, they played a distant second fiddle to the lobster.

Several hours after I set out from my hotel, I had to wonder if the walk to and wait at Neptune Oyster was worth it. Yes it was. From the cold plate of oysters, shrimp, and crab to the monumental lobster roll it was all divine, even the lackluster clam chowder had its charms. If I’m looking for a negative to this meal, it reads like a list of first world problems. My clam chowder wasn’t meaty enough. My lobster roll has too much lobster and butter. These are the problems that I love to have. I can only hope that Neptune Oyster hasn't forever spoiled me on lobster rolls.

Neptune Oyster Address & Information

63 Salem Street, Boston, MA 02113 // 617.742.3474 // Neptune Oyster Website // Neptune Oyster Menu

Neptune Oyster on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

New Shanghai - Boston

Day three in Boston, and after the gastronomical delights of Hungry Mother and Craigie on Main, it was time to delve back into my Chinese roots with another visit to Chinatown. While dimsum at Hei La Moon had passed muster, I had arrived in Boston with a taste for the numbing heat of Sichuan cuisine. Normally, I wouldn’t have associated this Yankee pot roast part of New England with quality Sichuan food but I suppose that was the point of a year old Serious Eats article. Aptly named “8 Cities and The Dishes They’re Not Known For (But Should Be)”, this slideshow cites culinary goldmines such as Detrot’s burgers, San Francisco’s ice cream, Portland’s pizzas, but most relevant to my interests was Boston and their Sichuan food.

Sadly most of the listed restaurants were mostly out of reach. Zoe’s in Cambridge, Chili Garden in Medford, FuLoon in Malden, and Sichuan Garden II in Brookline all sounded delicious but I decided to make the best of my situation and head to the one Chinatown restaurant on the list, New Shanghai.

Taking a seat at one of New Shanghai’s hot pot tables, it was hard to know where to begin. With more than 200 items on their menu including hot pot, Sichuan appetizers, and Peking snacks, I could have been quite to content to plan my next month of meals here, but I took a page from Fuschia Dunlop and started with a bowl of Dan Dan Noodles.

Beneath the virginal white of the noodles lay a pool of chili infused oil that was ready to turn this beef, noodle and green laden bowl into a mess of ma la goodness.

Well, that was the hope as I mixed the noodles. Actually the flavors were pretty subtle and frankly a bit bland at first but with each bite, the oily, tender noodles gained more of that dusty Sichuan peppercorn taste.

Not content with noodles, an order of Sichuan wontons with red chili sauce was next on my table.

These wontons were the best of both worlds; a sesame tinged chili oil whose heat only compounded with each bite and just a touch of sweetness to bring you down to earth.

Putzing around with noodles and wontons is all well and good but it was time to step up to the big leagues and prepare for a full on prickly ash assault. This would be the ideal time to swan dive into a bowl of mapo tofu, but I had beef on my mind and boiled beef fillet with red pepper and bean sprouts seemed like a fine choice.
Dusted with ground Sichuan peppercorns and minced raw garlic, would this bowl finally be the numbing knockout punch I was looking for?

The answer came with my first bite of beef. Almost immediately, a wave of vinegar laden chili melded with the tender filet to form the big, bold flavors I was hoping for.

The strips of celery and bok choy played the welcome role of textural contrast and much needed greenery, but the highlight of this boiled beef was the lip numbing excellence of well made Sichuan food. I came to New Shanghai looking for quality Sichuan cuisine and, if this boiled beef is any indication, I found it.

Needless to say, I was very happy with the three dishes I tried. Yes, three out of 200+ is hardly fair to judge a restaurant, but, in this case, it works. Maybe next time I’m in Boston, I’ll have a bigger appetite or company to try more of the favorites like mapo tofu, cumin lamb or Chengdu chicken, but that will have to wait. However, if there is one fiddly detail that bothers me, it’s that New Shanghai charges for their white rice. Charging for good fried rice I can understand, but if you’re going to serve me excellent Sichuan food that begs for rice and then make me fork over an extra $1.25 for the privilege, I’ll do it, but I will complain about it.

New Shanghai Address & Information

21 Hudson Street, Boston, MA 02111 // 617.338.6688 // New Shanghai Website // New Shanghai Menu

New Shanghai Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Craigie on Main - Cambridge

There’s something to be said for dining alone. It’s a chance to collect your thoughts, focus on the food, and usually catch up on a little reading. However, light reading was the least of my concerns when I was seated at a high top in the bar of Craigie on Main. I was there for a tasting menu and to see the brilliance that had garnered Chef Tony Maws the title of Boston’s Best Chef and one of America’s Best New Chefs from Food and Wine, but first a little background. Prior to arriving in Massachusetts, I had never heard of Tony Maws or Craigie on Main, but after an adamant recommendation from Mr. Gaertner, I made the first reservation possible. Now you know why I was perched on a bar chair at 5:30 on a Sunday evening.

To ease the pain of such an early dinner, I tried to take full advantage of the well reviewed bar at Craigie on Main.


The Merchant’s Wife was a cocktail made with watermelon shrub, ethereal, dolin dry, angostura, and basil. Watermelon may seem like an odd choice for early October, but it was perfect for the last throes of an Indian summer.

Before I could finish my drink a trio of amuse preparations was brought to my table.

According to my menu, this plate consisted of squid noodles, house-cured Portuguese sardine, and a smoked bluefish rillette.

Starting with the squid, these tender, chilled noodles were coated with sweet nuoc cham and toasted garlic. While I was hoping for a touch of chili heat from the nuoc cham, I could have eaten an entire bowl of these squid noodles.


Moving to the cured sardine, it was evident that the kitchen at Craigie on Main can cure fish with the best of them. This sardine was just salty enough and the buttermilk dressing at the bottom of the bowl played a nice tangy foil.

Not for the faint of heart, the smoked bluefish rillette had a thick, fishy taste that was only accentuated by the hackleback caviar. This was big, bold, pungent and eaten with great satisfaction.

The second course kept in the same fish centric vein with a plate of black bass sashimi.


Served with apple, watermelon radish, and jalapeno, this black bass was tender and meaty with just a subtle oiliness.

Although the slightly sweet sauce was a nice addition, the real highlight was the textural contrast of black bass and the crunch of the apple.

It was with the third course that Craigie on Main began to show why they chose a pig for their logo.
House-cured guanciale wrapped harpooned swordfish with fresh rock shrimp, barley couscous, fingerling potatoes, and salt cod-daikon broth. Despite looking like a busy plate, all the components worked quite well together. While the swordfish may have bore a resemblance to a slice of pork loin, it had a meaty, unique flavor that, compared to the black bass and bluefish, did taste more like pork than fish.


The couscous and rock shrimp were just as well prepared as the swordfish albeit with a slightly salty tail. Aside from the porky swordfish, what didn’t make sense to me was the role of the daikon. I realize it was a part of the broth, but the two daikon rolls seemed tacked on.

The lone soup on the tasting menu came in the form of a soup of Long Island Cheese pumpkin.

On its own, this soup was buttery rich and creamy that, for some reason, reminded me of chicken tikka masala.

However, the real star of the bowl was a small grilled cheese sandwich. Modeled after Chef Maws’ favorite London market grilled cheese, this two cheese and pork belly sandwich was a decadent monstrosity. When the buttered, toasted bread was combined with the soup and the two cheeses, I think the pork belly was overkill. It was all delicious, but still too much.

Playing the role of a pasta course was a plate of house-made pumpkin macaroni.
Rounding out the plate component’s was kid goat confit, charred tomato, and sweet potato.
I rarely see pumpkin pasta, but this was exceedingly tender with a subtle, earthy sweetness.

As rare as pumpkin pasta, goat is a personal favorite and this meltingly tender goat confit was a sterling example of the meat. I wouldn’t have imagined that goat and sweet potato work together so well, but they were a dynamic duo in this dish.

Apparently the guanciale from the swordfish and pork belly from the pumpkin soup was too little pork as the next course was a plate of grilled pork belly.


This plate was a feast for the senses, the grill marks, the heady pork aroma, and the taste. Actually, while the pork was quite well seasoned, the belly was dry and overcooked.

Even with the ample maitake mushroom, pork broth, and pears, the dryness of the pork still shone through with every bite.

Outside of the pork belly, the rest of the dish was sweet and very reminiscent of sugar cured country ham, especially the broth.

The last of the savory plates arrived in the form of a spice-crusted venison leg.


Back in perfectly cooked form, this venison was achingly tender with just a touch of cinnamon with each bite.


Complimenting the slight gaminess of the venison were the earthy flavors of venison sausage, autumn olive coulis, and matsutake mushrooms.

Before diving headfirst into the sweetness of the dessert course, I was eased in with a plate of celery and green apple sorbet.
Stracciatella cheese and candied celery are not what I would consider dessert ingredients,


but this plate of tart and salty ingredients made me reconsider my definition of dessert flavors.

Taking my tastebuds for a whirlwind conclusion, my waitress next arrived with a plate of sassafras poached pears.

Surrounded by concord grapes, graham cracker, chevre ice cream, and raspberry syrup, this was akin to a deconstructed pie.

The pears, full of rich sassafras, when combined with the raspberry syrup and a bit of graham cracker made for a beautiful four note chord of flavors.

Finishing the meal was a palette cleansing yogurt foam with carrot granite.

Rich as mascarpone cheese, the foam was the perfect vehicle for the bright taste of ginger and the biggest carrot flavor I’ve ever tasted.

At this point, I was ready to roll out of my chair and find a cab to take me back to Boston, but there was one more tiny plate to come.

Caramel macaroons, they were as well made and delicious as they looked. Each bit size piece began with a flush of chocolate and ended with just a touch of salinity, magic.

If there’s one thing I take from each tasting menu, degustation, chef’s menu, etc, that I try, it’s what I was told by my good friend and current CIA student, Frank told me; "Always get the tasting menu, you put yourself in the chef’s hands." I may have distorted the wording over the years, but the idea remains the same, a tasting menu is a chance for a chef to showcase his talents and for the diner to be taken on a gustatory thrill ride. After my experience with Tony Maw’s tasting menu at Craigie on Main, I can understand why he has earned so much acclaim. Outside of an overcooked pork belly, each dish was artfully prepared and composed. I still think that the pork belly in the soup’s cheese sandwich was unnecessary but it was damn tasty. To think, were it not for Bill’s suggestion, I would have aimlessly wandering Boston’s culinary landscape; it pays to have friends who appreciate good food.

Craigie on Main Address & Information

853 Main St, Cambridge, MA 02139 // 617.497.5511 // Craigie on Main Website // Craigie on Main Menu // Craigie on Main Reservations

Craigie On Main on Urbanspoon