10 November, 2013

Phantom Gourmet Summer Barbecue Beach Party


This summer the Phantom Gourmet brought a Barbecue Beach party to downtown Boston. This party included 7 of the nation's top rib masters, and each offered a sampler of their ribs. 3 ribs per sampler times 7 rib schools means 21 bones left over. Assisting me in this task was my love, so how did we rate them?

The First chef we tried was the Awesome Aussie. He was standout being the only foreigner and boasting that he had the best corn bread. Thankfully, his lines were the shortest at the beginning of the day, so we decided to pick his first.

His ribs smelled amazing and looked well smoked. They had a nice smoke ring which made us happy. We each tried them, with unfortunately no other ribs to gauge them they stood alone. They tasted a bit bland, not neccessiarly tasty. The sauce that the Aussie (and all other chefs claimed about their respective sauces) stated was a world champion tasted generic. It was not bad, just not a standout sauce. It was decent, but the bleh sauce did nothing to spice up a not-so-flavorful meat.

Another disappointing part to the Awesome Aussie was the cornbread. After the praise about this bread was sung, in reality it tasted more like a sugary cake. The heaviness it caused also prevented us from trying any further cornbread.

For the first chef, the Awesome Aussie was not anything spectacular. Our rating was 7 out of 10. Awesome Aussie has his own website if you're interested in his down-under 'que.

Next up in our barbecue adventure was the Chicago professor from the Chicago BBQ Company. Chicago is known for many cuisines, but how do they serve up ribs? The smell was an instant draw, and unlike the Awesome Aussie they had two large jugs fill of their sauce. Tasting both the normal and spicy, they came off a bit sweet. However, there was a level of flavor to the sweetness that the Aussie's sauce did not capture.

The ribs smelled amazing, just like the smoke coming from the grill. Biting into the meat, the first thing noticed was how soft it was. This was fall-off-the-bone delicious, well smoked and brined. The sauce complimented this flavor with a spicy note. Also of note, while the sauce was sweet on its own, they served it with very little sauce, letting the smoked meat shine.

I personally preferred Chicago's ribs over all others, and my wife only disagreed in that it wasn't number one. We both agreed that the Chicago BBQ Company made an amazing plate of ribs. I rated them 10 out of 10. The Chicago BBQ Company has their own website if you're interested in the Windy city masters.

Third on the tour was the local team, Fireflies. There was a large line around this vendor, given their connection to the North East. Alot of their trash talking before-hand centered on the North East competing with the other big names. Did it?

Again, they had large dispensers of their sauce. We tried both, and they were also a bit sweet. The spicy sauce had a decent spice, but nothing to write home about. We smelled a delicious smell walking up to the pit, and notice they sold fried 'qlams'. The ribs we were given smelled good and had nice grill-marks.

Too bad that's the only nice thing to say. The ribs were awful. The sauce was way too sweet, overpowering the bland, fatty meat. I do mean fatty meat. All three had large ridges of fat that made the ribs inedible. The small amount off meat attached to bone and fat was rather tasteless.

Me and my wife both rated Fireflies the worst barbecue we've ever had. There was nothing of note aside from failure. 0 out of 10. Fireflies BBQ of Framingham has their own website for further information.

Firefly's BBQ on Urbanspoon

Would Texas save the day? Texas ALWAYS boasts how they are the biggest and best, and while this may not be true in football, they had a chance to recover at barbecue. Texas Thunder BBQ represented the loan-star state with a massive smoker styled in a pistol. Their sauce samples tasted nice but like the Awesome Aussie, there was nothing special. The smell from the grill more than made up for another lack-luster sauce.

Texas Thunder BBQ hands-down had the best smoked meat of the day. It was incredibly tender and flavorful. The soft protein was salty and smokey without surrendering to any feeling of fattiness. Hats off to Texas!

My wife decided this was her favorite thus-far and I declared this to be my second favorite. Texas Thunder Scored 9 out of 10, missing the perfect score because of the lack-luster sauce. Texas Thunder is online if you want to try their BBQ.

We then passed the mid-point to go to the Big Show. The Big Show was said to have the best sauce, though we did not hear much about the meat. The line was quite long, and their speciality seemed to be pulled pork over ribs. After trying their sauces, the spicy sauce was THE spiciest I tried (another advertised a nuclear sauce, but did not offer a spout to sample it).

These ribs also shared an amazing look, with grill marks very prominent. These ribs, like the Awesome Aussie, tasted generic. There weren't any standout flavors nor was the meat anything special. The meat was decent but had no spectacular smokiness to differentiate itself.

Me and my wife agreed the Big Show scored a less-than-big 6 out of 10. Perhaps their pulled pork is better? Check out the Big Show's website.

Rasoi of Pawtucket

Rasoi in Pawtucket represents the pinnacle of Indian cuisine in Rhode Island. The interior sports primary colors and large photos of India. Beautiful red dividers give intimate spaces while an island bar offers an all-you-can-eat buffet on Sundays. Everything was clean and the pleasant smells of spices filled the entire restaurant.

First we receive papadum served with a tamarind sauce and marinated onions; an Indian version of chips and salsa. The chips are served in a nice wire basket with holders for the two toppings. By themselves, the papadum are tasty made of either lentils or potato (or both?) flavored with what appeared to be caraway seeds. Each bite was crispy and addicting. The tamarind sauce, like a sweet ketchup, complimented the papadum better than the marinated onions. A bitterness kept the onions from being enjoyable.

We had the chicken Varuval as an appetizer. A delicate dish of griddled chicken topped with red onions, cilantro, and a savory yogurt sauce. The chicken bits were wonderfully cooked and coated with a piquant spice blend. The cool sauce complimented the chicken's spice.

For dinner we had the Hyderabadi Chicken Korma and the Aloo Gobhi with jasmine Basmati rice and plain nan. The Korma, served a lovely silver bowl, is a dish of chicken braised in a yogurt-cashew-coconut sauce. Warming and inviting, the nan soaked up the sauce perfectly. Each piece of chicken itself was wonderfully moist and tender. As contrast, the vegetarian Aloo Gobhi represented sweet and tangy. Aloo Gobhi is a dish of potatoes and cauliflower cooked in tomatoes and onions. Both dishes came with small ramekins of lentils that, while tasty, were out of place flavor-wise.

Overall the food is 5-stars. Unfortunately the service hindered an otherwise wonderful experience. Instead of one server, we had a rotating cast who seemed unfamiliar with our requests. We ordered an extra nan bread mid-course and never received the quick-cooking bread. After finishing the meal we had some chicken Korma remaining that would have reheated well the next day. Unfortunately the waiter forgot we asked for it to be wrapped up as we inquired about the missing order of nan.

Rasoi features great Indian food served in great portions for a reasonable price. Service was the only downside in the dinning experience. The staff could use further training or proper management to ensure everything runs smoothly. Had a manager come over to check on the patrons we would have inquired about our missing food. Rasoi's menu and website are available here.

Rating: B+

Rasoi on Urbanspoon

25 November, 2012

Greenville Inn

Nestled deep in Greenville is the Greenville Inn (appropriately named). The exterior screams Rhode Island dining classic with a sign that advertises 'Family Style Chicken' and Italain-American cusine. That's not a bad thing to diners in the Ocean State, but does the exterior indicate a good place to eat?

Inside, the atmosphere changes from carriage house to classic New England with exposed beams and soft light. The busy staff were quick to seat us, and placed us to a room with a nice big fireplace. Unfortunately, the fireplace was not lit. Otherwise, the room felt very cozy.

We ordered 5 dishes. All are classic Italian dishes popular in Rhode Island. The first, our appetizer, fried Calamari served with banana peppers (we asked them to omit then, more below). Then we each ordered a pasta dish. I ordered the Pasta Fagioli with the Pasta Aglio Olio. My wife ordered J. Bell's Tomato Sauce with capellini and a side salad.

The fried Calamari came out quick. The plated looked like a mound of golden rings. Why did we omit the banana peppers? Most times the peppers turn the delicious fried squid soggy. Thankfully every bite of this dish had a perfect crunch. The Calamari itself was tender enough. My wife enjoyed the fact that the plate lacked bodies (though I wondered where the little tentacles went off to?).

Next came the second course. My wife's salad was eh, served with a neutral oil and neon-red vinegar. It was standard salad with nothing to write home about. I noticed a trend with the oil presented with the salad as to what they us to fry the Calamari.

At the same time I enjoyed a small bowl of Pasta Fagioli. It was garlicky, but lacked a full tomato flavor I expect in the dish. The pasta itself was overcooked. It tasted too much like a canned soup you could buy in the supermarket.

Finally, our main courses arrived. I ordered the Pasta Aglio Olio made with linguine. The oil and garlic showed up with some powdered Parmesan cheese aiding some extra flavor and saltiness. I missed something more from this dish. A shaker of red pepper flakes added some heat. I would have loved for the chef to have added some of the black olives from my wife's salad. Otherwise everything tasted great, though there was a bit too much oil in the plate. Again, it was the non-olive oil.

My wife had the J. Bell's Tomato Sauce with capellini (angel hair if you do not speak Italian). She enjoyed every bite. The sauce was bright and the pasta was perfectly cooked. I found the sauce a tad bitter (the same bitterness found in tomato seeds), but my wife did not taste it. I am curious to how the meatballs and sausage would taste with the red sauce.

Overall, this was a great Italian-American meal. I felt like I was eating Rhode Island food in a Rhode Island restaurant. Despite a few minor missteps, I felt comfortable and left satisfied without a big hit in the wallet. If you're in Greenville and need a nice meal, I can endorse stopping at the local Inn.

The Greenville Inn has a website and this is the Greenville Inn's Facebook fan page.

Rating: B+

Greenville Inn on Urbanspoon

13 April, 2012

Special Earth Dinner at Gracie's

Gracie’s Pays Homage to the Earth by Celebrating Its
Bounties with Special “Earth Dinner”

Earth Dinner Menu Incorporating Locally Sourced Food Offered on
Friday, April 20 and Saturday, April 21

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (April 12 2012) – Gracie’s restaurant in downtown Providence is among more than 100 Chefs Collaborative-member restaurants across the nation joining forces with Organic Valley to host an “Earth Dinner” in celebration of Earth Day. On Friday, April 20 and Saturday, April 21, Gracie’s will offer guests an Earth Day menu to select from in addition to its spring menu. The nationwide “Earth Dinner” event promotes restaurants that use local, organic and sustainable food – all things that Gracie’s makes a priority in creating its menus – and provides the restaurants with a vehicle for “giving back” to the local farms they secure food from.

“The Gracie’s team is always thrilled to be involved with this initiative as it is a natural extension of all that we already do to celebrate local foods and their vibrant flavors and nurture a more sustainable food supply,” said Ellen Gracyalny, owner of Gracie’s. “Taking part in the ‘Earth Dinner’ event is also an expression of our appreciation for local farmers and purveyors who provide us with the fresh ingredients we insist on using in our menu offerings.”

Gracie’s Earth Dinner will feature a unique menu created by Gracie’s Executive Chef Matthew Varga. Guests will also receive educational materials about the Earth Dinner and Gracie’s commitment to sustainability. The prix fixe menu ($40 per guest) will be broken down into three courses with one choice for each course:

First Course

• Baby Greens Salad – organic cranberries, goat cheese croquette, Providence granola (Baby Greens Farm, Simmons Farm, Fairland Farms, Providence Granola project)

• Rhode Island Parsnip Soup – Empire apples, parsnip crisps, hearty mustard, young parsley (Schartner Farm, Hill Orchard, Silverbrook Farm, Farming Turtles)

• Zephyr Farm Egg – bacon braised cattle beans, winter rye bread, garden herbs & flowers (Zephyr Farm, Green Thumb Farm, Schartner Farm)

Second Course

• Local Skate Wing – pickled baby beets, braised green kale, grapefruit beurre blanc (The Local Catch, Farm Fresh & Company, Schartner Farm)

• Baffoni’s Farm Chicken Ballantine – roasted carrots, charred spring onion, potato puree, herb jus (Baffoni’s Farm, Schartner Farm, North Star Farm)

• Hopkins Farm Lamb – house made merguez, braised lettuce, pea falafel, salty feta (Hopkins Farm, Narragansett Creamery, Absalona Greenhouse)

Third Course

• Slopeside Maple Pudding – fried sweet ricotta, strawberry jam, Providence Muesli (Slopeside Syrup, Narragansett Creamery, Schartner Farm, Providence Granola Project)

• Frozen Nutter Butter – chocolate covered peanuts, caramel popcorn, toasted oatmeal ice cream (Aquidneck Honey, Fairland Farm, Farm Fresh & Company, Virginia & Spanish Peanut Co.)

Gracie’s will donate a portion of the proceeds received from the Earth Dinner to Chefs Collaborative, the leading nonprofit network of chefs and farmers that fosters a sustainable food system using the power of education, collaboration and responsible buying decisions. These funds will benefit the local farms that Gracie’s secures food from. Organic Valley, the nation’s largest cooperative of organic farmers and a leading organic brand, has promised to match all donations to Chefs Collaborative, up to $10,000.

“We’re thrilled! Involvement in this year’s Earth Dinner series has already broken a record – with more than 100 chefs and restaurants participating from every region of the country,” said Melissa Kogut, executive director of Chefs Collaborative. “We attribute this to a growing number of restaurants that make responsible food sourcing part of doing business.”

"Earth Dinner was born to remind us all that 70 percent of the earth’s resources are used to produce food," said Theresa Marquez, founder of Earth Dinner and mission executive for Organic Valley. "Organic Valley farmers and the members of Chefs Collaborative share this knowledge because producing food with the earth in mind is not only delicious but worthy of celebrating. Food to delight the taste buds from the most caring and thoughtful cooks in the world!”

To make reservations for Gracie’s Earth Dinner call 401.272.7811 or make an online reservation through Open Table.

About Gracie’s
Established in 1998, Gracie’s in downtown Providence, R.I. provides guests with a culinary experience that is anything but expected. The 70-seat restaurant, located at 194 Washington Street just steps from Trinity Repertory Theater, entices guests with seasonally inspired American cuisine that is fresh and inventive. In addition to the main dining room, Gracie’s also offers a private wine cellar for up to eight guests and a private dining room that can accommodate up to 70 people. In addition to award-winning food, guests can enjoy five-star cocktails and a wine list of more than 200 wines. Gracie’s can also cater a wide and unlimited range of events through Grace, Events by Gracie’s. For more information, visit www.graciesprov.com or call 401.272.7811.

03 April, 2012


A recent addition to Garden City is Pink Berry. I had always had Red Mango prior (the Burger King to their McDonalds) so this competitive establishment piqued my curiosity. I knew of their existence from prior national ads and mentions in popular culture. To know that finally Rhode Island received the exalted franchise made this an irresistible visit.

The design of the parlor is very modern. Bright colors and lighting made the interior alluring. One downside was the exceptionally long line, though that's always good for the owner. Tables were small and chairs were few and far between, but to me frozen yogurt is a walking food.

Upon ordering, you get the choice of either a single or 'twist' flavor selection from 6 available flavors. Only 3 pairs are truly twisted (like original and Blood orange, who's spouts were next to each other), with other 'twists' being simply the flavors extruded next to each other.

The first flavor my wife and I tried was Pomegranate. We are massive fans of Red Mango's pomegranate flavor (officially supported by Juice maker Pom Wonderful). Pink Berry's disappointed, tasting like just sweet red yogurt rather than pomegranate.

Thankfully, the flavors improved. We next tried Original and Blood Orange. Both were amazing; the original tasted similar to the Pomegranate but lacked the overwhelming sweetness that dominated the prior. The Blood Orange was also amazing, though one down side was the blood orange toppings, which tasted more like segments of grapefruit. After tasting both seperately, we noticed that the pair could be truly twisted, and the result blew away any creamsicle found at a summer ice cream truck.

Next we tried Chocolate and Peppermint. The chocolate was rich and dark and complimented brownie bites well. The peppermint fit the Christmas Season motif perfectly and was just minty enough to leave a wonderful aftertaste without leaving a 'just-brushed-my-teeth' feeling.

Pink Berry is a great yogurt spot, though the volume and some issues with the flavors and toppings kept me from feeling that this is the superior color+fruit themed yogurt parlor. The greatest benefit of Pink Berry is the friendly staff that will let you try anything. I wholey suggest trying each flavor before ordering, even if the rest of the long line disagrees.

Rating: B+

Pinkberry (Cranston) on Urbanspoon

10 August, 2010

East Side Pocket

Thayer Street in Providence sits as the main artery of Rhode Island's academic community. Hungry students demand good food, so bad restaurants never survive. East Side Pocket remains a bastion to the ravages of time that have changed many restaurants on the hill's busiest street. Popular opinion dictates its the best fast food restaurant, and many contend it's the best restaurant in the area.

I ordered a Dolma (stuffed Grape leaves) pocket. Dolmas are always a favorite of mine ever since I first tried one as a child. East Side Pocket's dolmas were quite tasty and not greasy. The stuffing complimented the soft tangy flavor of the grape leaves. Everything went together with some hummus, fresh vegetables, and a nice yogurt sauce. Everything together in the pita worked, and the savory flavors only tasted better with the seasoning used.

I enjoyed the Pocket, though I don't know if East Side Pocket is the best restaurant on college hill. Certainly it's the best pocket I've had, but then that's not to say it was better than anything else. Even small storefront restaurants have a website, and East Side Pocket is no different.

Rating: B+

East Side Pocket on Urbanspoon

09 August, 2010

Tip*C Cupcakes

Rhode Island has a cupcake Rivalry between the Cupcakerie and Tip*C Cupcakes of North Providence. Both offer gourmet cupcakes but they approach the methodology differently on how to produce the most flavor.

The biggest anomaly of Tip*C Cupcakes is their use of liquor to flavor the cupcakes. No, you won't get drunk from eating them, rather the liquor is added before baking to imbibe flavor similar to traditional flavor extracts commonly used in baking. They use the liquor to extend a few base flavor recipes into thousands of combinations based on traditional cocktails and their own creations. They also offer the buyer the ability to create their own batch based on their favorite liquors (or even beer and wine). The biggest question is, how do they taste?

The first two cupcakes my wife and I tasted were the regular Chocolate Cupcake (made without any liquor) and the Devil's Red Velvet (A red velvet cupcake made with Godiva Liquor, Kahlua, and Creme de Cacao). Both looked like a normal cupcake, the Chocolate topped with a chocolate butter cream and strawberry wedge while the red velvet looked to be topped with a cinnamon-cream cheese-butter cream and raspberry. The regular chocolate cupcake had a wonderfully deep chocolate flavor that the smooth chocolate butter cream only enhanced. The moist cake made eating the cupcake a pleasure. The Red Velvet had much more flavor than other red velvet cakes I've had, showcasing how the liquor added to the cupcake's flavor depth. The cinnamon-cream cheese-butter cream tasted wonderful when played off the complex chocolatey flavors present in the red velvet.

This delicious duo inspired my wife and I to obtain a 'six-pack' (more liquor humor :D) of cupcakes, so we picked different cupcakes which we wouldn't normally buy. The strawberry Margarita cupcake was the exception, since many fans told us to try that one out. Otherwise, the five other cupcakes all had different fruit flavors boasting different liquor combinations. One main observation about all 6 were they all used a base batter which may have been either plain or vanilla (hard to tell) and topped with similar tasting butter cream frosting.

The first cupcake we tasted of this batch was the Strawberry Margarita, made with strawberry vodka and tequila. The flavor felt like a Margarita, with the tangy strawberry flavor coming first followed by the rich agave flavor from the tequila. The 'Good Morning' was our second cupcake, again a plain mix flavored with Kahlua and Godiva chocolate liquor. My wife disliked this one, mainly because it picked up a 'boozy' flavor, though I found the flavor quite enjoyable. The third Cupcake was their Mimosa cupcake flavored with Grand Marnier and champange. The orange did not really come through, but the champange dominated the flavor. I would have preferred orange-flavored butter cream to really push that mimosa flavor. Next we tried the Passion Cupcake, flavored with Pear Vodka and Passion Fruit liquor. Both I and my wife disliked this cupcake, feeling the flavor combination did not work. We both enjoyed the blue raspberry cupcake (which looked more green than blue). The Raspberry vodka and liquor gave the cupcake a tart flavor that rivaled a blueberry muffin for the best blue baked good. The final cupcake we tasted was the biggest leap. They offered a bubblegum flavored cupcake. Bubblegum works with many things (gum, jellybeans, slurpees), but cupcakes? Believe it or not, the bubble gum flavor was not too harsh and flavored the cupcake nicely.

Tip*C cupcake's inventive use of liquor for flavoring, wonderfully moist texture, and great butter creams edge out the Cupcakerie as Rhode Island's best Cupcake location. Both are incredibly delicious, but Tip*C's quality and price make it a must experience bakery. Tip*C Cupcakes' website is full of helpful information including address, hour, and a full menu. They actively promote their facebook community, where the bakers release special deals and other information through the social networking site. Don't worry, there is no alcohol in the finished product so you won't be tipsy.

Rating: A

Tip*C Cupcakes on Urbanspoon

05 August, 2010

The Cupcakerie

A staple of the Pawtucket Farmer's market, the Cupcakerie has debuted their own storefront in Cranston, Rhode Island. Since Cupcakes have become the big desert draw of 2010, it seems proper that Rhode Island has healthy competition between two big cupcake bakeries. Since the Cupcakerie is the first I have tried, it will be the first that I have reviewed.

First off, I am not a cupcake man. I much prefer slices of cake (like those served at Pastiche on Federal Hill, hmmmmmm), BUT I will remain open to this new culinary trend.

The first cupcake reviewed will actually be one me and my wife bought at the Cupcakerie's Farmer Market stall, which was the Cinco de Mayo. Combining chocolate with chilies is also a recent trend which both I and she welcome, so we were eager to try it out. The chili-infused chocolate cake tasted wonderful and the cinnamon-vanilla butter cream on top complimented the deep flavors. It tasted original and delicious, two things cupcake bakers focus on when producing in this medium.

The next two cupcakes we tried were sampled at their Cranston location. My wife ordered the Chocolate Diva. She was disappointed that it came with pink butter cream rather than a nice dollop of ganache (she dislikes butter cream), but she thoroughly enjoyed the deep flavor and moist texture of the chocolate cake. I disliked the gritty texture of the pink butter cream, which came from the sugar added rather than the largers pieces of 'glitter' added atop to make it 'fabulous'.

The Peanut Butter Cup-cake was my choice. The idea of peanut butter cake tantalized me, given the wonderful peanut butter cookies at Wright's Dairy Farm and peanut butter ice cream at the Ice Cream Machine. Unfortunately, the cake did not deliver. While nicely baked, it tasted too generic without the rich peanut flavor. The chocolate butter cream did taste much better than the pink one and was on par with the cinnamon-vanilla variety offered on the Cinco de Mayo. Still, I would have preferred ganache.

The flavors are solid and feature classic and modern varieties. I definitely look forward to trying other flavors from this bakery. The Cupcakerie has a full website describing the various flavors and toppings offered at the little cafe. They also feature seasonal flavors and new flavors all the time, so be on the look out to try a new dessert if even for a quick snack.

Rating: A-

The Cupcakerie on Urbanspoon


Often it is pricey to enter a Japanese restaurant and feel the need to sample every piece of sushi and sashimi available. Many people are new to eating sushi and often have not experienced the different flavors and textures present in the different cuts and rolls presented. Minado offers all-you-can-eat sushi for a pre-set price with over thirty different options PLUS a full assortment of entrees and desserts. To me, Kyojin in Miami is the gold-standard for all other Japanese buffets due to the incredible quality. How does Minado in Natick compare?

The interior feels much more Boston than Japan, which is not a bad thing. Massive plastic models of different sea life adorn the ceilings and walls. Everything was clean, and the massive amount of tables forecasted the quality of the meal.

The Sushi/Sashimi bar looked impressive at first sight. The selections were rather generic (Salmon, Tuna, Snapper, etc.) but the rolls were highly creative. I enjoyed the dynamite roll, topped with Korean chili powder and rolled with tender tuna. The Mackeral nigri were also delicious and a sign of truly fresh fish. Me and my wife were a bit disapointed that they did not offer Sashimi for the Lunch serving, but it was easy to peel the fish from the nigri rolls.

Minado's hot food selection really places this buffet above all others. Many Chinese and Japanese buffets put out bland or over seasoned generic 'Chinese' food for the rubes to eat as an alternative to the sushi. Minado put out an impressive selection of steaks, tempura vegetables and seafood, Delicious noodles, and impressive Gyoza. I was genuinely surprised to see actual steak offered.

The Udon Bar also surprised me. A chef made each bowl of noddles and broth to order complete with a nice array of 'toppings'. The noodles, while a bit gummy, taste wonderful in the rich broth. Salads and cold pasta dishes also went well as an interesting side quest to the Sushi buffet, but they stood up well as individual offerings.

Dessert was decent for the buffet. The Jello was juicy if a tad firm and the pastries were a bit better than standard Chinese buffet mini cake. Fresh melon and pineapple (not canned) seperated Minado from lesser buffets. The soft-serve Vanilla and Green Tea machine produced decent ice cream but it made me miss the home made Green Tea and Red Bean flavors availible at Kyojin in Miami or at Enn in Lincoln, RI.

Minado delivered an impressive Japanese feast for less money than any Japanese restaurant could ever provide. Everything was tasty and cooked well (unless it was meant to be raw). Me and my wife enjoyed Minado and will return whenever we are in the Natick area. It was not the best Japanese Buffet I have been to, but it's definitely the second best.

Minado has a full website with all the information on both the Natick location and every other location, wherever they may be.

Rating: B+

Minado on Urbanspoon

Early Riser Breakfast

The Early Riser Breakfast ucked away in sleepy North Smithfield. Like many other breakfast spots, they advertise a varied menu of many breakfast classics. How does this mom and pop (mom serves and pop cooks) operation rate?

First, I and my wife entered a clean dinning room. Our waitress (the wife) offered us fresh coffee. She said it was Dunkin' Donuts, which was perfectly brewed. I ordered scrambled eggs, corned beef and hash, hashbrowns and wheat toast, while my wife ordered sunny-side up style eggs, bacon, hashbrowns, and white toast. We did not wait long for both plates, which smelled amazing.

My dish, which also came with home fries, was perfectly cooked. I did not like the canned Hashbrowns offered, though the large quartered coins of potatoes tasted wonderful with the slightly singed scrambled eggs. My toast was decent but tasted too much like wonder bread for me to get excited over it.

My wifes eggs were perfectly cooked, something of which I still struggle with when preparing her eggs sunny side up. She did not enjoy her hash browns, but she did enjoy the crispiness of the bacon. Her white toast was rather bland and dry.

Overall, we received a quick and tasty breakfast that did not impress us, but it also did not deter us from returning. If you're looking for a quick bite to eat and a hot cup of coffee, feel free to visit the Early Riser in North Smithfield.

The Early Riser has a full website with everything you could want to know.

Rating: B

Early Riser Breakfast on Urbanspoon

05 May, 2010

Ye Olde English Fish & Chips

A mainstay of downtown Woonsocket, Ye Olde English Fish & Chips reflects the industrial base of this northern New England city. The restaurant is located in the historic Market Square Plaza on South Main street. This workingman’s restaurant accompanies newer restaurants boasting modern cuisine and the museum of work and culture, but it does not sink into the background.

Simplicity defines the best cuisine. The title dish, fish and chips, reflects simplicity and quality flavor. They serve the fried fish and chips in paper akin to traditional English style. Flavorful cod is fried with a savory batter, producing a delicate piece of crispy and then flaky fish. The batter could be a bit lighter. The ‘chips’ (french fries on this side of the pond) were nice hand cut spuds, though most were a bit soggy. The oil used (non-hydrogenated for those self-conscious about trans-fats) was neutral enough to let the flavor of both to shine through.

The ‘Boneless Chicken’, or fried chicken fingers, provide an alternative for land lovers. They give depth to the menu. Unlike the thick batter on the fish, the chicken fingers have an almost non-existent coating. The fingers are also served with chips.

A wonderful pickle made a great side dish to the fried dinner. They serve it pre-sliced into coins. The garlicky-sour flavor play wonderfully with the buttery fish and tender chicken fingers. The coleslaw, however, tasted bland and of too much mayonnaise.

Service is restrained to the counter, though the restaurant has a full dining room for patrons to sit and enjoy. Cleanliness was a bit lax, but everything looked clean enough for a quick meal of fried fish and potatoes. They only take cash so be warned if you prefer using plastic. Ye Olde English Fish & Chips is worth the trip to the ATM, the prices are low and the food is delicious.

Ye Olde English Fish & Chips on Urbanspoon

Rating: B

09 April, 2010

La Masseria Ristorante

La Masseria, the spawn of a New York City restaurant with the same name, stands out on scenic Route 1 in East Greenwich. The wonderful spring blossoms and warm weather enhanced the approach to this new restaurant. Its concept is simple; rustic Italian cuisine served in a dinning room that resembles a farm house. All food would be inspired mainly from the Puglia region, though bits of Capri and Naples worked their way into the menu. The concept fits well with Rhode Island's rustic past and strong Italian influence. Designer Libby Langdon designed the interior with very nice results, though a pretty restaurant does not often make a good restaurant.

Me and my wife ate upstairs as part of a media luncheon that offered a lengthy tasting menu. The owners, Peppe and Enzo, introduced themselves. They detailed how their childhood in Capri influenced the restaurant. They introduced Chef Pino Coladonato and Manager Monopoli. They are the two in charge of the Rhode Island restaurant while the owners themselves would float between thee New York and Rhode Island locations. They made a special note that the staff had trained in the New York restaurant and transplanted to East Greenwich. Did the transplantation work?

Our meal started with a two types of rustic bread with olive oil, grissini (house made thin bread sticks) and a glass of lemony prosecco. Manager Monopoli served as our sommelier for the meal, noting he would accompany every dish with an appropriate wine. The prosecco fit the day perfectly with a light taste. The grissini tasted a tad dry, but were very flavorful. We also enjoyed a classic white italian bread and a grainy wheat bread. Alongside side the bread came a small dish of olive oil sporting what looked like capers, though we were corrected that it was infused with lentils and garlic. The mixture went well with the hardy crust and tender miche of both breads.

Our waiters then brought out the appetizer courses. The first course featured Bruschetta (small crostini topped with black truffles and fontina cheese), Fritto misto del Mare (a small selection of fried seafood), and I Cucuzielli Fritti alla Pino (fried zuchini strings). Overall, the presentation was nice but seemed a bit thrown together. The chef placed the fritto misto upon a slightly wilted red cabbage cup that took away some of the fritto misto's crispiness. The kitchen also placed a lemon-half alongside the trio. The lemon felt wildly out of place. The food, however, was delicious. Originally, we were told our bruschetta would have ripe tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil. The black truffle and fontina toppings surprised us (and it felt a bit like they were trying to buy us off), though it was delicious. The Fritto misto featured wonderfully sweet scallops and shrimp, though my calamari tasted a tad old and the texture was tougher than I am used to. The zuchini strings stole the show for me, despite being the least flashy of the trio. My wife preffered the truffle and fontina crostini, which was incredibly delicious. The delicate tempura crisped the strings perfectly, indicating why this was one of the owner's favorite dishes. We enjoyed the Bortoluzzi Pinot Grigio paired with the meal, noting it fit the summery selection.

Our next appetizer course featured another house speciality, the Mozzarella farcita. This house-made cheese included a daily selection of ingredients stuffed within the delicate presentation. Our stuffing included marinated eggplant, roasted red peppers, and tender asparagus. A wonderful stainless steel-aged Puglia chardonnay paired wonderfully with this dish, and the trio of vegetables went wonderfully with the fresh cheese. Plating also improved with the stuffed cheese set upon a large coin of marinated eggplant.

The final appetizer course, Terra mare del Tavoliere (grilled octopus and cuttlefish served atop broccoli rabe and a fava bean puree) paired with Feudi di San Gregorio Falanaghina. The wine was not stand-out with the dish, but the dish itself should grace every diner's table. The kitchen perfectly grilled the cephalopods tasted fantastic. Each were wonderfully marinated in separate concoctions that highlighted the unique tastes. I enjoyed the Octopus tentacles while my wife enjoyed the cuttlefish. Both proteins tasted wonderful dipped into the puree.

The dinner courses started with the restaurant's signature Polpette di Manzo della Masseria (long Italian title for house-made meatballs). Chef Pino prepares a fresh bath daily ground from tender rib eye beef, resulting in a soft and tasty meatball. The delicate tomato sauce and fresh greens served alongside the meatball enhanced its flavor, which all went together with glass of Corvina-Rondinella wine made from Palazzo della Torre. The Palazzo della Torre was a table favorite, and it paired magnificently with the meatball. The Polpette di Manzo stands out as a simple dish that showed true proficiency and potential.

A course of gnocchi followed the meatball. Gnocchi can be fickle. I've been to many restaurants with disappointing servings of the delicate potato dumplings. My wife also eagerly anticipated the meal given my gnocchi is her favorite dish. La Masseria's serving did not disappoint. The dumplings melted in the mouth with a wonderful pink tomato-basil sauce. My only complaint were the small beads of mozzarella, I prefer nice big pieces with the gnocchi, but it's a small gripe. The wine, a Vietti Dolcetta D'Alba, paired with this course.

Next came another house speciality, the Penne Masseria. I was a bit disappointed with again having another tomato-basil sauce (present in the previous 2 dishes), though this one featured a nice smokey combination of pancetta and smoked mozzarella. The ingredients produced a very rich plate of pasta that was wonderfully seasoned. Manager Monopoli paired this dish with a lovely primitivo that he chilled in a Neapolitan style. It itself was a delicious summer wine, but I felt it did not pair with the richness of the dish.

A nice Granotto al Frutti di Mare e Fagioli followed the pair of pasta dishes. Chef Pino prepared the grain like a risoto with a nice assortment of shrimp, clams, and calamari. Unfortunately, the problems with the calamari earlier (tough) continued to this dish. The shrimp and clams also tasted a bit overcooked, though the grains were al dente. The dish was supposed to also have white beans, though I only found one in my dish. A lovely Nero d'Avola enhanced an otherwise lackluster dish.

Veal Milanese came out as the final entree course. Chef Pino coated the veal, tender-white and pounded thin, with crushed grissini. The coating worked producing a not-so-greasy milanese. A small salad of marinated tomatoes and greens accented the cutlet's seasoning. Manager Monopoli supplied a Barbera D'Asti to pair with the veal to compliment the protein. Together, the dish and wine produced a nice meal.

After all this food, how could we eat dessert? When the waiters served coffee and two wonderful slices of cake we could not say no. First, we tried the Torta di Ricotta. This smooth ricotta cheese cake would embarrass any other competitors. The wonderful flavor mixed with a fantastic texture. My wife preferred the second slice; the Torta di Mamma Paola. The soft and flour-less chocolate almond cake stood up well to the more angelic cheese cake. Almond slivers added a nice texture to the cake. Together they surrounded a nice pile of whipped cream topped with a raspberry and delicious chocolate syrup. A digestif of Muscat'asti finished a lovely meal.

Chef Pino proved the concept carried from New York to East Greenwich. The tasting menu represented the cuisine very well. I felt like I missed nothing and experience the Chef's goal. A few minor mis-steps did not destroy my experience, and my partner enjoyed her meal just as much. La Masseria has a full website for both locations.

Rating: A

La Masseria Ristorante on Urbanspoon

06 April, 2010

Harbourside Lobstermania

Rhode Island, the Ocean State, is famous for its seafood. Narragansett Bay's western shore in particular hosts an array of seaside restaurants that boast fresh seafood right off the ocean. Memories of eating at these restaurants remind me of happier times as a child. One place in particular often served as a nice place to eat on special occasions, Harbourside.

One striking change to the memory is the full title, Harbourside Lobstermania. It sounds off considering it purports to be an upscale ocean-side restaurant serving the boat crowd. The title change did not deter me though, and I looked forward to enjoying an Easter meal.

Sitting down, me and my wife noticed a limited menu boasting surf more than turf. This did not mean surf was well represented, with only 2-3 fish entrees and the other seafood were fried. I ordered the stuffed 'Lobstermania', a stuffed lobster served with a Chablis sauce. My wife, a landlubber, ordered the house sirloin. Our meals came with unlimited trips to the salad bar (unusual at a supposed high-scale eatery) and I ordered a cup of their famous lobster bisque.

The salad bar was small and ill-stocked. Everything tasted cheap. I identified the 'three-bean salad' as one sold at BJ's, which I didn't prefer because it tasted like beans in sugar syrup. The vegetables share a 'precut super-market' quality that did not fit my dining expectations. Dressings were also rather shallow tasting like even cheaper versions of Kraft selections. An offering of cheese, crackers, and bread came with the salad bar. The cheese was a big block of American cheese that looked and tasted like a deli loaf. The bread was not fresh, and tasted like potato rolls again found at most supermarkets. The crackers were Nabisco, and tasted better than the stale rolls. My bisque was nice, not too thick and tasted of nice sherry. This was the high point of our meal.

Our entrees arrived and looked lovely. Unfortunately, appearances were deceiving. My wife's turf (The sirloin) was tough and filled with large veins of fat and gristle. The poor beef choice lacked flavor which was even further covered up by a thick crust of seasonings on the outside. Her mashed potatoes were nice, but the vegetable (mashed root vegetables) tasted like a premade frozen dish. My lobster, was well stuffed to hide an otherwise lack of meat. The lobster was undersides with a very soft shell that screamed immaturity. The Chablis sauce was clearly broken and tasted off. While the lobster and stuffing tasted great, the ratio of lobster meat to stuffing was way off. My baked potato was less than 6 ounces at best and the vegetable was the same as my wife's.

For the price (20-30 dollars per entree), this food was highly disappointing. The lobster was a tad small, was stuffed with a basic stuffing that felt more like red lobster rather than yacht cuisine. My wife had better steaks at Outback steakhouse, showing the chef obviously did not select their meats. The salad bar was worst of all, and I honestly felt a tad nauseous after eating the salad. I remembered good things about this restaurant, but now my memory is dominated by failure. It's sad to think a restaurant on the sea could be so unoriginal and uninspired.

Rating: D

Harbourside Lobstermania on Urbanspoon

06 March, 2010

Narragansett Grill

Wandering around Narragansett's Ocean drive brought me and my wife to an interesting restaurant near the Judith Point Lighthouse. The parking lot filled, we both decided this would be a great place for a ocean-side dinner on a lovely March late-afternoon. We pulled in with many cars and entered a small, beach themed dinning room. We were then confronted by an open house featuring a wonderful selection of the new menu. As it turned out, the Narragansett Grill hadn't even opened yet. The owner welcomed us in and offered us food and wine. Though the restaurant presented the food 'buffet' style (more akin to Brazilian Steak House, with Waitresses carrying plates around), I will review the food occurring to courses similar to their menu.

Our first course included raw oysters and clams (fresh from the ocean according to the waitress) along with some large shrimp (Gulf shrimp). The seafood collection tasted wonderful, though the ordinary shrimp would have been better grilled. Next came bread batons, fried bread sticks stuffed with mozzarella cheese. My wife loved these, noting they were better than some fried cheese offered as 'gourmet' cuisine. Next came Block Island calamari, wonderfully fried and served with banana peppers and black olives. Thankfully they served both the rings and the bottoms with tentacles, and without a sauce to mar the taste. We both enjoyed the Grill's calamari. Finally, the waitress brought over bacon-wrapped scallops topped with a Sambuca-cream sauce. The light amount of sauce enhanced the fresh scallops and salty bacon, rather than destroying the flavor.

Our next course started with a lovely Rhode Island clam chowder (clear chowder with a small amount of cream). It was nicely filled with clams and celery, though the broth tasted too much like liquefied potatoes and it drowned out the clam taste. Their pizza followed, featuring a nice bready crust with fresh toppings. Small meatballs followed, featuring meaty flavor without the grease. Both were served with a nice marinara which is often ignored by some restaurants.

The final course started with a seared Blue Fin Tuna. The outside tasted like it had been marinated in green tea, an interesting departure from the over-used (and not very tasty) saturation of Tuna in sesame seeds. Like the prior seafood served, the Tuna tasted wonderful and its unique flavor interested us both. Our waitress also brought over braised beef shoulder with sauteed onions and mushrooms. The steak was wonderfully tender and nicely flavored with garlic. The final two dishes weren't on the 'final menu', though based on our reaction and the reactions of our fellow diners, I anticipate they will be.

We enjoyed our meal both because of the lovely spring day by the ocean and the excellent cuisine served to us. This new restaurant has great potential, once the restaurant establishes itself by being open for longer than a brief pre-opening open house. Given Summer's quick approach, I will become a seasonal patron at the very least! I say this is well worth the drive to the ocean. So far, the Narragansett Grill only has a facebook page, but I anticipate them opening a full website soon.

Rating: B+
Narragansett Grill on Urbanspoon

04 March, 2010


The Temple restaurant in Downtown Providence’s Renaissance Hotel developed a new menu for Spring. Ditching its former menu, Chefs David Cardell (executive chef) and Joyce Goldstein (culinary consultant) shaped the new menu towards Mediterranean flavors, advertising tastes from all 22 countries bordering the ancient sea. The restaurant extended this menu first to the media, of which I was present. The luncheon presented matched the restaurant’s mystical interior (Masonic themes inspire a feeling of secret societies) alongside a new interior inspiring of Roman and Venetian trade routes.

Our opening experience involved a nice descent down a Masonic staircase. The bar featured copper platting and candle-light illumination and a nice selection of cocktails.

Temple’s cocktails occupied a large part of their new menu. Right from the onset, bartenders served up a trio of delicious cocktails. Me and my wife least enjoyed Temple’s ‘Turkish Coffee’ cocktail. This is not to say it was not delicious, but compared to the other two the drink was a bit underdeveloped. My wife enjoyed the Fleur de Marseille. It possessed St Germain elderberry flower liqueur and a lavender simple syrup mixed with sparkling wine and a rose-flavored lollipop. The Mediterranean Spritzer became my favorite (which paired well with the flat-breads). The sun-dried tomato and basil left in the glass complimented the similarly flavored simple syrup and citron vodka to make a savory accent.

A nice pair of flatbread appetizers complimented the drinks. A Margherita flatbread reminded me of the classic brick-oven pizza, though then similarly textured tomatoes and mozzarella really worked. The tastier Roasted Cremini Mushroom flatbread also boasted tasty arugula, spicy Gorgonzola and delicate mozzarella cheese. Both were nice bar appetizers and inspired greater appetite.

After being seated in the main dinning room, the staff served up thee Temple Mezze Platter. The appetizer served a trio of sauces; tzatziki, baba ghanoush, and hummus. All three had strong middle-eastern flavors and had nice flavor profiles to place upon a rather plain pita bread (especially after the nicely toasted flatbread served at the bar). A small pile of Moroccan-spiced carrots felt plopped on and did not add much, but were delicious. The Spanakopita accompanying the dish (spinach and cheese in puff-pastry) delivered a mild flavor easily accepted by all palates. Unfortunately, the Dolmas became the disappointment of the platter. Red Currants left a sweet taste alongside undercooked jasmine rice. Very bad when proper dolmades are one of my favorite dishes. The platter felt somewhat connected but needed perhaps some more thought to tie everything together. The appetizer felt more like a sampler rather than a thoughtful selection.

The waiters served our second course; the Gratin of Shrimp and aged Feta. A nice tomato and herb sauce smothering the lemon-sized shrimp filled a hot crock. Olive Oil grilled crostini accompanied the dish. The grilled shrimp complimented the grilled bread, though my shrimp were a tad undercooked. The tomato sauce itself was also a bit over seasoned. These fundamental mistakes marred a potentially delicious appetizer.

A very Rhode Island dish followed the shrimp. Port Judith Calamari accompanied fried zucchini and lemon wheels and lemon aioli. Another dinner commented on the greasiness of the calamari, indicating improper oil and/or cook time. The lemon and zucchini produced wonderful accents for the local dish.

Chefs Cardell and Goldstein then fielded questions after the early courses while the kitchen prepared our main dishes. Chef Cardell spoke of his eagerness to expose Providence to Mediterranean cuisine while exploiting New England’s seafood connection. Both promised that the restaurant would take steps to include local producers in their pantry selections.

Our wine selection throughout the meal included a nice Churchill Duoro (2007 vintage) and some Pascal Jolivet Attitude Sauvignon Blanc (2008 vintage). Neither paired well with a specific plate but presented some pleasant notes with the entire tasting. Despite the large wine list, a sommelier would help patrons decide which wines to enjoy with each meal.

Our main courses began with a misnamed Penne al Forno Alla Bolognese. Bolognese harkens to a thick meat-sauce flavored with tomatoes, yet this dish felt more like baked ziti or American Chop Suey (a local dish). The meat, while nicely caramelized and seasoned, felt dwarfed by too much cheese. A nice dish with a bad name, perhaps ‘Mediterranean Macaroni and Cheese’ would be a better name.

The servers presented the next course; a delicious plate of Spaghetti alla Puttanesca. The spaghetti was perfectly al dente, and the sauce was wonderfully flavored. A tad boring if served by itself, the dish needed some protein to balance it out as an entree.

A pair of Tagines served as our final course. A nice vegetable Tagine (and both me and my wife’s favorite) featured perfectly cooked carrots, squash, and chick peas along side a fluffy and savory couscous. Some minor hints of lemon could have been pushed out more for an otherwise delicious vegetarian meal. The line-caught Cod Tagine included similar vegetables and flavors. The fish, while somewhat mushy, had a nice mellow flavor that accompanied the vegetables and couscous. A big problem with their Tagines were the fact that they felt false. While served in the traditional conical dish, the entire entree felt like it had been cooked separately and placed within the pot for only aesthetic purposes.

Finally, their desert course finished a nice meal. They first offered a cup of coffee (the Seattle’s best felt a tad disappointing after being served a ‘Turkish Coffee’ cocktail) alongside their Buttermilk Panna Cotta. They topped the desert with delicate honey and fresh strawberries, though I look forward to Spring and Summer when the dish could feature native berries and honey. The Limonstillo stole the desert with a delicate lemon and saffron flavor served above crushed ice. Del’s Lemonade remains a Rhode Island Summer Favorite, the digestif was the adult’s version and had that Mediterranean bias Temple’s creators sought. The drink was flawless in flavor. A Meyer lemon version would be a nice summer version for me to enjoy (hint hint).

Temple’s tasting offered a fraction of their menu. The idea of a Mediterranean menu is ambitious since many of the cultures do not share many common elements. Chef Cardell put together a nice menu of flavors that fit together better than expected. Many of the missteps can be explained as opening jitters common in new menus. The above-mentioned errors are hopefully just because of the new cuisine, because the new menu gives Temple and unique menu in a classic local. Anything one eats in a former Masonic temple the food enjoyed better elicit memories of crusades, pilgrimages, and decadence. Temple has a full website. The restaurant opens on March 15, a bad day if you're Julius Caesar but a good a day if you want to try something new.

Temple Downtown on Urbanspoon

Rating: B+

18 February, 2010

El Rancho Grande

Great Mexican can be hard to find. West Providence boasts a large central American population. El Rancho Grande is a culinary gem in this ethnic neighborhood. Inside, it reminds you of a Grandmother's kitchen, simple yet cozy. Since Chef Maria is a grandmotherly figure, the environment worked. Parking was the only issue, though we parked across the street in the Walgreens' parking lot.

Me and my wife sat down for a nice mid-afternoon dinner. We started with the complimentary basket of chips and salsa. Normally, you get jarred salsa and stale chips, but El Rancho Grande provided delicious fresh corn chips and a fresh, tasty salsa. Both made a great start to the meal. Next followed a normal salad of lettuce, onion, and tomato.

We then enjoyed the chicken quesadilla for the appetizer. Chef Maria stuffed it with shredded chicken, cojito and mozzarella cheese. A nice pico de gallo (very fresh salsa with tomatoes, onion, jalapeno, and cilantro) accompanied an interesting cream sauce to make an enjoyable course.

Our entrees came out with a nice stack of fresh corn tortillas. My wife ordered the carne asada, thin-sliced sirloin wonderfully seasoned and very tender. I order one of Maria's specialties, her Pollo al Guajillo (Chicken in a pepper sauce). The chicken, also thin-sliced, mixed perfectly with the rich red sauce. The chicken went perfectly in the corn tortilla with the lime-marinated radishes and onions. Both meals came with rice and beans. My wife really enjoyed the flavored rice and I enjoyed the refried beans (topped with more of the delicious cojito cheese).

Everything was wonderful and delicious. El Rancho Grande served one of my favorite Mexican meals I have had. Often Mexican served tastes more like it should have come out of a Taco Bell (and often, Taco Bell is tastier). Chef Maria, que delicioso! El Rancho Grande has a full website including directions and their menu.

El Rancho Grande on Urbanspoon

Rating: A

15 February, 2010

Spike's Junkyard Dogs

Hot Dogs are quickly becoming 'real food' to true connoisseurs. Many long scoffed at hot dogs for poor ingredients and simple toppings. Newer breeds have higher quality meat and better toppings on actual rolls. That's not to say a good old-fashioned hot dog with a shot of mustard, but everyone wants a high quality hot dog for a meal. I previously reviewed Larry Joe's Fire pit, arguably one of the best hot dogs in the north east. Spike's Junkyard Dogs have taken the title of best chain hot dog.

I stopped into the North Providence shop. Despite the name (Junkyards aren't haute couture), everything was clean. I ordered a Chili & Cheddar along with a Ball Park Dog. The Chili and Cheddar was topped with... well Chili and Cheddar. The Chili was tasty, but had too many beans, while cheese was a nice layer of melted Vermont cheddar. The Ball Park dog featured a normal mustard, nice fresh chopped onions (I noticed a large bag hanging in the kitchen), and another layer of the nice cheddar. Both featured a nicely baked bun that was anything but generic, while the dog itself tasted like a Kayem. A nice little meal of two of my favorite Dogs, and I was pleased.

Spikes offered nice bread, toppings, and a clean interior. The chili was rather normal, and the hot dog tasted generic. The price, while cheap, did not inspire me to spend more for otherwise decent hot dogs.

Spike's menu and locations can be found on their website.

Spike's Junkyard Dogs on Urbanspoon

Rating: B

23 January, 2010

North End Treats

Caution, this review only covers the desert selections from North End Treats.

Famous for offering authentic North End fare outside of Boston, North End Treats holds to a prestigious tradition. It's located right off of the Massachusetts Turnpike, an unassuming location with wonderful access for all of New England. Does the ugly duckling have a heart of gold?

Yes. The deserts were perfect. We first tried their canolis, stuffed with a less-than-traditional chocolate filling. Everything about it was perfect, golden pasty, perfectly sugared, and a filling that made me believe in love again. I would not turn down a box of these delights.

Next, we tried their chocolate cupcake. The ganache was a bit sugary, however the cake itself held a wonderfully deep cocoa-flavor. It created a nice balance when consumed together. The nonpareils on top just made for a fun eating experience.

Finally, we tried their medium Whoopie pie. We were served something the size of a cheeseburger. The cake, similar to that in the cupcake, blended perfectly with the fresh whipped cream. The whipped cream, by itself, was a tad sweet. Combined with the cake, the Whoopie pie put all others to shame.

North End Treats has a full bakery and a deli with a brick oven pizzeria. They have a full website.

North End Treats on Urbanspoon

Rating: A

22 January, 2010

Sichuan Gourmet

When one wants delicious Chinese food, often it can be hard to scratch the itch. Sometimes the food is too greasy, other times it is not very flavorful. The nice flavors often found in good Chinese food can often be difficult to locate.

Framingham hosts a quiet little Chinese restaurant off of route 9 named Sichuan Gourmet. It overlooks the crowded route, yet hosts delicious food from the Sichuan region. Translation; it's spicy!

This is a warning, because from the very beginning your taste buds will have to battle with the heat. They placed down at the beginning of the meal some nice ice water, oolong tea, and a small bowl of cured vegetables. The carrot pieces and broccoli stems looked tasty in their spicy oil. It was delicious, but dangerous. The Epicurean's throat was ripped apart from the intense heat. This sounds like a bad thing, but it wasn't.

The tradition continued with their Wonton soup, which held an influence of the spicy peppercorn. Wilted inside, leaves of spinach decorated the family-size bowl. My wife also ordered a bowl of their egg drop soup, something to which she proclaimed was one of the best servings she had ever experienced. The egg drop soup was not flavored with the spicy peppercorns, giving it a rich flavor.

The entree, chicken lo mein, was perfect. When we walked in we spotted several women manufacturing homemade egg noodles, so we decided we had to try them. It was well worth it. The lo mein (a Vietnamese dish, though this noddle entree tasty very Chinese) featured tender chicken and perfectly cooked julienned vegetables. Everything served tasted wonderful.

We only found out after we could have ordered the food not so spicy, but the heat did not detract from the flavor. Sichuan Gourmet has two locations, we visited the one in Framingham. They have a full website with all their information.

Sichuan Gourmet on Urbanspoon

Rating: A-

Quebrada Baking Company

The Quebrada Baking Company is situated on Route 16 n Wellesley. Located within a very crowded plaza, the bakery and cafe welcomes the participants with a warm atmosphere and a busy counter. The interior is nothing special, with the bakery cases oddly arranged without showing the full selection of products to those entering.

Me and my wife ordered a small snack to test their baking skills and how they handle the cafe aspect. We each had a mini-cupcake. My wife ordered a double chocolate cupcake (topped with a Hersey's kiss) and I ordered the cappuccino cupcake. The cupcakes each had a tasty topping; the chocolate a tasty ganache and the cappuccino a espresso-flavored butter cream. Each fit the rich chocolate cupcake base and offered a different and pleasant experience.

Unfortunately, the hot chocolate we ordered with the meal did not feature the same rich taste. It was watery and not very chocolaty, instead tasting like a cocoa-flavored steamed milk. It did not compliment the baked goods, instead ruining an otherwise delicious snack. It did not inspire me to try their coffee.

Quebrada is situated in historic Wellesley. They have a full website with all the bakery's information.

Quebrada Baking Co on Urbanspoon

Rating: B

12 January, 2010

Caffe Dolce Vita

Caffe Dolce Vita remains a mainstay in Federal Hill's De Pasquale plaza. The caffe, attached to the Hotel Dolce Vita. Recently, the caffe offers price fixed lunches and dinners. Me and my wife decided to try out the caffe one cold January morning.

My meal consisted of the fruit salad (part 1 of a 3 course meal), which was simple with melon, pineapple and an orange imperial. Not too bad, but rather plain. I then enjoyed the lunch-serving of their pasta primavera (longing for spring). It was quite delicious. They cooked the penne perfectly, expertly sauteed the vegetables and brought it together in a lovely butter and wine sauce. Even my wife, who normally hates pasta primavera, picked the penne up for delicious consumption. I then finished with a desert course, but more on that later.

My wife enjoyed the salad, a selection of greens, tomatoes, and thinly sliced onions tossed in a delicious balsamic vinaigrette. Much better than the fruit salad. She then enjoyed their 'Philly Cheese Steak'. The waiter served a fresh Italian roll packed with perfectly cooked rib eye and American cheese. She finished with the same desert I did, chocolate gelato.

Caffe Dolce Vita served a perfect gelato in a plastic martini glass. While it was served with a plain and generic whipped cream (other locations serve only fresh whipped cream), the gelato held a rich cocoa flavor that made fudsicles cry at their inadequacy.

Everything tasted wonderful, with the 'bad parts' still being delicious. Visit caffe Dolce Vita on Federal Hill if you want to try a delicious meal.

Caffe Dolce Vita on Urbanspoon

Rating: A

08 January, 2010


Nestled in downtown Cranston, Athena's stands out with the egg as part of the logo. Sometimes patrons are afraid of breakfast joints located in stripmalls. This should not be one of those times. When looking for a good breakfast, those places produce the best food. Athena's continued that tradition.

Farm fresh eggs, savory and crispy hashbrowns, and delicious bacon made the meal. Crispy Italian bread toast complimented the big three with a meal that was fit for a goddess. The food came out quick and everything was perfect. Me and my wife wanted to order a delicious looking fruit cup (spotted at another table), but our stomachs would not allow it. The best part? The bacon. I normally hate bacon, yet Athena's serves the best bacon I have ever tasted.

The interior was clean, though it looked a bit rough. The service was excellent with easy parking. Everything fit perfectly and created a memorable breakfast. We will return to try some other dishes, including a tasty looking pancake dish served with nutella spread and chopped, roasted hazel nuts. We also still want that fruit salad.

Athena's on Urbanspoon

Rating: A+

27 December, 2009

5 Guys Burgers and Fries

I was actually in Miami the first time I ever saw a sign for the 5-Guys Burgers and Fries franchise. The chain is nationwide, yet it is also critically acclaimed for fresh food and clean surroundings. The burger-joint started with an open kitchen and clean interior. 5 Guys does not skimp on this, featuring the cleanest bathroom I've ever seen in a fast food restaurant.

The menu remains simple; burgers, fries, and hot dogs. The portions are generous for a cheap price. Every location also offers free peanuts (because everything fried is done so in peanut oil).

The burgers are freshly cooked and made of high quality beef. The buns are so-so, but 5 Guys offers a generous amount of free toppings (except cheese :( ). They were nicely griddled, but I'm more accustomed to eating freshly grilled burgers. Still, the portion was nice and a regular burger (with 2 patties) easily satisfies.

5 Guys is famous for their freshly cooked french fries. Every order is served in a bag with the fries overflowing. They fresh idaho spuds have a clean taste because of the peanut oil. I haven't tried the optional 'cajun spice', but they could only make the meal tastier.

5 Guys and Fries produces a better bag of french fries than a burger, but the burger is still good for the price. There's definately worse food to eat, but a bag of fries are just good walking around food when trekking around the massive Patriot Place complex. I would prefer grilled burgers and perhaps cheaper cheese, but then I get so many other vegetables on my burger I suppose it does not matter.

5 Guys on Urbanspoon

Rating: B

25 December, 2009

Dave & Busters

Arcades have died out in American culture. The surviving entertainment complexes have required an extra gimmick. Dave & Busters (named after the chain's owners) offer American food with an open bar and full arcade to pull in customers. Yes, the food is similar to that of the other big chains, yet the draw of playing skeeball or a racing game draw in the customers. The customers are not just children.

The interior resembles a bar from the early twentieth century. The entire complex is well planned with restrooms and easy access to food and drink. It would be easy to rate the entertainment portion (including karaoke, virtual golf, many pool tables, and yes many arcade and video games), but the food is what I was after.

They offer the same medium-fare found at other chains (you know the ones), but many of the meals include credits to play their video games. This is seductive, but how does the food they offer with this combination stand up?

Prior to the meal, 'Philly-cheese-steak' eggrolls arrived. They served a basic deep fried eggroll filled with tender shaved steak and a light cheese. A cheese-dipping sauce accompanied the appetizer with a light garnish of diced tomatoes and pickled banana peppers. The eggrolls were tender and flavorful; a nice opener.0

One such entree is their grilled salmon fillet with citrus rice and sauteed haricot vert. The fillet was a nice portion and perfectly cooked (something some ocean-side restaurants often mess up with grilling). The sides were decent, though they provided a nice contrast to the salmon's flavors.

Another entree featured a nice sirloin steak with a loaded mashed potato. This is a common meal and there was nothing exceptional about it. The steak was a nice cut (though Outback still wins for best chain-restaurant steaks) and was cooked to temperature. The potato was basic, providing a good carbohydrate boost for later playing.

Desert was unique with a fondue sampler. It was nice to receive one of these with actual melted chocolate and a small tea light to maintain a nice warmth. Alongside the selection were sliced strawberries and bananas, pound cake, small brownie chunks and rice crispy treats. Not as good as Melting Pot's fondue, but Dave & Busters produced a nice desert for a romantic meal.

Dave & Busters is a venue best saved for adventurous dates filled with fun and games. The food is good for what it is, something other restaurants without pinball can often fail at. It produces a good date venue capable of entertaining children or breaking the ice on a blind date.

Dave & Buster's on Urbanspoon

Rating: B

Faial Restaurant and Lounge

Rhode Island maintains a large Portuguese population. This population influences the Rhode Island culinary scene with rich seafood flavors and bold use of spices. Finding a good restaurant serving authentic Portuguese food can be a trip into wonderful flavors. Faial in Smithfield boasts authentic Portuguese flavors with an American influence. Their menu boasts a heavy influence of seafood and a healthy amount of 'Faial sauce' (a spicy and garlicky sauce they serve with almost everything on the menu).

The restaurant's interior was very nice. It boasted a classic American design with some 'under-water' themes spread throughout. The waiters wore crisp white and blacks and each table featured similar dressing. The restrooms were also clean, giving an inviting dining room and attached lounge.

The biggest fault to our meal was service. The waiter just seemed a tad antagonistic and did not give an air of professionalism that an establishment like Faial would convey. Long wait times also complicated things. The service hurt a meal that was otherwise nice.

I ordered the 'bief di casa' (beef of the house), which was a 14 ounce sirloin topped with the Faial sauce and served with their seafood rice (a mix of paella and rice pilaf) and Portuguese potatoes (fresh cut potato chips). The sirloin was well cooked and the flavors mixed well. My wife ordered a more American filet minion with mashed potatoes and glazed carrots. The beef was unfortunately overcooked. She ordered medium and it came out close to well done, a travesty. The sides were decent, but it could not make up for overcooked protein.

Faial produced a nice meal, but not worth the price (over 20 dollars an entree). The service also hurt the experience.

Faial Restaurant & Lounge on Urbanspoon

Rating: B -

15 December, 2009

Wild Fire

In the western reaches of Mineral Spring Avenue in North Providence sits a gourmet Italian bistro. Wild Fire serves fresh wood-oven pizza, pastas, and they have a full bar. The restaurant celebrates several specials to entice quicker visits. Every Sunday they offer an Italian Chicken dinner. Every Monday, it's all-you-can-eat pasta. Every Tuesday all large Pizzas are half-off. The weekdays have happy-hour specials from 4pm to 6pm featuring a cheap menu.

Inside, Wild Fire features dark woods and impressive lighting. The dim surroundings do not betray uncleanliness. The interior possessed a pleasant atmosphere. A pleasant hostess greeted us and sat us at a lovely table. We were quickly served with excellent service and were presented a wonderful meal.

The best indicator of pizza are the rolls served before the meal. Wild Fire served wood-fire baked rolls with lovely garlic-infused olive oil alongside dried pepper flakes and freshly grated parmigiana regiano cheese. This in itself provided a wonderful start for an early afternoon pizza.

A wonderfully cooked pizza emerged from the kitchen. The waitress suggested a wonderful chianti to complient the pizza. The 'Genoa' featured fresh sauce and buffalo mozzerela cheese topped with a fresh basil chiffonade, freshly cut Genoa salami, and shredded asiago cheese. Its flavors complimented everything wonderfully producing a pizza that cannot easily be topped. Everyone worked perfectly. Wild Fire is the perfect proof of why pizza should be cooked above fire.

We enjoyed a wonderful meal. Me and my wife look forward to returning for a more intense meal. Wildfire has a full website complete with menus.

Wildfire on Urbanspoon

Rating: A

About Me

Rhode Island, United States
I am a lover of Food. I review restaurants, markets, snacks, wine, beer, and spirits. Life is too short to eat bad food.