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Merrill & Co, South End

“Hi… I just wanted to let you know we don’t have the salmon, the mussels or the ribs tonight,” our waiter informed us as we sat down. We nodded and were unconcerned as we were there to get their fried chicken dinner, but I was shocked that they were out of 3 entrees when it was 5:30pm, the start of the dinner service.

Boston Magazine recently released their 50 best restaurants list. Merrill & Co did not make it, but the fried chicken dinner ($28) earned a mention in the Destination Dishes list; it includes 4 pieces of sweet tea brined chicken, coleslaw and a biscuits. As you know, I do love me a good biscuit. We added an order of mac & cheese to round out the meal ($11)

“Sorry ladies…we are out of biscuits, we are serving cornbread with the meal instead.”
WHAT? Out of biscuits at 5:30pm? WTF?! You aren’t out of biscuits – your lazy chef hasn’t bothered making them. We should have left, but we nodded again and resigned ourselves to inferior cornbread.

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The chicken was over fried – one shade darker and it would have been burnt. The interior was moist, but I did not detect any of the sweet tea brine. The skin was crispy, but detached from the meat at first bite. The slaw was swimming in mayo and might have come from a large Sysco tub. The aforementioned cornbread was Yankee style (sweet and cakey) and served seared in a cast iron pan. It would have been good, if the bottom was not completely blackened.

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The mac & cheese came hot and bubbling in a cast iron casserole, topped with buttered bread crumbs. The sauce was creamy and well-seasoned and the topping added a much needed contrast to the soft pasta.

Our service was fine (other than informing us about all the missing menu items). The prices are high for the food. Sorry, Boston Magazine, this is not a destination.

http://www.merrillandcoboston.com/

La Victoria Taqueria, Arlington MA

A popular Beverly restaurant opened an outpost in Arlington Center 2 weeks ago. They serve a small menu of burritos, tacos, quesadillas and tortas. The space is tiny, with tables lined against both walls; I imagine they aim to do a lot of take out.

I might need to make a rule that says no going to restaurants during the first month of opening. Bagelsaurus was a disaster and after waiting over 35 minutes for my lengua (beef tongue) burrito, I decided to give new places some time to work out the kinks.

burrito

The 12" burrito was good, not great; the meat was tender, but not very flavorful. $5.50 is a reasonable price, but they do charge an extra .50 for sour cream, cheese or guac. I liked it enough that I will return here for a torta (6.5) when the lines die down and they learn to manage their kitchen better.

http://www.victoriataqueria.com/menu.html

Dunkin’ Donuts Cronut

Okay, they cannot legally call it a Cronut (Dominique Ansel made sure to trademark the name) but it’s clear that Dunkins is trying cash in on the croissant donut hybrid phenomena – too bad they are a year too late to the party.

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Still, I had to try it for the Flog. It sells for $2.50 and comes in a special, single donut display box. I cut a cross section and the layers had a vague resemblance to a croissant.

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The real Cronut is filled with pastry cream; D&D’s version is plain. The donut was less greasy than Ansel’s, but also less distinctive, without the cream filling. It was not that different from their standard glazed donut (other than the steep price difference). Verdict? Not worth it, but at least I did not need to wake up at 6am and wait 3 hours in line for it.

http://www.dunkindonuts.com/content/dunkindonuts/en/menu/food/bakery/donuts/croissant_donut.html

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Edamame, Watertown

I had dinner with my friend Nate here on a quiet Monday night. Half of the restaurant is devoted to hibachi, so we sat on the other side of the restaurant adjacent to the sushi bar.

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I ordered the Edamame Bento box ($20) and it came with shumai, rice, miso soup, salad, a California roll, and then a choice of two items. The options included different terikayis and tempuras, as well as sushi and sashimi. I asked to have double sashimi.

The Bento box was generous and came with the selection of tuna, salmon, mackerel, octopus, and yellowtail. The cuts were even and well sliced. The salmon was my favorite, I thought the tuna was a bit watery and flavorless and the other fish was nondescript. The shumai was fried, which was strange.

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Nate got a roll called a spicy tuna sandwich ($14) which was tuna and avocado, layered with rice that was made to look like a sandwich. He also had a Alaskan roll (salmon, avocado, cucumber, $5.75) He thought the sandwich was an unique take on a sushi roll.

Our waitress was attentive; Nate never had to wait long for a diet Coke refill. We had a Groupon, which made it more reasonably priced, than it actually was.

http://edamamenewton.com/

Cranberry crumb bars with mulling spices

I mentioned these cranberry crumb bars last week in my cookbook book club post. I loved the sweet/tart combo of the cranberry filling. The recipe is incredibly easy to make; the base and the topping are one and the same, and the filling does not require cooking. A quick blitz in the food professor is all the cranberries need. This is a terrific autumn dessert and would be great addition to your Thanksgiving dessert table.

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Cranberry crumb bars with mulling spices recipeCollapse )

Patti’s Pierogis, Fall River

When people talk about food that “will stick to your ribs”, the hearty Polish fare at Patti’s Pierogis is what they are talking about. It will also stick to your thighs, belly and backside, but should you care, when the food is this good? Absolutely not. I certainly do not recommend eating this way everyday, but if you happen to find yourself in Fall River, do not miss an opportunity to go to Patti’s Pierogis for some of the tastiest food I have had recently.

The restaurant was virtually empty at 1:30pm on Wednesday; there is a bar where you can play Keno and then a larger dining room area. The polka played in the background. Following the advice of my waitress, I ordered Polish plate #1. It came with a kapusta soup (cabbage, sauerkraut, potato and for an extra $.50 I got crumpled kielbasa) a cabbage and pork pierogi, a potato and cheese pierogi, a link of kielbasa and a golabki, which is a large cabbage leaf stuffed with beef and rice, covered in a tomato sauce. The bread basket also had the most delicious Rye bread.

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The soup was hearty with chunks of potato, and but it was a little salty. It reminded me of the broth after I have cooked corned beef with all the cabbage.

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My Polish plate came shortly after. The pierogi were excellent. The skins were rolled so thin, yet did not tear. Even Mama Tsoi’s dumpling skins are not as thin and delicate (don’t tell her I said that). The pierogis had been boiled and then fried in butter, emerging golden brown and crispy - so delicious. The kielbasa casing had a snap and was not too salty as most kielbasas are. I asked for more the excellent rye bread and I made myself a kielbasa sandwich. The stuffed cabbage was humongous; I was only able to finish half. I thought the rice and beef mixture was a little mushy and the tomato sauce a little bland. It was easily the weakest part of my dish. The prices are reasonable as well. My Polish plate was $12 and I ordered another dozen fresh pierogi ($12) to take home to cook for dinner later this week. I wish I also got a loaf of the Rye bread, as well.

http://www.pattispierogis.com/

Bagelsaurus, Cambridge

It was hard not to hate myself a little as I waited in line at Bagelsaurus, a brand-new bagel bakery that just opened last week. Previously, Mary Ting Hyatt sold her bagels once a week at Cutty’s sandwich shop and people raved about how delicious they were. So when her new shop opened on Mass Ave, between Harvard Square and Porter Square, I decided to check it out. The doors open at 8am so I figured I would stop by and grab a few bagels for breakfast. When I arrived at 8:05am the line was already out the door about 25 people deep. It took about 20 minutes just to get inside the shop and that is when I discovered I was waiting for bagels that were $2.50 a pop and a wave of self-hatred washed over me. I told myself it was okay because it was for the Flog, and I will go to great lengths for my loyal readers. I grew nostalgic for the days when my college roommate Joanna and I would walk down to W. 110th St. and get bagels at Columbia Bagels for $.50.

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The bagels at Bagelsaurus are $2.50 each, $13 for six, $25 for a Baker's dozen. Although I really only needed two or three bagels for me and Steve, I decided to buy half a dozen. I got a plain, sesame, everything, black olive, cinnamon raisin, and a seeded wheat. They do not offer onion or egg.

It is clear that the people at Bagelsaurus have not figured out the best way to operate their lines. It was sluggishly slow; it should not have taken me 35 minutes to get my bagels. I am hoping for their sake they work out the kinks soon.

When I got to Steve’s, the bagels were still warm enough that they did not need toasting. I tried the black olive first and then had half of the everything bagel. As much as I wanted to dislike the bagel, I have to admit they were pretty good. They were appropriately dense and chewy with a crackly crust and great flavor.

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Steve liked them as well. I asked him if they were twice as good as his daily bagel at Dunkin' Donuts, which cost half the price. He mulled it over as he chewed and said “probably,” he said it “wasn't for every day but it was pretty good as a treat.” Only Steve would call a bagel “a treat.”

Although I cringe at the price tag, I guess it is still cheaper than driving to New York (or building a time machine) to get a bagel fix.

http://www.bagelsaurus.com/

Smitten Kitchen’s mushroom bourguignon

My cookbook book club met again and this month’s selection was The Smitten Kitchen cookbook based on recipes from Deb Perelman’s popular cooking blog. I chose to make mushroom bourguignon, a vegetarian version of one of my favorite beef stew recipes.

The recipe is simple and easy to follow. Without beef, the stew comes together quickly; the most time consuming part was prepping the mushrooms (I used 2 lbs of criminis). It was delicious and hearty – perfect for a chilly autumn day. It is hard to go wrong with mushrooms, carrots, onions, garlic, and red wine. I served it over egg noodles with sour cream for garnish.

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RecipeCollapse )

Newbridge Café, Chelsea

"Chelsea Police investigate two separate murders in area today"

This is not what you want to see on the TV news headline as you are sitting down to dinner in Chelsea. Steve and I went to Newbridge Café, a hole in the wall that has been around for almost 40 years and is famous for their steak tips. Steve noted that Zagat's gave them a 7 for décor. That's 7 out of 30, folks.

It was 7pm on Saturday night and a line formed adjacent to the bar, but when I spoke to the hostess she offered us a middle table (in the middle of the upper level room) or a 15-20 minute wait. We opted for the cramped table.

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We both ordered the same thing: steak tips, medium rare with salad ($17) and an order of fries ($5) to share. The tips lived up to their reputation. We each got a generous portion of perfectly medium rare meat that was tender and flavorful. The salad was a mountain of iceberg chunks with 2 segments of sad, pale tomatoes, and some red onions.

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Our steak fries were huge potato planks – they didn't taste fried, but dehydrated.

The reviews I read had knocked the service, but our waitress was friendly enough and efficient. We got several "how you doing?" during the meal and she was speedy with water refills and our check.

Despite the delicious tips, I don't think I'll go back. There are plenty of occasions, events, social gatherings where I'm the only non-Caucasian in the room and it is seldom an issue, however, sitting in the middle of the dining room, in this restaurant, I definitely caught a few looks. I guess I can't assume it's about race, or being in a inter-racial couple, but there was definitely something going on and it was uncomfortable. The only other time I have felt this way in a restaurant was Santarpio's, over a decade ago. I was glad when we paid the bill and left.

http://www.newbridgecafe.com/
64 cakes later, I am done – I have picked a cake for the wedding, or cupcakes to be more precise.

Icing on the Cake, Newton

This bakery was recommended to me by not one, but two people. They kept us waiting for 20 minutes, but my cake consultant was fast and efficient. We tried 5 different cakes:

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Mocha Chocolate - Moist deep chocolate cake with mocha buttercream and raspberry jam

Lemon Velvet - Light lemony cake layered with lemon buttercream and raspberry jam

Golden Amaretto - Gold cake laced with Amaretto liqueur and layered with Amaretto buttercream

White Chocolate Mousse - Gold or chocolate cake layered with whipped white chocolate mousse

Red Velvet Cake - Traditional red velvet filled with cream cheese icing

The red velvet was my favorite of the bunch, but nothing blew me away. The cake was moist, but the texture was a little strange. It felt like it had been saturated with sugar syrup, but when I asked if that was the case, they said no. The cakes are on the pricier side - $4.75 - $5.25 a serving, and additional decorating costs may apply.

http://www.tiotc.com/flavors/index.html

Quebrada, Wellesley

I used to live down the street from the Quebrada location in Arlington and was a fan of their pastries. The main bakery is located in Wellesley. I liked how they did their tasting: We were given 3 unfrosted cupcakes: golden, chocolate and carrot, and an array of filling and frostings so that we could make our own combinations.

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Their buttercreams were excellent: light, silky and not too sweet. The mocha buttercream was my favorite. Their buttercream is an Italian meringue, which is far superior to just butter or shortening. The cake was tender, moist and had good flavor. I think what clinched it for me is that they sell the cupcakes in petite sizes, which are more portion appropriate for my dessert plan (sundae bar, cupcakes and cookie platters from Lakota)

http://www.quebradabakingco.com/

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