Quick Lunch: Boston’s Financial District

August 19, 2009 by

For 12 of the past 18 years, I’ve worked in or near the so-called financial district of Boston. This area has changed a lot over that time (hooray for the Greenway!), but one thing has remained the same: the challenge of finding a decent place to get lunch.

For those of you who tire of whatever place has installed itself in or across the street from your office building, I present Alli-K’s Favorite Non-Expense-Account Lunch Spots.

Dewey Square Farmers’ Market

Before the farmers’ market showed up, complete with signs identifying it as the Dewey Square Farmer’s Market, I didn’t know that the big cement plaza across from South Station in the middle of the expressway had a name.  Apparently, it’s called Dewey Square. 

It’s only a seasonal option, and even then, only on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and I haven’t spotted any vendors who sell beverages…but still, check it out.   

This is a fantastic addition to the South Station area.  Some of the vendors sell lunch-type foods, and there are a few tables set up for those who want to eat their purchases on-site.   Also handy for European-style food shopping (you know, the kind where you buy fresh food the same day you are going to eat it). 

Hot Tomatoes Urban Kitchen

If you happen to work at State Street, this *is* one of the places across the street from your office building.

For those of us whose offices do not directly abut Chinatown, it may qualify as a hidden gem. Diverse menu that includes salads, sandwiches, and pizza. In my experience, the food has been tasty and the staff friendly.  

Caveat: If it’s a warm day and you are the sweaty type, best to wait for a cooler day.  No a/c (or grossly insufficient a/c). 

Corner of Bedford and Otis (across from The Good Life).

Pita Kebab

If it weren’t so clean, this would be a Manhattan-style hole-in-the-wall.  It can get a bit chaotic here, and the menu is limited, but you might just find yourself addicted to the secret sauce from the home country. 

Entrance is on Chauncy Street (near the Hyatt; around the corner from the big CVS on Summer Street/Summer Street entrance of Macy’s).

Sultan’s Kitchen

Not as convenient for a lot of us as it used to be, but the new digs near Quincy Market are nicer. If you go, take a flyer and try one of the authentic Turkish dishes instead of just getting the chicken kabob. You’ll likely be glad you did.  State Street, near Faneuil Hall.

Caveat: the staff is sometimes surly and may try to accuse you of trying to steal a soda from the cooler if you do not make it very clear that you intend to pay for it.

Flour

A great option for those of us in the semi-wasteland of the Seaport side of the highway.  Excellent sandwiches, fantastic desserts, and a wonderful house-made raspberry seltzer.  If you are on the inland side of the expressway, it’s a great reason to take a walk when the weather is fine.

Caveat:  The ordering and food delivery system could use some “leaning out”, as they like to say in my office space.

On Fort Point Channel (Farnsworth Street, behind the Children’s Museum).  If you go, check out Made in Fort Point, which is next door.

The Channel Cafe

A true find for the worker bees within an easy walk of Fort Point Channel.  Quirky and fun.  It’s a sit-down place, but usually very quick.  The food is consistently good and the owner seems to always be there. 

Bonus:  An adjacent gallery space features exhibits that often have the feel of something you’d see at the ICA. 

On the OTHER side of  Summer Street (across the channel). 

Boloco 

I’ve been a regular at this place since its early days, when it was called The Wrap. Even though it’s a chain now (there is one next to The Container Store in Natick — check it out if you are about to quit your fancy downtown job to become a MetroWest SAHM), I still think of it as a local joint.

The lines can be annoyingly long, but that’s because the burritos are so darn good. They also make a mean smoothie here.  The chocolate chip cookies are tasty and, in my view, the right size (in that they are not so big as to constitute a meal in themselves).   Multiple locations.

Andale

A place I walked by many times over the course of several years, yet overlooked.  As it turns out, they do a very nice job turning out a standard Mexican lunch menu.   If you don’t like Qdoba, try this place.  (Conversely, if you do like Qdoba, you probably will not like this place.  The food is a lot closer to authentic Mexican.) 

At 125 Summer Street (on the odd-shaped plaza that connects the South Station area with Chinatown).

Mahwah, NJ: Sheraton Hotel

August 14, 2009 by

We stayed at the Sheraton in Mahwah the night of August 8, 2009.

Bottom Line:  Not recommended.

The rooms reeked of some horrible chemical cleaning product. We thought it was because someone had smoked in the room; it was that smell you sometimes get in rental cars that seems to be smoke and cleaning scent combined. We switched rooms, and it was equally bad in the second room, which was 4 floors down.  (Next time, we will have the foresight to check out the room offered as a substitute before going through the hassle of moving.)

We waited 45 minutes for assistance moving our luggage to the new room. The manager explained that the bellhop was “missing”, that it was “very busy” and that someone from housekeeping would be assisting us. (A bellhop sounds like a luxury until you have to move a bunch of kid crap up to the 19th floor and then down to the 15th floor.)

The manager on-duty apologized for the inconvenience and offered us breakfast vouchers, which she said would be slipped under the door later that evening.  They never arrived.  (Which was just as well, since I had lost all confidence in the hotel’s services at this point.  We decided against calling to complain and waiting for the vouchers to be delivered, opting instead to pay for our own breakfast at a nearby diner.) 

The thumping bass of the on-site Illusions nightclub (open until 3AM) was audible in our room on the 15th floor (thank goodness for the earplugs I had brought “just in case”).

Outside, there was a man-made pond/pool type thing with a fountain that was poorly maintained and attracted a lot of geese, so the walkway around it was like a minefield of goose turds.

When we went to use the iron on Sunday morning, we found that it was broken, and had to request a new one.

The toilet did not flush properly.

The bed was very comfortable, the Bliss toiletries were nice, and the views of the Catskills were pretty, but that was not enough to compensate. For $169 plus tax on a weekend night in Mahwah, I expected to get, at a minimum, a restful night’s sleep.

To add insult to injury, I received a highly unsatisfactory response the to the comment letter I sent through Sheraton’s website (note that the salutation font is a different font than the body of the letter, highlighting the fact that it was a canned response):

Dear Ms. Myers,

 

Thank you for your inquiry via the Sheraton.com website.

 

The circumstances, which you describe, are certainly not acceptable for our standards. You may be assured the inconveniences encountered do not reflect the true level of service we strive to extend to our guests.

 

Thank you for choosing Sheraton. If you have any further customer service questions or concerns, please feel free to contact us at sheraton@sheraton.com.

 

Best Regards,

 

Glenda Fuller
Specialist, E-Communications Department
Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide

hotel le bleu

May 5, 2009 by

If you have searched for a nice hotel in Brooklyn, the Brooklyn Bridge Marriott has been your only choice for as long as anyone under 40 can remember.   If you wanted something more luxurious, Manhattan was the only option. 

As someone who spends a lot of weekends in Brooklyn each year, I was delighted to learn that “not just a hotel, but a stylish haven of an iconic borough” was planned to open in Park Slope.   Now that hotel le bleu has been open for a while, with any “grand opening” kinks hopefully worked out, I decided to give it a whirl. 

Leaving aside the immediate questions raised by the hotel’s current tagline (is that a proper use of “iconic”?  Can a haven be “of” the borough rather than “in” the borough?  And if this hotel is actually in beautiful Park Slope, why would I pay hundreds or dollars per night for a haven from it?), I will give you Alli K’s Bottom Line up-front: 

Weird.  May be worth considering, especially if you would like to combine your stay with some auto-parts shopping or want to become a New York City cab driver. 

Location

If you are not intimately familiar with this purportedly iconic borough, then you might imagine the hotel to be adjacent to the Sesame Street-like brownstones, great restaurants, and cool boutiques of Park Slope that are prominently featured on the hotel’s website.   It is not.  

It is, in the words of my college roommate, “that weird-looking building sandwiched between the Pep Boys and the Staples on 4th Avenue.”  The location would make sense for a Hampton Inn but seems odd for a place with rooms typically pricing at $300+ per night.

Check-in

Upon entering the lobby, I did not feel as if I had stepped into a haven (although, now that I think about it, it actually was a haven relative to the adjacent Pep Boys parking lot and the nearby taxi garage/cab driver school). 

 The lobby is tiny and furnished only with the check-in counter.  The clerk behind the counter was dressed so casually that I first thought a guest was filling in.  Although I had only a small overnight bag, I found it odd that no offer was made to assist me with my luggage. 

The clerk, who was friendly, told me that the hotel was sold out and that, as a result, my room had been upgraded.  He didn’t explain whether the room itself was different or it was just a better view, so I don’t know if the room I stayed in was larger than the “standard king” I paid for. 

 The Room (or, What Happens in Vegas….)

The main lighting feature (which is blue — get it?) is incorporated into the headboard.

For those who might be sharing a room and suffer from modesty, be forewarned that the water closet and shower are not in a separate room.  Rather, they are in glass boxes that are part of the room’s main footprint, and the washstand is open, located right outside the water closet.  The glass box around the shower is clear, but there is a curtain that can be pulled around to shield you from the view of your roommate.     

The quality of the furniture and fixtures was oddly inconsistent.  The mattress was fantastic, the bed linens were wonderful, the shower was outfitted with Grohe and the a/v setup was first rate. 

In contrast, the white grout used in the shower was already starting to show stains, the bedside lamp didn’t work (yes, it was plugged in), the toilet was very loud (yet did not flush all that effectively), and the drawers in the nightstands did not pull smoothly. 

The exterior soundproofing was good; very little street noise was audible from my Manhattan-facing room (it might be more of an issue on the 4th Avenue side of the hotel).  Interior soundproofing was not so great.  I could hear people talking in the hallway and in the adjacent room until I turned on the a/c fan to drown it out. 

 Now, what about those views?   Gorgeous views of Manhattan are displayed on le Bleu’s website.  They are somewhat accurate, but Manhattan is quite a bit farther away unless you are viewing it through a zoom lens.  Also, the website photos have been heavily cropped.  To see Manhattan, one must overlook a parking lot full of delivery vans.   Much better views are to be had from the city-view rooms at the Brooklyn Bridge Marriott. 

 Amenities

Robes and slippers were provided, as well as a copy of Time Out NY Kids and a book of walks to take in Brooklyn.  The brand of the toiletries is anonymous (they seemed fine). 

 Kid-Friendly?

The rooms are a tight squeeze and the shower set-up may not work for kids who are used to bathtubs.  In my brief time at the hotel I did not spot any appealing kid-friendly dining choices; be prepared for a bit of a walk or hopping on the subway.   For staying in Brooklyn with kids, the Brooklyn Bridge Marriott seems a better choice.

 Parking & Subway

Complimentary self-parking is available directly in front of the hotel on a first-come, first-served basis.   The R, F & M subway lines are a very short walk from the hotel.

The Obligatory Best Music of 2008 Post

December 21, 2008 by

From:  J-Dogg

To:  Alli-K, Engaged Boy

Re:  Stuff you Should be Listening to

Someone had to do it, right?  Here are my Top 5 albums of 2008 and 25 songs I really liked and think you would too. A word of explanation on the albums – I’ve fully made the jump to downloads and am rarely listening to albums all the way through.  I’ll need to defer to Engaged Boy since he’s still buying vinyl, I think.

Albums

  • Hold Steady, Stay Positive
  • Vampire Weekend, Vampire Weekend
  • R.E.M., Accelerate
  • Kings of Leon, Only by the Night
  • Fleet Foxes, Fleet Foxes

Honorable Mention:  Play, Brad Paisley

Here is where I give a shout out to the best radio station in New York City, 101.9 WRXP, FINALLY, a station to replace my beloved ‘FNX.  Why am I plugging a random NYC radio station?  Well, I’ll let you in on a little secret Triplets, NY radio SUCKS.  Sure, Fordham has a decent college station, but if you want to here anything recorded after 1994 that isn’t Beyonce, Kanye or Nickelback, you were SOL before WXRP came along.  WXRP is where I first heard new Kings of Leon, R.E.M., My Morning Jacket, Pretenders, The Hold Steady, Flobots…

Some of these for the first time – yes, having kids and working a job with unreasonable hours has the side effect of not getting out and getting to know that bands like The Hold Steady and MMJ are out there.  So there you go – my new favorite band?  The Hold Steady.  Stay Positive is excellent from the roota to the toota, as Yacc is wont to say. My old favorite band, Kings of Leon also had a great release, but you can’t top Stay Positive.

As for Fleet Foxes, I wanted to hate them since I saw their album for sale at Starbucks, but they are too good.  Not every day music, but perfect for unwinding at the end of the day, or background to, I don’t know, writing blog posts…  My Album of the year – Fleet Foxes, S/T.

Songs (with vidoes embedded – enjoy!)

  • A-Punk, Vampire Weekend.  Hey, I live near Washington Heights.
  • Oxford Comma, Vampire Weekend.  No, no serial comma necessary.
  • Salute your Solution, the Raconteurs.  Better than the last White Stripes tracks.
  • Horse to Water, R.E.M.  Wow.
  • Man-Sized Wreath, R.E.M.  Wower.  Stipe is Really Energetic Michael after all.
  • I’m Amazed, My Morning Jacket.  Yup. And this made me buy Z.  Awesome.
  • Gettin’ Up, Q-Tip.  Check out Believe too.  Tip’s still got it.
  • Use Somebody, Kings of Leon.  Sorry.  I love these guys.  Sex on Fire sucks, but 17 is good too.
  • White Winter Hymnal, Fleet Foxes.  Best secular hymn of 2008.
  • Put On, Young Jeezy (feat. Kanye West).  Autotone Kanye w/ a keffiyeh?  Hell yeah.
  • Cath…, Death Cab for Cutie.  “You were living someone else’s dream.” Saddest lyric of 2008.
  • Lost!, Coldplay.  [sheepishly grins] I liked Viva la Vida too [/sheepishly grins]
  • Saved by Old Times, Deerhunter.
  • Magick, Ryan Adams & the Cardinals.  I never really liked this guy, but this song is solid and short (2:20 or so).
  • Constructive Summer, Hold Steady.  Yes. Let’s raise a glass to St. Joe Strummer.
  • Sequestered in Memphis, Hold Steady.  A business trip never sounded so good.
  • Magazines, Hold Steady.
  • Come on In, Brad Paisley (feat. Buck Owens).  From the Streets of Bakersfield to the best guitar player in the USA.  All of Play is tremendous.
  • Never Miss a Beat, Kaiser Chiefs
  • Sometime Around Midnight, Airborne Toxic Event.  Much love for the De Lillo reference.  Song is good too.
  • Handlebars, The Flobots.  All-K, These guys are Cake, if they decided to rap.
  • Moab, Conor Oberst.  Hyperliterate and Correct.
  • Boots of Chinese Plastic, The Pretenders.  Some comeback.
  • Anything ‘cept the Truth, Eagles of Death Metal.  You sure this isn’t QOTSA?
  • Take Back the City, Snow Patrol.  Anyone else hear Mike and the Mechanics before and during the chorus?

By the way, if Paper Planes by M.I.A. is an official 2008 release?  That wins HANDS DOWN.

Groups who released acclaimed albums I just can’t get into:

Bon Iver – The mythology is a lot to get over.  Saw him on Letterman.  Meh.
TV on the Radio – I’m trying.  It’s not working.  Sorry Brooklyn!
Portishead – Engaged Boy – Help me out here.
M83. Huh?
Fucked Up – Yes – I guess I’m not hardcore enough. Go Canada!

Off to macrame myself a pair of jean shorts.

-J-Dogg.

Harvest

November 25, 2008 by

Cambridge, MA

November 22, 2008

Prelude

I’ve spent a lot of time in Cambridge over the past 20 years (my god, I am old), yet I had never even heard of this place until our friend Scary chose it for dinner on Saturday.

We were excited to try a new place. And Cambridge — we hadn’t been to Cambridge in months. What adventure! After getting the babysitter situated, we programmed the GPS (Cambridge is tricky in a car) and hit the road.

Harvest is in a great location…if you are on foot or a short T ride away from the Square and you have no trouble with stairs. We arrived at 44 Brattle Street wondering if we had made an error. 44 Brattle turned out to be the home of the Crate & Barrel where we purchased bookshelves last fall. We decided to drive around the Square and call information to check the address.

The person who answered the phone at Harvest was friendly and understanding as he directed us. It turns out that Harvest isat 44 Brattle…sort of. It’s down an alleyway (which has stairs) between Ann Taylor and Crate & Barrel, and there is no sign at street level (NB: the valet parking is located across the street from the alley entrance and was not well-marked).

When we arrived, the host was friendly and directed us to Scary and Dex, who were waiting for us at the bar. After a couple of minutes, drinks in hand, we were led to our enormous table. A banquette that easily could have seated 6, it was awkward for a party of 4 in spite of its generous proportions.

Menu & Ordering

After a quick look at the menu, I knew what I was ordering: the house-made pasta dish with mushrooms. It happened to be the one vegetarian main course. Scary, a wanna-be vegetarian, also had her eyes on the pasta dish.

When our waitress came by to hand out menus, she announced that the pasta dish was “no longer available this evening” but not to worry, there was a sturgeon special that one could substitute for the pasta dish.

When I pointed out that sturgeon was an interesting substitution for a vegetarian pasta dish, the waitress explained that the sturgeon wasn’t meant to be a substitution, she had just been trying to highlight the special to take the focus off of the fact that they had run out of pasta. Um, okay.

After further considering the menu, I decided I would have the chicken or the pork, and Scary figured she would just ask for the kitchen to whip up something vegetarian for her. We have not found this to be a problem in the past, and hey, it’s Cambridge, right? Bwaaa ha ha.

There was not a single vegetarian item available aside from the standard green salad.  We asked if there might be a vegetarian offering that was not listed on the menu.  The waitress, with a baffled look on her face, offered to make up a plate of vegetables. I might have expected this response had I been out with my parents at one of the myriad meat-themed restaurants in greater Kansas City. In Cambridge, it was outright disorienting.

Scary (who is not actually scary, provided you are not a junior associate staffed on one of her deals) politely assured the waitress that she “would figure something out.” I thought it would be fun to run out, buy a box of pasta and ask the kitchen to cook it for us, but that plan never got off the ground.

First Course

I started off with a salad featuring roasted local beets. It was good. Scary opted for a celery root and apple soup that she found tasty in spite of its non-vegetarian pedigree (chicken stock). After much deliberation, Dex went with a truffle-poached egg that was described by our waitress as coming from “a farm with chickens that have eggs that are, um, special.” He said it was pretty good. Mr. Alli-K had a caesar salad that he said was “okay” (but he never thinks any caesar salad is as good as the one he makes himself, so it may well could have been an outstanding caesar salad).

Along with our individual courses, we also shared an order of fries, which were delicious.

Main Course

I had the organic Vermont pork, which was a combination of traditional pork roast and some pulled pork. The pulled pork did not look very appetizing, but it turned out to be tastier than the roast. I don’t remember what the men ordered, but I do remember that they found their choices to be “okay” and “pretty good”. Scary had the green salad and some shrimp (“they don’t really have eyes”).

Dessert

A banana “pudding” of carmelized bananas with cardamom meringue was ordered for the table. It was a big hit, especially with Scary.

Bottom Line

If I lived in the neighborhood, I would visit Harvest occasionally for bar dining. As a destination restaurant, it was disappointing.

Lumiere

November 13, 2008 by

West Newton, MA

September 2007 through November 2008

Alli-K

Mr. Alli-K and I have been to Lumiere three times since we moved to the weird, wonderful neighborhood of West Newton Hill.  Lumiere is at the bottom of the hill.  While this is very convenient, it’s not exactly an exciting choice for those nights on which we score a babysitter.

On our first visit to Lumiere, I was very close to the end of The Pregnancy.  I do not remember what either of us ate.  I do remember crying a lot due to powerful hormone surges.  I also remember that the decor was tired, the food was pretty good, and the service was friendly but a bit lacking in polish.  We weren’t rushing to go back. 

Our second visit was one year later, shortly after the restaurant had completed a facelift.  A childhood friend of Mr. Alli-K, “Dr. McDreamy” (an orthopedic surgeon who bears a striking resemblance to Patrick Dempsey) was visiting (along with wife and kids) and we had hired a babysitter to get some adults-only time. 

We did not want to hassle with driving or getting a cab home.  We did want to drink.   As the one purportedly fine restaurant within walking distance of our house, Lumiere was the clear choice.  

We left the house in high spirits.  Mr. Alli-K and Dr. McDreamy relived their high school days by drinking beers on our walk there.  (That’s what we call “class” up here on the Hill.)

Our meal started off with the announcement that, due to it being Restaurant Week, there was a limited menu.  When I pointed out that restaurant week had ended, oh, a week ago, our waiter replied, “Here at Lumiere, we are celebrating Restaurant Week all month.”  

I recalled that the woman who took my reservation cheerfully told me that the restaurant week menu would be offered, which I had interpreted as being in addition to the regular menu.  Hmm.

We were off to a rocky start.  The notion of wasting a night out on a limited menu designed to appeal to bargain-hunters did not sit well with us.  Mr. Alli-K suggested scrapping Lumiere and heading into the city.  I suggested that this was lunacy.  

It was 9:15 PM.  The “city” was Boston.   (Very few restaurants in Boston serve food past 10 PM, even fewer of those restaurants are good, and of the good ones, there is not much chance of finding a table for 4 available on a Saturday night at the last minute.)  

Once reason had prevailed, Mr. Alli-K and Dr. McDreamy started going through the wine list.  Dr McDreamy didn’t think the wine list had enough expensive, prestige-label wines.  I think the wine list is well-chosen and thorougly appropriate for the size and price point of the restaurant. 

Our waiter had some responiveness issues (perhaps because it was restaurant week all month and he was tired of getting lousy tips), but we did manage to get our food.  A corn chowder type soup was very good, as was a fish course (I think it was cod).  Some purportedly braised ribs were less than tender.  The steak was dubbed “okay” by Mr. Alli-K and his sidekick.  

At some point, the conversation revealed that Mr. Alli-K and his buddy have the same make of watchwinder, but Mr. Alli-K’s is better because it holds three watches while Dr. McDreamy’s holds only one.  Also, I am the #1 Wife because the watchwinder was a gift from me.  We may have made a poor restaurant choice, but Team Alli-K dominated in the watchwinder smackdown! 

Dessert was  some kind of fruit compote thing that I didn’t bother to finish because I lacked any interest in it.  We walked back up the hill disappointed in the experience and the fact the one fine dining restaurant in West Newton was not so fine. 

And yet, we returned to Lumiere once again this past Sunday.  Why in the world would we do such a thing?  Because Mr. Alli-K came home from the office around 7PM (no, that is not a typo, he works almost every Sunday), we had no food in the house, we had a visiting grandparent on hand to watch the kid, by the time we decided to make a break for it, it was 8PM and I was hungry. 

We figured that restaurant week HAD to be over by now.  Our plan was to go to the bar at Lumiere, and if all five seats at the bar were full, we would try our luck at 51 Lincoln in Newton Highlands.   

I’m glad we took a chance.  The bartender was knowledgeable, friendly, and did a good job of paying attention to us without being overbearing. 

I started with a delicious butternut squash soup that was the perfect combination of sweet and savory.  For a main course, I had the haddock, which we both agreed was delicious. 

Mr. Alli-K had the special first course, which was some kind of lobster-based dish.  He enjoyed it (I think lobster is gross).  He also had the special main course, which was a “grass-fed ribeye from Southern Missouri” that we both thought was very tasty.   

We also enjoyed our wine choices:  I had the Sunset Rd. Vintners, “Independent Merlot,” WA 2006 and Mr. Alli-K had whatever the bartender recommended (it was red). 

Bottom Line for Table Dining:  Eh.  It’s only a 12-minute drive into the city or a 10-minute drive to Moody Street.  Better choices abound. 

Bottom Line for Bar Dining:  Thumbs up if you are lucky enough to get a seat.

Via Matta

August 19, 2008 by

 

 Bottom Line:  Love the bar.  Main dining area, eh.

 

My recent Friday night visit to Via Matta resulted from forces both good and evil. 

 

The evil: 

 

  • Mr. A-K had sprung an uncalendared “work” event on me the night before
  • our nanny had to take the day off to go to court to take guardianship of her disabled brother
  • the backup daycare was full
  • I had way too little vacation time left to spend an unplanned day playing stay-at-home mom
  • most of my going-out friends still live in New York, and the few that live in Boston were all out of town

 

The good: 

 

  • Mr. A-K owed me one
  • Mr. A-K played stay-at-home dad
  • Mr. A-K was too hungover to want to go out himself
  • one of my going-out friends came home a day early and had no plans

 

With thunderstorms in the forecast, I thought I could make it to Via Matta on foot before the heavens opened.  I was wrong.  I slogged across Boston Common in a torrential downpour more suited to Atlanta than Boston.

 

Upon arrival at Via Matta, the irritations of my day began to recede.  The girls at the host desk were friendly and happily took my umbrella.  I joined my friend J (not to be confused with J-Dogg) at the bar.  J complimented my top, which made me feel less like the dowdy Boston mom I fear becoming.

 

Bartender #1 came over right away, offered me a menu, and poured me a glass of water before I had to ask for it.  She took my drink order in a timely fashion and smoothly poured my glass of Montepulciano.  

 

 J and I discussed whether we wanted to get a table or sit at the bar.  In our 6+ years of drinking and dining at Via Matta, we have found that the service in the restaurant can vary from pretty good to downright bad.  #1 seemed like she would take good care of us.  We settled in at the bar. 

 

The service was friendly but not over-bearing. At some point, we made a smooth transition to Bartender #2.  J and I shared the homemade ricotta with sage, hot pepper and crostini.  I think I missed the hot pepper, as the dish seemed bland to me. 

 

We both ordered the tagliatelle alla Bolognese for our main course.  I feel lame about how often I order this dish, but it is so good that I have a hard time foregoing it. 

As usual, it was excellent.  The pasta was cooked perfectly and the sauce was delicious.   I don’t know enough about Italian food to know whether it’s authentic, but it certainly is many cuts above your typical bolognese-style pasta.   

 

Throughout the meal, our water glasses were never empty.  Both #1 and #2 kept the bar clean and orderly.  A satisfying dining experience all-round. 

 

Washroom Note:  The facilities are pretty far from the dining area and you have to walk past a partly open kitchen on your way there.  Near-collisions with servers carrying trays out of the kitchen are not uncommon. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Word from Your Editors

August 13, 2008 by

My, you’re so good looking… We are in the midst of some formatting changes here at Tripletters, but fear not, it hurts us more than it will hurt you. Here are some of the improvements…

— Now you, gentle reader, will know which of the Triplets is composing which post (just take a gander to the top of this one, for example).

— The various Triplet Halls of Fame (or Hall of Fames, Male Triplet whose name shall not be used?) are now posted with links to the various enshrines on the right (over there —–>).
Rules for enshrinement? 2/3 vote.

— Coming soon, Scratch ‘n’ sniff!

Plus, my next post on the nonfiction book Random Family by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc and how it compares to the classic There are no Children Here and American Dream by Jason Deparle (trust me, it’s more fun than it sounds).

Sorrelina: Is it Really All That?

August 7, 2008 by

 

 

Bottom Line:  For Boston, it’s pretty good.

 

 

Mr. Alli-K and I have been to Sorrelina several times together. He also has the good fortune to dine there frequently in the name of entertaining clients.  In our view, Sorrelina is to Boson today what Mistral was ten years ago.  Boston’s small contingent of Beautiful People has taken a shine to this place. 

 

Our most recent visit to Sorrelina was a Saturday night double date with our friends Scary and Dex (who is one of the Beautiful People and a well-known regular at both Mistral and Sorrelina). 

 

Unfortunately, the reservation was under my name, which meant we did not get the Beautiful People treatment we typically enjoy when we are out with Dex.  Our table wasn’t ready when we arrived (exactly on time).  The girls at the hostess desk were nice and came across as genuinely apologetic, so we were sympathetic. 

 

After 15 minutes of standing in the crowded bar area, I was ready to sit down and be waited on.  Dex was dispatched to the hostess stand.  The hostesses implied that we would not have had this problem had the reservation been made in Dex’s name, which Dex and I both found mildy irritating (for different reasons).   

 

Another couple of minutes passed.  We were offered a table that was open, but did not comfortably accommodate four.  Seeing that I was hungry and tired of standing in the crowded bar area, my fellow diners agreed to take the subpar table.

 

Normally, I would have been peeved at this point.  An established restaurant at the top of the price spectrum should NOT keep me waiting.  But I was excited to be out on the town without my kid!  At a grown-up restaurant!  With real live Beautiful People! Wearing flattering clothes with no slobber spots!  And a babysitter who doesn’t mind staying late! 

 

Our waitress came over, and it turned out she knows Mr. Alli-K and Dex (and they are good tippers), so I thought our troubles were behind us.  On with the show!

 

Negotiations on wine ended in an order for the  2004 Trefethen Oak Knoll District Cabernet Sauvignon.  Upon drinking, Dex proclaimed it a “good choice”, which was the unanimous view. 

 

I started with one of my favorite Sorrelina dishes. It’s described on the menu as “squash blossom crisps, orange-honey, ricotta, fennel pollen.”  Unfortunately, on this occasion, both the plate and the honey were frigid, which ruined the dish.  The plate was sweaty, which in itself was off-putting, but the real tragedy was that the honey was too hard to adhere to the squash blossoms.  A BIG disappointment.

 

A lesser disappointment was our waitress.  To her credit, she was very knowledgeable about the menu. Her manner (approaching chilly) and sense of timing could use some improvement.  No one in the foursome likes a hoverer, but we do like our orders to be taken when we have closed our menus, and we do like someone to check in on from us time to time.

 

Twice, we had to actively seek the watiress’s attention.  A couple of times we were debating whether we should flag her down as she arrived at our table.  The lack of good timing may have been due to the fact that we were seated in the hinterlands, but whatever the reason, it wasn’t the level of service I expect at these prices.

 

The servers and buspeople were pretty smooth.  Nothing was dropped and no one was served a dish that s/he hadn’t ordered. 

 

There is an oddity about the service at Sorrelina that detracts from the fine dining feel, though:   the servers openly carry the computer-generated tickets that explain where to take the dish.  I am not against the use of these tickets as long as I don’t see them.  There is a suspension of disbelief that I associate with fine dining that I cannot maintain when the servers are consulting tickets in plain view. 

 

Happily, the pasta course I chose was executed perfectly.  On the menu, it is listed simply as “RAVIOLI   beets, toasted almonds, green onions.”   My fellow diners found it an odd choice (why order the vegetarian dish if you’re not a vegetarian?), but I didn’t let them sway me.  I was glad I stuck with it.  Outstanding.  I would go back for this dish alone. After eyeing it repeatedly, Dex tried it and proclaimed it “really good”.

 

The group ordered two desserts to share, both of which were very good (more on that later).  While we were waiting for our desserts, we ordered dessert drinks.  Mr. Alli-K wanted to see the bottle of the cognac he was ordering to make sure that it was the same one he had in mind.  The bartender brought it over, he decided it was the stuff he was thinking of, and she poured it.  The rest of us then waited about 10 minutes before our drinks were brought to the table.  Weird.

 

The sugar and cinnamon spiced doughnuts with marsala cream were a trip back to the time when donuts were not manufactured in advance and kept “fresh” with chemical compounds.  The second dish, which I think is not on the permanent menu, was a sort of cheesecake.  The cheesecake was tasty, light and smooth – nothing like Cheesecake Factory.

 

Undoubtedly, we’ll be back to Sorellina.   We will continue to recommend it as one of the best restaurants in Boston.  The caveat: If you’re lucky enough to dine out frequently in locales that have a New York caliber restaurant scene, you’re likely to be underwhelmed.  Sorellina is a classic example of Boston’s propensity for underachievement. 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

The Alli-K Washroom Report

August 1, 2008 by

Unless you have an amazing bladder or are willing to remain seriously dehydrated (and sober), using public washrooms is an unavoidable part of a night out on the town.

Expensive restaurants with inadequate or unpleasant facilities will not get a repeat visit from this fun-loving tax attorney.  A place on the lower end of the price spectrum with a tolerable waiting time for a clean toilet facility, well, that’s a place where I might just become a regular. 

Since most establishments have facilities that are okay-not-great-not-terrible, I am not providing a comprehensive guide to all the washrooms in all the bars and restaurants in all of the cities I’ve hung out in.  Rather,  I devote this space to calling out washrooms that are exceptional for one or more of the following:

  • Poor access or location (e.g., long line, a trek from seating area, otherwise bad location)
  • Unpleasant environment (cleanliness not up to par / smells bad / inadequate lighting / malfunctioning equipment)
  • Funky factor
  • So nice I forgot it was a toilet facility

A couple of housekeeping matters:  (1) I’ll be updating this post upon encountering additional washrooms of note.  (2) These reviews capture moments in time, and times change.  Past performance is not necessarily indicative of future reults. 

Babbo, Manhattan (Remarkably Poor Access)

I lived in Manhattan for three years, so I understand that sacrifices must be made when it comes to square footage.  But when My Man and I are dropping $300 on a meal for two,  I prefer to not spend 10 minutes standing in line with three other ladies in the middle of the dining area for the washroom, and I’m pretty sure the couple whose table I was standing next to wasn’t so thrilled either.   We had a good meal here, but it wasn’t good enough to get me to go back.

l’Espalier, Boston (Gloucester Street location) (Poor Access)

Unlike Babbo, the owners of l’Espalier made the wise decision to place the washrooms outside of the dining areas, and we give them props for that.  We also applaud the fact that they squeezed multiple washrooms into a Back Bay townhouse, and we like the provision of both cloth and paper hand-towels. 

Still, the washrooms are small, the equipment is old, and you have to cross paths with servers and kitchen staff to access them.  It’s a bit of a downer when everything else about the place is so polished. 

That said, we’d take Gloucester Street and its subpar washrooms over the soulless Mandarin Oriental and what we expect to be much nicer facilities.

Mantra, Boston (Funky Factor)

How many business lunches have you been on where women felt the need to sneak a peak at the men’s room? 

Although I was not willing to take the plunge, it is my understanding that, if you are a man and you pee standing up, you do so into some kind of waterfall-type thing.  The gentlemen in the group found it to be a weird experience.  The peeping Tomettes found it giggle-inducing.

The women’s room at Mantra was one of the first to feature the witness interrogation style door on the stalls.  The first time I took a pee while watching other ladies wash their hands and refresh their lip gloss, it was unsettling.  Now that a few restaurants in Manhattan have followed suit, I am an old hand at it.

Hi Tops, Chicago (Funky Factor and, although it wasn’t so nice that I didn’t forget it was a washroom, I did forget I was in a sports bar)

As a general rule, I avoid attending or watching sporting events.  The primary reason is that sports bore me.   The secondary reason is that the venues are usually gross. 

But, like any red-blooded American gal, I do find myself in ballparks and sports bars from time to time.  Like in Chicago, where the Triplets attended a game at Wrigley Field.  It was raining when we set out from our hotel, and still raining when we got to the field, so we walked around looking for a bar.  Boy, did we hit the jackpot. 

The waitresses were so nice that even the female customers didn’t mind their hotness so much, the DJ was good, and of course they had the requisite gazillion TVs broadcasting non-stop sports. 

When I visited the ladies’, Hi Tops became my #1 Favorite Sports Bar Ever.  It was clean, there were a reasonable number of per-female-capita toilets, and…there were baskets full of toiletries and treats!!  I fell in love and bought a very tiny Hi Tops T-shirt to commerorate my time there.

Epilogue:  The rain stopped, the sun came out, the game was played.  Cubs vs. Yankees.  Sammy Sosa had his 1000th career run or something like that.  I thought he shouldn’t even be allowed to play so soon after the cork-filled bat incident, but I guess the MLB took a different view.

Canoe, Toronto (poor access and unpleasant environment)

Like every Morton’s I’ve been to, Canoe is an office building.  Unlike Morton’s, it is at the top instead of the bottom.  I had heard that the view was fantastic, but was skeptical.  An office tower in Toronto?  What was I going to see — another giant office building?  Some suburbs? 

Happily, the answer was no.  Even on a drizzly day the view from this place was superb.  The food and service were both good, and the company of a fellow Triplet was a welcome treat. 

When I enquired as to where the washroom was, the answer confused me.  I was instructed to leave the restaurant and walk toward the elevator bank.  I asked for the host to repeat the directions to make sure I had not misunderstood.  Apparently, my hearing and listening comprehension were in working order. 

I exited the restaurant and walked down the typical-office-building-hallway wondering if someone was going to ask for my ID badge.  Upon entering the ladies’ room, I was a bit disconcerted.  The wonderful feeling of being on vacation (wine at lunch!) was replaced by wondering why in the world a top restaurant in a major metropolitan city would have a bathroom that was remarkably like the one in my office building back home.    

When I remarked on this oddity to my fellow Triplet, he surmised that building management might prohibit renovations to washrooms.  If so, it’s hard to hold it against the restaurant.  What a shame, though, for a place with otherwise good ambience to make you feel you’re still at the office.


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