Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Trouble with Burritos...

They are out there…and we are about to be taken over-overrun in fact. I’m not talking about aliens…I’m talking about burrito joints. Let’s take a brief break from Deli December and talk about the proliferation of burrito joints. I am puzzled why over the past 3 years these places seem to be popping up with more frequency than “Tribbles”. The burrito places are the rabbits of the food chain.

White City Plaza in Shrewsbury is a good place to start. Essentially, you can stand in the center island on Route 9 and see Chipotle, Q-Doba and Moe’s, all of which make their money from the now-ubiquitous burrito. Throw in a Boloco and Baja Fresh, and it’s the Holy Quintet of burritos…

As I have written in the past, in the Metrowest, within a quarter mile of each other, Chipotle and Boloco battle for wrapped tortilla supremacy. I now lean towards Chipotle because I think the fewer number of menu items the fewer opportunities for screw-ups. But despite my preferences, I wonder every time I pass on of these places…why? Why now, why here? Have we learned nothing from Dr. Atkins and reducing our consumption of “white” carbs? How healthy is a flour tortilla stuffed with rice and beans and some meat? Despite containing a full “recommended daily allowance” of carbohydrates, it hasn’t stopped people consuming these football-sized meals. Moe’s features the “Homewrecker” a/k/a the “Toiletwrecker”. Even with such an appetizing name, people keep coming back for more.

In the future, I’ll be reviewing these in more depth. But someone please, share with me the marketing strategy that makes the Metro-Boston area so primed for burritos.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Deli Derailed...

I know it’s been a while, but I find it hard to write while in a deli coma…

As a reminder, I am another food quest…this time for deli delights. While I continue my tour of the best, and worst, delis in the local metropolitan Boston area, I’ve been distracted by a substantial home improvement project, and as some of you have observed, at the worst possible time of year; we are “moving on up”, but waited to tear the roof off our house until the temperatures went below freezing. But, the guys are doing a great job, and we soldier on, as I plot and execute my attack. For a little teaser, let’s talk about “Noah’s Ark” in the Lower East Side of NY.

Some friends brought me some deli take-out on a recent trip to NYC. Besides the pound of hot pastrami that we’ll discuss in a future post, I want to bring your attention to perhaps the most sublime item ever sold in a deli-the “stuffed knish.” For those of you unfamiliar, a knish is puff pastry or dough stuffed with something, most often potato or meat. Some places stuff them with vegetables, as if that’s going to make it less bad for you.

I enjoy a big fatty sandwich as much as the next person, but when I discovered the “stuffed knish”, I had moved to another level. Here’s the deal on the stuffed knish-first, take a potato knish the size of a softball, then cut it in half and stuff a quarter pound of your favorite fatty deli meat inside. Assemble it like a sandwich, and serve with a defibrillator. I had the pleasure of getting a stuffed knish with potato and pastrami, and another with caramelized onions and mushrooms. These pictures don’t just say 1000 words, they say 1000 calories!!! Maybe more.

I had the pleasure of eating these two monstrosities, with help, over a period of four days. Everything about these was perfect-the dough/crust, the potato filling, the tender pastrami, and the tasty mushrooms and onions…eating these were a party in my mouth! An orgiastic feast for my palate.

I’m happy to hear from you readers with your suggestions in the Boston area. I’m trying to get too as many as I can. Join me, with Jordan Rich on “The Jordan Rich Show” on WBZ 1030 AM Saturday night, January 30, 2010 when we talk about these delis, and I assure you, more about being stuffed with a “stuffed knish.”

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Shhhhhhhhhhhhhh….This is a library

I was recently in Portsmouth (as noted in an earlier post), looking for a nice dinner spot, and talked-up one of the hotel front-desk employees for recommendations…she came up with “The Library” on State Street.

Their website touts it as “The Best Steak House on the Seacoast” in one of the “most valued landmarks.” Modest, they are not, but despite the hyperbole, the succeeded on every level.

If you ever went to “Finally Michael’s” in Framingham, MA, then you know exactly what The Library is all about. It is located in an old, historic building, with very high ceilings, bookcases filled from floor to ceiling, multiple fireplaces throughout the room, linen tablecloths and napkins (one comment here though-they should have the option of black napkins in addition to white, so that white lint won’t show up on dark colored clothing). We had a 7:00pm reservation, and we were promptly seated upon our arrival, in a quiet corner near a fireplace.

The menu can be best described as “continental/steakhouse” with the typical offerings of beef, beef and slightly more beef. For a meatatarian like myself, I’ll embrace the cow, and all its delicious parts, but for Mrs. Palate, the choices are somewhat limited, and for the second night, it seemed that salmon was her choice.

From the start of the meal and all the way through, our waiter was extremely attentive and prompt, yet unobtrusive. He appeared when needed, but didn’t bother us during the meal. He listened carefully as Mrs. Palate explained her food allergies, and checked with the Chef to ensure there would be no mistakes. Though he seemed young, the waiter clearly was well trained and took pride in his work, which we greatly appreciated.

For dinner, we each had a mixed green salad, with homemade red wine vinaigrette (and not the kind they doled out at The York Steakhouse). I had the 16oz sirloin (just not up for the “Man v. Food” challenge of a 24oz Rib-eye steak), sautéed spinach and we split an order of roasted mushrooms. Mrs. Palate had “Pan Roasted Scottish Salmon” with white beans and fall vegetables in a light garlic broth and a sweet potato. My steak was tender and cooked to perfection, and the fish was expertly prepared and was very pleasant in presentation and in taste, with the garlic broth and vegetables. The other sides were also very good and served hot and fresh.

While we did not have coffee or dessert, the dessert tray included some wonderful looking items, including a very rich looking “7 Layer Chocolate Cake” and the “Peanut Butter Pie.” After a full day of outlet shopping and a very satisfying meal, I just couldn’t force in one more bite...but Mrs. Palate and I both agreed: The Library was an excellent experience and grossly exceeded our recent meal at Morton’s. I give The Library a “platinum palate” and “two forks up”.

Of course, by the time we got back to our hotel (a 3 minute ride), I was ready to go…for ice cream. So, in the pouring rain, we walked down to the waterfront to Annabelle’s Ice Cream. I had a very small cup, and it was quite tasty, but the impressive part was that all their homemade ice cream is certified “Kosher”. The owner told us that it’s expensive, but worth it, and we found out that he services over 100 retail outlets besides his own shop. Got to give him props for the Kosher certification, and in the future, we’ll be giving him our ice-cream consumption business when in Portsmouth. I would encourage others to do so as well.

Next time you’re in Portsmouth, enjoy The Library and Annabelle’s Ice Cream, but for now, enjoy “Eat It” by Weird Al…

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Brought to you by the MPAA...

New rating system…

I am willing to entertain suggestions on a rating system for the blog. After all these years of eating and writing, it’s time to come up with my signature line. Like Siskel and Ebert, I could co-op “two thumbs up” or maybe, more appropriately, “two tongues up.” But, things are not always black or white, and therefore a scale might be necessary. Tonight, I unleashed the “precious metal” system, where I will rate things as “Platinum Palate” (the highest), then gold, silver, bronze, and lead (the worst.)

I don’t love it, and don’t want to be derivative, so feel free to email me or post here your thoughts on a new rating system. If yours is chosen, there might be special surprise sent your way…

Let the ideas flow…

Pass the meat please…

In preparation for Deli December, Mrs. Palate and I got away for the weekend and sojourned to Portsmouth, NH. Portsmouth has a disproportionate number of restaurants in light of their population, with an eatery practically on every corner, and a few in between. Coincidentally, this was the end of their “Restaurant Week”, and many places were offering special, multi-course meals.

We decided to hit “Muddy River Smokehouse” for dinner Friday night. Muddy River is right in downtown Portsmouth, on Congress Street, and has a small, funky bar area in front; but as you walk to the back, into the dining room, it gets funkier. The décor could be best described as “roadhouse” or “shack”. I’m ok with it, so long as they don’t let the décor draw their attention away from the food. Having been there before, I assure you they know their way around a smoker.

We went to dinner with my cousins, and they beat me into submission to start the meal with a traditional Southern appetizer…Fried Pickles. I’m as game as the next guy, but I wasn’t sure about these, but I have to say, I’ve seen the light (as well as the grease). I am embracing the pickle. These little dill pickles slices, coated and fried, were like little slices of heaven, dipped in horseradish. A party in your mouth! These little devils definitely warmed me up for the meal…these come highly recommended.

After a one-minute respite, my ribs appeared…I ordered a full rack of beef ribs, which I believe was 8 ribs. These were not puny ribs from some anorexic cow…this cow was well fed (think closing credits from “The Flintstones”). The ribs were nicely smoked, then grilled and sauced. While I usually like my ribs dry, I neglected to mention that to the waitress (who had a pleasant Steely Dan-esque name, “Aja”), and even though the sauce was a little sweeter than I prefer, it was a nice compliment to the char-crust on the ribs. Not to worry, Mom, I only ate half, and sent the other half home with my cousin, for her husband. I only sampled the cole slaw (more vinegar-based with seemingly little, if any mayonnaise) and garlic mashed potatoes, but a very well executed meal consistent with the smokehouse theme. Mrs. Palate had “candied smoked salmon” and a cup of the vegetarian chili…she was very high on the chili, and satisfied with the fish from a smokehouse. Put together the fried pickles, beef ribs and Crestor, and that’s a meal!

Revealing our new rating system (which will be described in depth in future postings), having been the Muddy River three times, and never disappointed, we give it a golden palate (second to the top rating).

More later, but for now, enjoy some blues…

Friday, November 6, 2009

Rock the Kasbah…

By special agreement, a new food quest has been launched. “The Hunt for Deli December” (“the Hunt” for short) has begun.

From Wikipedia: “Delicatessen” is a term meaning "delicacies" or "fine foods”.
The term delicatessen has a secondary meaning in some countries, referring to stores that sell delicatessen, hence a shortened term for delicatessen store, sometimes additionally shorted to the informal term “deli”.

I suppose around here “deli” is NOT synonymous with “fine foods”, but perhaps delicacies- pickled tongue, chopped liver and kishke (stuffed intestine, for the uninformed)? A deli meal is an interesting experience, made even more adventurous by the aforementioned foods.

One thing that I have observed over the years is the differing ideas of what really make a “deli”. To me, with my heritage, I expect a massive menu of over-stuffed sandwiches, as well as other traditional sides (such as knishes, kasha, and kishke). The ambiance is completed by pickles in jars, salamis and other netted meats hanging from the ceiling, and sweaty old men in filthy, formerly white aprons, cutting the meat and swearing under their breath in Yiddish. To others, a sandwich shop like D’Angelo’s or Subway/Quizno’s is a deli…what is wrong with these people? Fine foods…delicacies???

So, for you, my consuming public, I am on the hunt…I am going to sample the best, and likely some of the worst, of local delis. If you have any suggestions, bring them on.

So far, I’ve eaten at the Deli Kasbah in NYC, sampled the wares of Noah’s Ark, also in NYC, Rein’s Deli in Vernon, CT, Zaftig’s in Brookline, MA, Kugels’s in Framingham, MA, Joan and Ed’s in Natick, MA and S & S Restaurant in Cambridge, MA. Plenty more to come, culminating with a deli discussion on WBZ 1030AM on Saturday night, January 30, 2010. Tune in, here, and there, to talk about the best, and worst, of deli.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Farewell my friend...

Please permit me to venture away from my usual critical self to honor and celebrate the life of a good man, my friend and teacher, Dr. George Marcus, who passed away unexpectedly last Saturday.

George was a great fan of this blog. He would often comment “I don’t know half the stuff you’re talking about, but it’s funny.” He would often encourage me to write more but also often chastised me for the food I would consume, but he did it with love. I think he would get a kick of me writing about him.

George touched many people. As the former director of Camp Tel Noar in New Hampshire, as well as being the Executive Director of the Cohen Foundation, he had the opportunity to touch, and enhance, the lives of many young people. His impact cannot be overstated; a Facebook group started in his memory went viral as soon as the word got out and in just a few short days, had over 650 members. Go to “RIP Dr. George Marcus” on Facebook and read what people say about this wonderful man.

I had the honor and privilege to deliver a eulogy for George this past Wednesday; it’s a honor I wish I never had to accept, but I was honored to be asked, and glad to be able to share some of my thoughts with the over 750 attendees. You read correctly-more than 750 people whom George touched in some way…a tragic loss, but a glorious send-off…exactly what he deserved. I was happy to play a small part, but will miss him terribly, as will everyone who knew him.

Kosher Gas Station in Brooklyn NY

Fill it up with "regular" and I'll have the pastrami...

Kosher Gas Station in Brooklyn NY

Friday, September 25, 2009

What we have here, is a failure to communicate...

I recently saw a movie about someone unjustly accused and convicted of murdering his wife. While in prison, he’s befriended by a grizzled old inmate, with a “tough on the outside, soft on the inside” persona, a rag-tag band of half-wits, who together, ultimately outsmart a cruel warden and his vicious head-guard. After he makes his escape, in a complicated scheme, he ends up in a beachfront community where his friend meets him up and they live happily ever after in freedom.

Of course, I’m talking about “Deathrace” but I am wondering if I’ll ever get those 2 hours of my life back.

I have some friends (you know who you are…) who claim that “The Shawshank Redemption” is amongst the greatest movies ever made. That may be true, if the greatest movies list includes “Caged Heat” and “Mannequin 2”, and any movie with Judd Nelson, but I have to admit, it was a disappointment for me. If you’ve seen one “beating all odds” type of movie, you’ve seen them all. Sure, it was better than some prison movies, but not as good as some others, like “Papillon”, “Brubaker” or “Con Air”.

These movies follow a set formula: unjust conviction, abuse at the hands of vicious guards/warden/other inmates, an old, wise inmate helping the new guy, new guy survives and thrives, and justice prevails in the end. Society loves underdog stories, and somehow prison movies make us root for the underdog, even if he murdered his wife.

“Deathrace” is a loose remake of the 1975 Roger Korman classic “Deathrace 2000” starring the sexually repressed David Carradine and an up and coming Sly Stallone. The premise was a race across the United States, where the drivers won points for running down spectators and each other (if only someone had come up with this for the Cannonball Run movies...).

Roger Korman and Hollywood had the brilliant idea to “re-make” the movie-there must have people clamoring for this; behold “Deathrace” starring Jason Statham. Instead of a race across the country, this game is played with inmate on an island prison; win 5 races and earn your freedom. Like “Shawshank”, Statham is unjustly accused and convicted of murdering his beautiful wife, is smart and soft-spoken, is befriended by a “tough on the outside, soft on the inside” older inmate, is admired by a rag-tag bunch of half-witted inmates, and outsmarts a cruel warden and head guard. Spoiler alert!!! After busting loose, he ends up in a sunny paradise with his inmate buddy. Sound familiar? Try “Deathrace Redemption” or “Shawshank Deathrace.”

I guess this speaks to the bigger problem with Hollywood-a dearth of original ideas. Did we really need a remake of “Deathrace 2000”? Do we need a remake of “Fame”? Isn’t Irene Cara already unfortunately living forever? (I was gonna run with Gene Anthony Ray, but tragically, he’s gone to the big performing arts school in the sky). What’s next, “The Eleven Commandments” and “The Godfather, 4D”?

For a look at what high school lunch is usually like...

Let's Go to the Mall...

Back in the late 70s and early 80s, if you wanted to eat at the Natick Mall, your choices were Brigham’s, The Sandwich Board, a café’ in Sears, or my favorite, The York Steakhouse (Number 4, medium, baked potato with butter). In the early 80s, the mall renovated and added a small “food court” which brought such dining delights as Papa Gino’s pizza, Orange Julius (whoever he was) and some generic Chinese food stand. I’m sure there were a few more, but they were so generic, they just blended right in. Dining at the mall was nothing special.

I avoid the malls like the plague, Celine Dion concerts and Meryl Streep movies, but I found myself wandering the Natick Collection briefly at lunch yesterday, so my mall companion and I decided to stop at the Food Court for lunch.

I don’t know when the trend changed from crap to more exciting and exotic choices, but the new Natick Mall, among others, now features P.F.Changs, the Cheesecake Factory, the Met Bar and Grill, Sel De La Terre, California Pizza Kitchen and Friendly’s. Other malls have some selection of the foregoing, but also Bertucci’s and TGI Friday’s (but when you eat there, you really wish it was Mondays.) Obviously, the array of choices has expanded to suit any palate, but for pedestrian fare, there’s still the food court.

When the mall re-opened in the mid-90s, the new “Food Court” was big news. There were a number of new choices, and there was a lot of puffery about how many people it could seat (more like how many head of cattle it could slaughter…) an how bright and airy it was (remember, even prison dining halls have windows…). There was a soup place (with their “cutting edge” “bread boule), a grill where they could make sandwiches and salads, a Nathan’s hot dog stand, Hagen Daaz, and the usual other suspects.

Now that the mall’s been opened for almost 15 years, things have changed. They have cleared out a lot of the seating, changed the flooring and gotten rid of the H1N1 magnet-the kids play area. Most noticeably, a number of the places have changed or left, leaving only one wall of selections, and frankly, not very good ones at that. After all the fanfare, now that the smoke has cleared, all that’s left is Sbarro, Salad Creations, Master Wok, Cajun Cafe, McD, Gourmet India, D'angelo, and Sarku Japan. A motley crew…

One thing that interests me about the food courts and these places is that now they have someone standing in front of each place offering you a sample. Stop past Master Wok and try a sample of “General Chicken”; go past Cajun Café and try “Bourbon Chicken”; walk past Gourmet India and try “Curry Chicken”; walk past Sarku Japan and try a sample of “Teriyaki Chicken”. After circling the food court 2 or 10 times, I don’t need to order anything anywhere.

Standing alone, the samples aren’t bad, but when did each of these places essentially turn into Chinese buffets? At Master Wok, you can get “General Chicken” with white or fried rice, or lo-mein noodles, mixed vegetables and either a chicken finger or an egg roll. At Cajun Café, try the “Bourbon Chicken” (that tastes suspiciously like “General Chicken”) and get it with white or fried rice, noodles, and some “Cajun vegetables”. At Sarku, get the “Chicken Teriyaki” with white or fried rice or noodles, and steamed vegetables. There is almost not differentiation at any of these places. I don’t think it really matters, since in my mind, there’s just one large kitchen in back making all the food then pushing a little to each place.

If you’re Master Wok, or any other Chinese food court establishment, I embrace you and want you to stick to your strong points, but all others…GMaB!!! I don’t recall any Cajun food really having an egg roll with it, or spicy Cajun wonton soup.

I have so much more to say, for someone that spends such little time at the mall. I’ll leave you with this thought-is that really chicken? I noticed the pigeon population has diminished…

You’ve been great. Enjoy “Tiffany”.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Good to the Bone

While still holding on to fresh memories of Wings Over Framingham (and probably the wings themselves), Sterling enticed me to go to The Chicken Bone Saloon (aka “The Bone”), less than a mile from “Wings Over…”. The Bone has been there for years…I remember going there once, when I felt tougher. It’s in an area of Framingham that is literally “on the other side of the tracks” and if you went, you went down two steps, physically, and socially. Glad to say, while still a bar room, it is much more family-friendly, and becoming so popular tat they’ve opened a second seasonal location right near Fenway Park. Check out The Bone here!

Sterl and I decided to get take-out and bring the stuff back to the office. I was afraid I hadn’t set up a fair fight with “Wings Over…” because I ate those at the airplane hanger/warehouse fresh from the kitchen, but we were on a limited schedule.

The Bone has a very extensive menu…reminding me a bit of the Anchor Bar, both in choices, and décor. After much consideration, I ordered the “garlic hot” (which is traditional hot Buffalo sauce with added garlic) with a side of “thermonuclear”; Sterling got boneless wings with traditional hot Buffalo. With nervous anticipation, we opened the to-go cartons, and were duly impressed. The aroma was sublime and they were still scorching hot and fresh. First impressions: these really held up well in take-out containers, and they were very appetizing looking. Second impressions: very meaty and fresh, similar to “Wings Over…”. What was especially impressive was that the skin was still crisp even though they were doused in sauce-that can be hard trick to pull off, and they did it well (since I had dry wings at “Wings Over…”, I’ll have to go back to do this comparison.)

Other impressions: the ratio of flats to drummies was not aligned. In an 8 piece order, I had 3 flats and 5 drummies (must have been from Chernobyl chicken!). Doesn’t much matter to me, since I like both parts equally, but I just thought it would be even. Also, “The Bone” tosses in a tremendous handful of carrots and some celery, whereas “Wings Over…” just gives a couple pieces of celery (and what do you do, if you’re like me and hate celery?). Also, “Wings Over…” gives you a food service container of blue cheese dressing, about the size of a shot glass with a hermetically sealed foil cover. “The Bone” gives you a cup twice that size (the size of a kid’s beverage), filled with chunky blue cheese dressing…advantage “The Bone”.

To be the champ you gotta beat the champ…Sterling was right all these years, “The Bone” wins, in quality of packaging, crispness after saucing, quantity of veggies, and menu choices. That’s not to say that “Wings Over…” isn’t good-they are, but even with a tie in wing quality, the tie has to be broken with the veggies.

Epilogue: Nothing like a food coma to prevent you from being effective at work, and there’s nothing worse than a fried food coma. I gotta admit, two days in a row of fried wings forced me to realize that I can’t eat like this anymore, though I’m not sure I ever could. But, as always, I am here to serve you, my dedicated and hungry readers.

You’ve been great…enjoy the chicken dance.

Wings Over the Bone...

I was reading “This is”, and I saw that “Wings Over Framingham” has opened at the old Long Pontiac location on Rte. 135 in Framingham. In an odd twist of market research, they decided to put it less than a mile from their main competitor, “The Chicken Bone Saloon.”

In the spirit of “” (authored by the same woman from "This Is", I decided to do a taste test to see which one was truly “King of the Wing” and which is the derivative impostor. Not quite a side by side, but day by day test.

For a couple of years, Sterling has been singing the praises of “The Bone” and now, we could put the rubber to the road and get these two giants of the chicken wing to go head to head, or “beak to beak”, as the case may be. Having eaten at the Anchor Bar in Buffalo, NY, the recognized inventor of the Buffalo wing, I feel especially well qualified and prepared to render my opinion. Who am I kidding? Even if I hadn’t eaten there, I am still full of opinions.

A few weeks ago, I dined at “Wings” with faithful reader Mike S. and Thursday at the “Bone” with charter subscriber Sterling. Ezekiel saw the wheel…this is the wheel he said he saw (gratuitous shout-out to the first person to email me telling us where that quote is from, and I’m not referring to the Woody Guthrie song.)

First stop, “Wings Over Framingham.” You can find out more about the “Wings Over…” franchise at their website. Since it began in Amherst, MA (long after my departure), I should be inclined to like it. Back when I was stalking the mean streets of Amherst (with some brass knuckles and a sock filled with a few rolls of quarters), the only choice was “Wings Express”, which was down a small alley behind the stores on North Pleasant Street, just around the corner from that bastion of fine Mexican dining…Taco Villa!

The “ambiance” of ‘Wings Over…” is sort of like the ambiance of an airline hanger. Convenient, since they somehow try to confusingly incorporate an airplane theme. It is very industrial, and the Framingham location, located in an old car dealership, is mostly take-out with extremely limited seating. Thankfully, we employed the patented “stand over the people and make them uncomfortable” technique. However, I’ve seen fraternity house kitchen tables cleaner…I felt bad for the girl working clean-up.

Mike got the “West Texas Mesquite” wings and I got the “Cajun Blackened.” Both of these are dry-spiced wings, as opposed to the sopping wet wings you get at most places. We washed these down with waffle fries (Mom, we shared them), and Diet Cokes (just to kid ourselves into thinking we were trying to keep it lo-cal). My wings were fried, then re-spiced and grilled over a flame, I think. We both liked mine better than the “West Texas Mesquite” which was a little sweet; there was a good ratio, 50/50 of “flats” or “wings” to “drummies” or “drumsticks”. They were tasty and meaty, and I give them good marks. Other than the limited seating, I recommend “Wings Over….” I admit I’m not rushing back, but mostly because there’s only so much fried chicken wings you can eat.

However, to be fair to Sterling, who’s been riding me about “The Bone”, I let her convince me to go there the very next day.

Tomorrow, the saga continues, along with filling my Crestor prescription…

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Thanks to Jordan Rich for having me on-air a couple weeks back. Lot's of interesting calls about your favorite local restaurants and your pet peeves...I have a few myself.

For a list of the places people raved about, check out

Just back from vacation, and percolating a few thoughts...more after the bump.


Thursday, August 6, 2009

The envelope please...

I feel a little like the accountants at Price Waterhouse…I have reviewed the nominations and tallied the votes. The only one who holds the key to winner is I…

Let me take a moment to look back on this journey. I am pleased that I was able to embark on this for you, my readers. After dozens of chicken Peking Raviolis, chicken wings, teriyaki sticks and bowls of Hot and Sour Soup…decisions have been made. Without further ado…

The first runner-up…in Framingham…Sichuan Gourmet.

SG is excellent, if you like traditional Sichuan (as they spell it) cuisine. This means that when you eat there, bring your asbestos-covered tongue. “Sichuan” is apparently means “let’s torture the non-Asian diners with the hottest food known to mankind.” I love it, as do the Palateers. Mrs. Palate stopped eating there a few years ago, when they brought her food that contained every possible allergen, even thought she was clear about what she could not consume. Junior Palate and I kept eating there, and recently Mrs. Palate and the Junior Palette joined back in. Without a doubt, their “Kung-Pao Chicken” is the best I’ve had since the “China Mall” back during law school, and their “Hot and Spicy Fried Chicken Wings” are the best chicken wings in the area. Rounding out our meal is usually Chicken and Chinese Eggplant (not spicy) and “Shredded Chicken with Smoked Cayenne Pepper” (uhhh…very spicy!) If you want them to modify the spice, they’ll do it, but it will still have some. If you fail to mention that you want them to adjust it at all, be forewarned. Eat at your own risk. Hurts so bad.

Now, the winner of the Golden Chopstick…the apex of Wok About 2009…no surprises here…Royal East in Cambridge.

We’ve been dining with friends at Royal East for about 6 years or so. Our first introduction to RE came at the invitation of a friend who was celebrating a birthday in the function room. The menu was done in the style of a traditional Chinese banquet. Now sure, some things served that night were things I was unfamiliar with…fish-head soup, golden fried whole chickens, with their heads and feet attached (and fried) and other various oddities….however, going there many times subsequent, I was introduced to the more sublime and subtle aspects of true Cantonese style cuisine.

Many people ask how to get their kids to eat more vegetables…I say: bring them to Royal East. Since we’ve been dining there, my kids have become fans of pea tendrils, yellow chives, baby bok choy and Chinese eggplant. Our usual meal there consists of soup, then an appetizer course of chicken dumplings (think Peking Ravioli, but with ground chicken instead of pork) and chicken with yellow chives (served in a pancake, like moo-shi), then main courses of Beef Chow-Foon with onion and green peppers, sliced chicken with ginger and scallion and sizzling chicken hot-pot, which comes to your table in a sizzling cast-iron pot with all sort of mysterious, but delicious ingredients.

Of course, for you who delight in the pleasure of bottom-dwelling fish, we have been at a table with Shrimp in Garlic Butter, Lobster 3 Ways (I’ll leave that to your imagination) and a Tamale omelet (yes, lobster liver and eggs!!!) While there, we’ve also been offered Jellyfish and Duck-web. I passed.

One of the nice things about RE is the ability of the staff to make whatever you want, and an owner who comes to the table and can explain what is particularly fresh and what to avoid. Eating there so frequently, we’ve gotten an education on everything from which vegetables can be served with each other and which assortments may cause the world to end, to fish-maw (sp?) soup and why non-Asian people won’t eat that!

We have enjoyed the food at RE so much that we recently hosted the Junior Palate’s kids’ bar mitzvah party. As you can see from these photos, it was a grand time. The owner was kind enough to close the entire restaurant for the day and laid out a buffet for the kids.

If you like seafood, be forewarned…we have been told by Otto, the owner, that there is a substantial difference in the quality of seafood served to a table if the fish has been dead for a while, or if it has been “fresh-killed.” Obviously, fresh-killed is better. At RE, when you see a waiter with a big net at the fish tank at the front entrance, you know someone just ordered the sea bass!

The bottom line on Royal East-if you like your Asian food fresh, your vegetables crisp, and food prepared with the proper balance of seasonings to enhance the flavor of the meat or vegetables, not cover them up, then in my book, RE is on the top of the Great Wall!

I must admit, a few weeks ago, I thought I had consumed enough Chinese food for the rest of my days…I told Mrs. Palate that we needed a break…that break lasted 4 days. We’ve come a long way since the mysterious brown sauce, rolls and butter and stainless bowls with lids. Now I can’t give it up. While a challenge, it was one I gladly undertook for myself, and for you, the dining public. I hope you have enjoyed reading about these exploits and restaurants and hope you choose to patronize a few.

Next up…who knows. But join me and Jordan Rich, as I appear on the Jordan Rich show Saturday night, August 15, 2009, from midnight to 3:30am, while we talk restaurants, dining out and take your calls. Tune in on WBZ 1030am, or

You’ve been great…next up for me, a challenge against Takeru Kobayashi

The time has come...

Well, the time has come for the great reveal…the apex of Wok About 2009. But, before the big moment, let me digress and reminisce about a few joints that hold a special place in my heart.

First, no discussion about Chinese food could be complete, for me, or some MIT friends, without an honorable mention to “House of Roy.” Oh Roy, we hardly knew ye…

As I mentioned in past posts, “HOR” was THE Chinese restaurant of my youth. For many years, multiple Sundays a month were spent driving into to Tyler Street in Boston’s Chinatown to enjoy the sumptuous delights of Roy’s chefs…the apex, or nadir, depending on your perspective, was my 13th birthday, when I got to eat my own “House of Roy Special”, which I hastily consumed and promptly gave back in the alley next door. Ahh…the memories.

As I got older and was able to drive myself, many a fun Friday night was spent at the Jade Fountain in Marlboro with some of my good friends. The food there was barely passable, as I recall, but it was always a fun trip, whether in my Plymouth Valiant, Lou’s AMC Eagle or rental Dodge Horizon with a flat tire…it was one of the few places around that offered a “combination plate” for dinner. I remember that the food was served a generous portion of fried rice, and an even more generous portion of MSG!

As I got older and my Asian cuisine palate expanded, it was necessary for me to find acceptable places while away at college. Thankfully my fraternity brother Scott introduced me to “Sze’s” in Northampton. “Sze’s” was a fairly high-end place…the had a nice buffet but only for Sunday brunch. Although it seemed unusual the first time I went, there was something quite pleasurable in a Chinese brunch buffet. Instead of omelets, the made custom “moo-shi” pancakes, with a choice of fillings. The wait staff wore black pants, white shirts and black vests, and soft Asian-style music played in the background. Only fifteen minutes from Amherst, this was seriously sating my Asian cuisine needs.

Also worthy of mention in Amherst in “Panda East.” The original Panda was in Northampton, not far from Sze’s, but they opened a sister restaurant over in Amherst; I guess they thought people wouldn’t drive the 15 minutes down Route 9. I spent a lot of time at Panda, especially with Mrs. Palate and Sister Palate. While their food wouldn’t surprise anyone, I recall it being a nice place for your Chinese cuisine fix…I do note that Panda East is still open. Next time I’m in Amherst, this is a must eat, along with a burger at The Pub and dessert at Bart’s. My mouth is watering just thinking about this.

At last…the moment you’ve been waiting for…the big reveal…up next, after the break.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

I'm getting winded...

How many of you readers out there have run the Boston Marathon? I know who you are…put your hands down. Well, at this point in my Wok About 2009, I feel like I’m half-way up Heartbreak Hill (or in my case “Heartburn Hill) and I just can’t go on. With the encouragement from the girls of Wellesley College and the BC crowd, I feel my spirit rising (if not my sodium levels) and I am beginning to ascend to the apex…

While the food samplings were getting better, I’m still climbing a mountain. At this point, I’m sort of at the base camp of the better places. I put “Imperial China” and “Eo Noodle”, both of Framingham, in this camp. I don’t go to Eo Noodle very often, but was invited to dine with some friends for lunch a few weeks back. While slightly more expensive than most Chinese luncheon joints, I will say that the food was tasty and plentiful. I give this a positive review.

On the same level is “Imperial China” of Framingham. I remember when it was “Pagoda Luau” 30 years ago, then “May Garden” after that, and for the past 15 years, “Imperial China”. I like the food well enough, and it is usually tasty, but oddly, each dish looks eerily similar, but tastes different. If you get “Ma La Chicken” and “Chicken with Ginger and Scallion”, they could be identical twins, but their flavor profiles are totally different and unique. I am intrigued, and perplexed, at the same time. “He is a loathsome, offensive brute, yet I can't look away…”

We like Imperial China…I give their Hot and Sour Soup high marks, and they serve little crispy noodles with the soup at the beginning of the meal. Their prices are a little high considering the amount of food you get, but overall, I am favorably inclined to it. One “feature” some of you may find off-putting, especially if you have kids: the restaurant has a slightly more upscale feel to it’s bar area, which includes a white baby grand piano. They usually have a talented piano player there (and one of my charter Critical Palate subscribers is related to someone in their talent pool so check her out on Thursdays), but the bar does have a little bit of a “super cougar” meat-market feel to it. When I walk in there, I feel like I’ve walked in to a pit bull den with my throat painted with gravy.

Moving up a step, I have to recommend “Chef Chang’s House” in Brookline. This is the granddaddy of all Szechwan style restaurants. I’ve been eating there at least since maybe 1980, perhaps before that.

After spending my formative years dining on chunks of beef or chicken in some MSG-laden mysterious brown sauce, CCH was a revelation. I got to admit, I was pretty comfortable eating my House of Roy special one Sunday a month when my parents told me we were meeting my Aunt Sarah at a “new” Chinese restaurant near her house in Brookline. With some typical attitude, I begrudgingly went along for the ride to CCH, and holy bat crap Batman…a new world was opened to me.

Imagine you’ve spent the first 14 years of your life thinking that Chinese food was battered chicken smothered in a redolent brown sauce with some unknown green vegetables and maybe some water chestnuts (whatever the hell those are) and maybe a shred of carrot or two; Hong Sue Gae anyone? The only Number 69 I was familiar with was Beef and Broccoli, which is in the same sauce that the Hong Sue Gae came in... throw in some dinner rolls and ahhhh, I can almost taste the Moon Palace now.

But then, you arrive at CCH…like Billy Jack returning to the Freedom School. You think the Asian writing looks vaguely familiar, the dark brown and black and red and gold of the décor shouts “Chinese Restaurant”, but alas, this is not the same. But that night, we embarked on a journey from which I have never returned…a journey into…”The Szechwan Zone”!

Gone were the stainless elevated bowls with lids, gone was the dark, semi-sweet fried rice…gone was the watery “Won Ton” soup. Enter, not the Dragon, but Hot and Sour soup and Kung Pao Chicken.

While I haven’t been back to CCH in several months, for its overall impact on my foodie life, I have to strongly recommend it, at least for nostalgic reasons. CCH opened me to the world of flavors and textures and vegetables previously unknown to my family or me. It tipped my Asian cuisine world on its axis, in the best possible way. I have never been the same since.

Coming up next, after the break…the top two…the best of the best of Wok About 2009.

You’ve been great. For now, enjoy “Coven.”

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Build a better Mousetrap!

Ok, so when I look back and think about all my Asian experiences, I can’t help but think, “damn, I ate a lot of crap.” It was tough, but I did it for you, my dining public.

So, we continue to ascend the ladder of food experiences, on our way to the big prize-the world’s largest barf bag!

Now, we’re beginning to get incrementally better.

Up next, “The Wok” in Wellesley. I had a perfectly pleasant lunch there with a “FOP”-“Friend of the Palate”, but I think the company was better than the food. Nothing terrible, but nothing outstanding. A perfectly acceptable place; just keep your expectations in check.

By way of charity, I have to put “Taam China” in Brookline in this category. I do so, because it’s the only all-Kosher entry and I need to give a shout-out to my kosher peeps. As many of you readers know, we keep “kosher” at home, and I do not eat any pork or shellfish or other “traife” items out of the house (some people call this “biblical kosher” meaning that I only eat things that are kosher animals, by definition…other people call it “hypocritical”…doesn’t matter to me what you call it, it works for us.) So, if we’re bringing in Chinese food to the house, it has to be from a kosher place. Taam China isn’t terrible…like in “Chinese food from a gas station” terrible, but it’s not great. The Hot and Sour Soup comes with shredded beef, instead of pork. The rest of the food didn’t cause me to rush to toss my dinner, like the old “Hunan Shalom” did. The problem is also that it’s in Brookline, which is about a half hour from here. I give them high marks for packaging, because by the time you get back here to MetroWest, it’s still hot. Now, if Chai Peking in Atlanta can do that…

I was invited to the FOPs’ house, and was treated to take-out from Shanghai-Tokyo in Natick. This was a pleasant surprise. When I imagine what take-out probably should be, it could be this. The food was fresh, well-packaged, and pretty tasty. Sure, eating from take-out containers isn’t the same as eating from overflowing platters, or even the elevated stainless bowls, but this was pretty good. Thankfully, no Shanghai “surprise” after!

Lotus Flower in Framingham. This place was good for one thing, and one thing only-buffet. I’m not saying it’s great (and certainly the Senior Palate would drive over here and kick my ass if I did), but as far as buffets in the MetroWest go, I like it. I should say I “liked” it, because one of you faithful readers sent me an article from last week’s MetroWest Daily News informing the world that they have been cited for Board of Health violations, as has every dining establishment in that strip plaza in Framingham. So, if you want some “pork to-mein” or “mouse droppings in garlic sauce”, this might be your place.

Ignoring the rat crap for a moment, I do want to point out two stories about Lotus. Many years ago, a friend ate there and had an utterly awful meal. He left a light tip, if any. Well, as he was walking out in the parking lot, the waiter or manager actually chased him down and yelled at him. Always love those sorts of things.

More interestingly, to me, is that when you dine with your kids at Lotus, the wait staff always ask the kids “how old are you?” At first, you think it’s cute, they’re trying to make conversation. Oh, but no, they’re smart…they’re checking the kid’s age to see how much to charge you. Sneaky.

Anyways, I’ve jumped off the Lotus bandwagon, mostly because I like my chicken without the little “black beans” mice leave behind.

Only 9 more to go…can you imagine my sodium levels?

Monday, July 6, 2009

First, Ed McMahon, then Farrah, and now...

I’m back, after a brief, grief-ridden sojourn to cope with the untimely death of Fred Travelena.

When last I wrote, I was ascending the Chinese food pyramid. I have moved from “underwhelming” to just “whelming.” The Bataan Death March along the Great Wall continues….

Equally whelming as Zheng Garden is “Oriental Pearl”, or “Friendly’s Chinese” as my kids say, since it’s housed in an old “Friendly’s”. All that’s missing is the “Big Beef Cheeseburger” and a “Jim Dandy”. I put OP in the “whelming” category, but it is teetering precariously close to the precipice of falling into “underwhelming.”

For several years, OP was OK…they have a small buffet and the kids liked it. We started meeting other friends there on Friday nights for dinner because it was quick and easy. Unfortunately, we seemed to be the only ones keeping it in business, so they decided to modify their business plan…by adding Keno! Imagine a Friendly’s, with a bar in the front and a small open dining room. Now, not only do we get beef and broccoli, but a side of bar-fly “F-Bombs”. The Keno screens have attracted an element that is less-than-savory for young children. Although the Junior Palette claims that the beef is “really tender” and likes the lo-mein, I don’t like the “f-this” and “f-that(s)”. Since the liquor and Keno is where the money is, the diners are getting short shrift, and because of that, the food is starting to come out like “shrift.”

Next up the food chain, Lotus Blossom in Sudbury, the sister restaurant to Lotus Flower in Framingham. Sadly, LB is trying to be more than it really is, mostly in its price structure. I don’t find anything particularly compelling or off-putting about this place, except the price. One nice feature, that moves them into this category, is that they serve a lot of their food in the old-fashioned stainless steel elevated platform bowls with lids. You don’t see these often enough, but you have little altars of food, with a lid helping to keep the heat in. Props to LB for going old school.

Tied for the best Asian restaurant pretending to be Switzerland is “Lavender”, also in Sudbury; I am neutral on this. I wouldn’t say ambivalence, but I don’t have an opinion either way. I did have one of the worst things I’ve ever had the displeasure of eating-Mala Beef, which came in a pasty curry…inedible. But, it was my fault for ordering it, so I can’t mark them down for that. I’ll have to give it another try because what we did have that was edible was enjoyable.

More coming soon…there were just so many meals…the MSG has slowed me down.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Long live your laundry!!!

Damn...once again, I've been bumped down on the death pool.

Billy Mays...apparently ate too many Bay City Sliders. Long live his laundry!

Oxy-clean it!

Friday, June 26, 2009

The King is dead…long live the King!

First David Carradine, then Ed McMahon, Farrah and now the King of Pop. Frankly, this is very upsetting to me, mostly because I had Cronkite in the office death pool…who would have thought Michael Jackson would be taking the eternal dirt nap before Walter Cronkite, or even Patrick Swayze? Nobody puts Billie Jean in a corner.

Hearing the news of Michael’s death immediately brought me back to a friend’s house, watching “Motown 25”, right after the release of “Thriller.” To watch Michael Jackson perform that evening was mesmerizing. What he could do with his feet and the rest of his body was crazy. Who among you have not tried to duplicate his “Moonwalk”? I know some of you even have one of those red leather jacket tucked into a closet. As I told the Junior Palette today, Michael Jackson changed the musical landscape of the ‘80s by ushering in the MTV era. Say what you will about “Video Killed the Radio Star” but the Buggles have nothing on Michael Jackson and “Thriller.”

Michael Jackson’s life unfortunately parallels that of his late father-in-law Elvis (a more legitimate marriage there never was between him and Lisa-Marie…). Elvis burst on the scene as a young performer, hit his stride young, had to make a comeback in 1968, then turned into a bloated shell of his former superstar self. Michael made it 8 years longer than Elvis, but he probably was just a few steps from having cardiac arrest on the crapper. His life had taken tremendously tragic turns, mostly brought on by his own psychosis. Whether it was the issues with skin pigmentation, plastic surgery, sham marriages, his obsession with monkeys and the Elephant Man, or with little boys, his personal life was in shambles. He was “friends” with McCauley Culkin, Liza Minnelli, Liz Taylor and Schmuley Boteach…would you be proud of those? It is unclear to me whether society will remember him more for his music, or for his personal failings.

If anyone saw the 1995 Playboy issue with Farrah Fawcett, we know why we’ll remember her.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

From the Radio Waves to your Plate

Thanks to Jordan Rich, friend and talk-show host extraordinaire on WBZ for having me on to chat about Asian cuisine. As promised, now that my sodium level has fallen back down to more reasonable limits, it’s time to discuss.

Just a little comment on my methodology-at each place, I usually try to order similar items, to compare apples to apples. While eating in a large group, I’ll order a bunch of things, but it always has to include “hot and sour soup” and some version of “Kung Pao Chicken”. It may be called “Szechuan Spicy Chicken” or “Spicy Chicken with Peanuts”, but its still “Kung Pao” to me. Eric likes his chicken spicy!

14 different places, 14 different meals and experiences. I ate at some of these places more than once, and tried some different things; I’ve been with people who like to eat jellyfish and duck-web (tastes like…duck-web!)

In ascending order…

Only one place was truly underwhelming-“Taste of China” in Framingham. TOC is more of a take-out joint than sit down, but there are tables available if you want to sit among the floating grease particles coming from the fryolators…The “Kung Pao” was a thin, watery sauce, and oddly, used salted peanuts. It was heavy with water chestnuts and celery (my least favorite vegetable). The hot and sour soup was thin, with some small pieces of tofu and maybe a few shreds of wood-ear mushroom. I like my soup thick with tofu and mushrooms, and this was a cup full of nothing. After I ate there, I was still in the mood for Chinese food…Thumbs down!

From TOC, things could only get better.

“Zheng Garden” was the first of several “whelming” experiences. ZG has taken the place of “Yummy Tummy” (don’t you just loves some of these names?) in the Nobscot region of Framingham. ZG is also mostly take-out, but with about a dozen tables to dine-in. I ate there one Friday night, and I was the only person in the whole place, though several people came in to pick up some orders. ZG is the type of place where you don’t need a menu. Their core items are combination plates, and they have color photos on the wall of all the choices. If you’ve ever been to a take-out style Chinese restaurant, they all have the same photos, so it shouldn’t be any surprise that the food doesn’t look exactly like the pictures. I will say that the execution is better here than TOC, so I give them some credit from trying to bring some Chinese street-cred to Nobscot, which is totally lacking in any street-cred.

And when it comes to Chinese food, you gotta have street-cred…

More tomorrow, as we climb from the nadir to the apex of Chinese cuisine.

Friday, June 19, 2009

The Senior Palate Speaks Chinese!

I’ve been doing a lot of “wokking” about lately, and continue to eat my way through the Asian delights of the MetroWest and surrounding area.

So far, as I noted the other day, I’ve eaten at Royal East (Cambridge-big surprise), Lavender and Lotus Blossom (Sudbury), Lotus Flower, Imperial China, Sichuan Gourmet, Eo Noodle and Taste of China (Framingham), The Wok (Wellesley), Taam China and Chef Chang’s (Brookline), Shanghai-Tokyo in Natick.

But, in the spirit of equal opportunity, I gave the Senior Palate, the King of All Asian Buffets, an opportunity to share his thoughts on the Asian buffets that seemingly pop-up everywhere. As someone who travels throughout New England, and who has consumed his fair share of Asian delights over the years, he feels qualified to share his thoughts. Frankly, anyone with a stomach is probably qualified.

Here are a few snippets from a recent email from the Senior Palate. Bear in mind that he doesn’t know the name of many of these places, and doesn’t really care. He knows how to find them (isn’t that what’s really important?):

From SP (my comments in italics):

“I rate these on the basis of quality and variety and taste and THE COST --if I am spending my money I want to get my money’s worth (coming from the man who once ate 19 lobsters at one meal…yes, he likes to get his money’s worth).

The best overall buffet is in S. Portland Maine -- on the Maine Mall road -- the Great Wall buffet.. I rate this the best because of quality and taste and variety of food --THE ABSOLUTE BEST IN NEW ENGLAND (nothing says fine Asian Buffet dining more than “Maine”. It’s known for that.)

Staying up north we have one in Manchester, NH-- going up 93 to 293 take the first exit (S. Willow St) at the end of the ramp take a right -- about 1/4 mile on the left is a shopping plaza and in there is a pretty good buffet – can’t think of the name

IN NASHUA -- go up Rte 3 to exit 7w and follow the road about 1/2 mile on the left-a buffet that is pretty good (he can sniff these out, like a bloodhoud on the trail).

Not far from the house there’s the Marlborough Super Buffet: pretty good and worth the money--Rte 20 in the Staples plaza (I’ll have an eggroll and some paper clips please…that was easy!)

Hudson Super Buffet is also good -- take a right after Tucks Truck on Rte 85 and a little ways down on the left across from the cemetary (perfect for post-burial shiva).

Lotus Flower in Framingham –the price to value ratio doesn’t work.

Buffet on Rte 16 in Milford on the right near the industrial park is ok

Buffet in Webster is just so-so --- off of 395, Exit 2 heading south take a right at the end of the ramp and at the lights take a right and an immediate left into the parking lot right next to the Gulf gas station (and I thought there was nothing in Webster).

In Connecticut, off of Rte 84 in Manchester ( exit 63 or 64 ) is one that is pretty good (skip Rein’s, and hit the buffet, where they serve Kung Pao Pastrami)...

Also in CT, Exit 16 off of Rte 91--Main St, Meriden... end of ramp take a right and a little ways up on the left is one that is so-so (did you expect anything more? How can Meriden compete with South Portland Maine).

Anyways, tune in to WBZ 1030 at midnight, Friday/Saturday June 19/20 when we talk Asian cusine.

You’ve been great…enjoy Toshiko Akioshi..

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Ahhh Grasshopper…

How appropriate that while I have embarked on my 3 week “Wok About 2009” Asian food quest, in preparation for my next appearance on “The Jordan Rich Show” on June 19, 2009 at midnight (WBZ 1030AM), we pause to take a moment of silence and honor the memory of David Carradine, “Caine” of “Kung Fu” (don’t laugh, it was nominated for 7 Emmys its first season, including “Best Actor”) and “Frankenstein” in the classic “Death Race 2000.”

Ah, Grasshopper has snatched the final pebble from his master’s hand, but apparently from all reports, it was not a pebble he was snatching. Sounds like he was a big Michael Hutchence fan…look up the cause of death on the Internet…. Clearly, a guy that made a soup from the placenta of his first child wasn’t dealing with a full deck (I hear it tastes like chicken). It’s too bad, because as most of you know, I try to emulate Caine, with the quiet, Zen-like reserved inner-strength (keeping my opinions to myself…minding my own business). My rice paper has torn…. Like Billy Jack, Caine was among the heroes of a youth mis-spent in front of a TV tuned to Channels 56 or 38. Rest is peace, Grasshopper.

For those of you following my wok-about...once again I am pushing myself to the limits for all of you. At times, I feel like Kobayashi cramming egg rolls after chicken fingers after dumplings after beef tendons, all in the name of science…so far, I’ve eaten at Royal East (Cambridge-big surprise), Lavender and Lotus Blossom (Sudbury), Lotus Flower, Imperial China and Sichuan Gourmet (Framingham), The Wok (Wellesley), Taam China (Brookline). Next week, among others, I’ll be eating at Chung Shin Yuan in Watertown. Details are coming soon…tune in to the radio show for the full rundown, and to hear about my cholesterol levels…

You've been great. Enjoy Carl Douglas...

Monday, June 1, 2009

The Balcony is Open

Thanks to some of you “anonymous” posters here, and you not so anonymous posters on Facebook suggesting Chinese restaurants; I have begun to create my list, and while I gear up for “Wok About 2009” (thanks to Ed K. for the catchy name), I thought I’d share some thoughts about some recent movies.

As you know, the Hollywood and local movie press and I have a “love-hate” relationship. I love the movies and the whole experience, but hate when the movie critics anoint a movie to be the apex of a genre, when in actuality, it’s the nadir (“Children of Men” anyone?) Lately, I’ve decided while I’ll read certain reviews, I’ll see the movies and decide for myself whether the movie has any value. I’ve been to the movies quite a bit lately, and share with you these thoughts…

“Duplicity” starring Julia Roberts and Clive Owen. I’m not sure I can ever forgive Owen for “Children of Men” or even “Derailed”, but Julia Roberts is maturing nicely…in all the right ways. I like the sharp dialogue in this corporate espionage “thriller”, and she fills out the business suits nicely. Rounding out the cast was Tom Wilkinson and Paul Giamatti, who hasn’t been this funny since he played “Pig Vomit” in “Howard Stern’s Private Parts”.

“State of Play”-Russell Crowe as a “seen it all, wrote it all” investigative reporter for a Washington newspaper (the best role played by a newspaper since the “LA Tribune” in “Lou Grant”), following a story involving his former college roommate, now Senator Ben Affleck (how can they be roommates when they’re 20 years apart in age?). Actually, a pretty good thriller, which could have been made slightly better by some skin from Rachel McAdams, or even the older “Caligula Cougar” Helen Mirren. Also featured in a small, but compelling role, Jason Bateman, who is really turning into quite a force in Hollywood, even since his turn on Silver Spoons. If he’s on-screen, pay attention.

“Star Trek”-I am neither a Trekkie, nor a Trekker, but I enjoy a good space opera now and then. Having seen most of the “Star Trek” movies, this was definitely the best, or tied with the first one, which starred a young Stephen Collins and a very bald Persis Khambatta (I have a thing for baldness…). This movie was an enjoyable romp through some revisionist history, and certainly opens the door for future movies with new storyline, without being held hostage to pre-determined destiny. Eric gives it two “Live Long and Prospers”.

“Hannah Montana”-gotta love being one of only five men on opening day, which happened to be Good Friday, so only every tween and younger girl NEEDS to see the very first shows. Ugh…I went in there with a fully charged “Treo” battery, ready to play Yahtzee for 96 minutes. Well, surprise, surprise…it was actually quite good. Very high production values, catchy music, entertaining dance numbers (I did have different expectations for “Ho-Down Throw-Down, but this was rated PG)…but I say it’s “Hee Haw” approved. As far as kid-positive message movies go, I liked it and have no problem if Junior Miss Palette wants to buy the DVD. I’d rather that, than more “Phineas and Pherb” on Tivo!!!

You’ve been great…enjoy Buck Owens and Roy Clark.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

One from Column A

Good evening Palateers...On June 19, 2009 at midnight, Jordan Rich will once again be graciously hosting me on his food show. This go-round, we'll be talking Asian cuisine. More so than any other food, this resonates with me. I feel like I was raised at the base of the Great Wall of China. Whether "House of Roy" or "Chef Chang's", Chinese food and I go hand in hand like "white" and "rice."

Over the next month, I'll be sampling the gourmet delights of the local Asian establishments. There are plenty out here in the hinterlands, but I'll be traveling a little as well. That's where you come in.

I'm inviting all of you to contribute your ideas about places I should try. Obviously, it has to be geographically possible, but feel free to throw out the names and addresses of your favorite places, and maybe I'll get in to try it.

Feel free to email me at:

I look forward to hearing from you.

And ss Confucious says..."that wasn't chicken!"


Wednesday, April 29, 2009

A teenager's Morton's...

While I'm busy actually trying to make a living, I offer the following-a special guest blog post from my son, the Junior Palate, who recently went to the new Morton's here in Boston. Disclaimer-he went with Grandma Palate, not with me. What follows is his impression of the experience...without further ado, ladies and gentlemen...the Junior Palate.

Hello Critical Palate readers. This is the Junior Palate, Eric’s son. Also, as many of you probably know, I have a taste for fine food, favoring steak. As a fan of fine steak and meats, I have visited many steakhouses and fancy restaurants. I have gone to some of the finest eateries in Boston, including Flemings, Capital Grille, Smith & Wolensky’s, the One-Eleven Chophouse, Metro 9 and more. Among the steakhouses I have been to, Morton’s is by far my favorite.

Morton’s has two locations in Boston; one is located in a basement in a very luxurious office building. This Morton’s, although not in a very exciting location, was excellent. Great food, great service, great décor and ambiance, but it was nothing compared to the Morton’s I went to last Saturday, April 25, 2009, at their “seaport” location. Morton’s has recently opened up a new location right on the harbor, near the world famous “No Name” restaurant. Here, not only do you get the experience of being at a fine restaurant, you get the view of the harbor, surrounded by some of the nicest buildings, apartments, condos and offices in Boston. Well, I will tell you this, it was nothing shy of perfect. I think I have re-discovered the definition of the word “amazing”.

Tonight, everything was top-notch. The service was by far the best service I have ever had. Not only did our waiter offer the nicest and most efficient service I have ever experienced, he also lives in same town we do. He was a young man who loved his work. He was nice, social and speedy. Not only did we enjoy or waiter, we also liked the manager and the valet. The manager, Mike, came to our table and chatted with us; he was the kind of guy that would make you want to come back, even if the food wasn’t that great (but it was). Our valet, a young man, also enjoyed his work, and socialized with his customers. But overall, it is the food that really wants to make you come back for more.

Unlike most elegant restaurants, the portions at Morton’s were huge. I ordered the Cajun rib eye steak and it was perfect. Medium, a hot pink center with a nice “char” on the outside. But what all added to the experience was the ambiance. You had the option of sitting outside which was perfectly fine and still very fancy, but you had to sit inside to understand the true Morton’s experience. Not only was the interior fancy, but they also had sports decorations hanging up, autographs and pictures of Boston athletes who have been there. Overall, I have to say that this is probably my favorite restaurant ever. If you are ever at the harbor with a huge wad of cash, Morton’s “SeaPort” is the place to go.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Back, and badder than ever…

I cannot tell you how much I appreciate all you “fans of the Critical Palate” out there asking, practically begging, for an explanation of why I have gone into “radio silence.” I can sum it up with two words-Bar Mitzvah. Junior Palate has crossed the threshold into Jewish adulthood, and to be honest, I am spent, both literally and figuratively.

But, alas, kind readers, I know many of you want to hear me rant about dining experiences, movies or American Idol (Scott McIntyre is no Stevie Wonder…not even Tom Sullivan), so I’m back, badder than ever!

So, as a follow-up to my posts on December 15 and 30th, the manager of Outback in Westborough sent me $90.00 in “Outhouse Bucks” to encourage me to give them another chance. I don’t know what came over us, but we decided to give it a go back on February 28, 2009.

We had a call-ahead for 7:30p-7:45pm. Got there at 7:20pm. Told that it would just be "a few minutes."

Tick, tock...tick tock...tick tock...

At 8:00pm, I asked the host "wtf?" He said that they were just getting a large table their bill (there were 8 of us) and we were next for that table.

Tick tock...tick tock...tick tock...

8:15pm, manager comes over to us and apologizes...tells us that the table has paid, and that they're wrapping it up. We're the only large party still waiting, and we're getting that table. As a show of her regret, she says she'll have the onion thing and some wings on our table waiting for us when we sit. Considering “Men’s Health” magazine considers the Bloomin’ Onion the worst appetizer for your health, the manager isn’t doing this to apologize, she’s doing it to teach us a lesson!

Tick tock...tick tock...tick tock...

8:30pm, those people at my table have not even budged. I see them just getting the bill!!! WTF???!!! Didn't the manager tell me they paid? Liar! I ask to speak with her again.

She comes over, and tells me that she didn't know that they had asked to split the bill, so they had to re-run a bunch of checks for that table...yada yada yada...nothing she can do...yada yada yada...she's going to put us at 2 booths (kids in one, adults in another) that are right across from each. She says those two booths are clearing out now...

Tick tock...tick tock...tick tock...

8:45pm we are still standing there!!! I am having a stroke. I tell her that her entire system has failed and that I don't care whom to blame, but this is total bullshit. “Cartright…Cartright…”

8:50pm, we finally sit down, at a big table in back. She comes over to make sure we're ok, and I say "we're not ok, and you're not going to be ok, and corporate isn't going to be ok when I'm done. Let's go for a walk."

So we walk to the bar area, away from the kids, and I explain to her why we came. I told her that Rich Lanza (who is no longer there anymore) BEGGED us to come back after they nearly killed my wife with food allergens a few months ago. I told her "you should be embarrassed and ashamed of the way you guys operate. You beg us to come back, and your system totally breaks down...give me one, just one reason I should ever come back here. Give me one, just one reason I'm not going to a) call corporate on Monday, and b) post to my blog about why this place should be avoided at all costs". (By the way, I have never before played my "blog" card, but I felt I needed to beat her senseless.) How do you go from a 7:30pm call-ahead to being seated at 8:50pm???!!!

So she starts getting teary-eyed, and tells me that this is her first weekend as manager She had been a lead server and just been promoted from assistant manager to store general manager. She says that she is embarrassed and ashamed of the staff and the system, and that they'll obviously have to work it out. She tells me that she'll take $90 off my bill (the amount Rich had sent me) and that I should keep my certificates for another time and that she hopes I'll come back, though it won't be for a long time. She says "I hope you won't feel the need to contact corporate" and I say "no promises" and walk back to the table. She comes to the table, and says that she will monitor every aspect of our meal, and that everything will come out perfect.

The food ended up being ok, but I was ready to kill someone. Making her cry didn’t help matters, but considering she served us that onion…I’m lucky to be here writing this blog!

Gratuitous shout-out: Congratulations to charter subscriber A.B.S. who got married back in March.

You've been great. Now, enjoy John Sebastian.

Monday, February 9, 2009


Just want to say, that JH has gone out of their way on this issue, and I credit them for realizing that they aren't pulling it off and are willing to make changes to their menu.

That's the difference between a local place (even with a few locations) and some chain restaurant.

Customer Feedback Making a Difference...

John Harvard's...they listen!

Received today, from the general manager:

I thought you would find this interesting. I was never particularly fond of the item that you had the unusual experience with here about a month and a half ago (the forgettable Au Poivre Burger). We have been running a "Black & Blue Burger" as a lunch special lately with the motivation of coming up with an item that could supplant the Au Poivre.

We dust the burger with blackening seasoning, top it with blue cheese crumbles and serve it on our well known foccacia bread with chipotle mayonnaise, and the standard lettuce, tomato, onion, pickle accompaniment.

Our Corporate Chef was here on Wednesday, we did a side-by side taste test and the Au poivre Burger is going away. This change will take place this Wednesday, February 11.

Thanks for making me want to get rid of it. A single experience can make a difference."

Witness, the power of the Palate!

Now, let's go give it a try.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

White Noise

I don’t have much to say, other than I’ve officially become old! Junior Palate was tripping all over himself to watch the Grammy Awards, and I’m sitting here wondering who these people are…I’m still waiting for Human League, Flock of Seagulls and Spandau Ballet to take the stage.

The “musical” performances tonight have ranged from painful white noise to not-so-painful (at least for me) bouncing cleavage (Katy Perry) and an old, but game Paul McCartney. A big highlight for me was Stevie Wonder, but even bigger for T-Wein…the Jonas Brothers!

I think it was in the summer of 1986 when I had the distinct pleasure of seeing Stevie Wonder live in concert, on the “In Square Circle” tour. Plugging his new album, we had to sit through “I Just Called to Say I Love You” and other assorted puff pieces, but seeing him perform “Superstition”, “Living for the City”, “Higher Ground” and “Sir Duke” live, and watching him on stage, you know you are the presence of a musical genius. I’ve seen a lot of concerts in my day: Huey Lewis and the News, Hall & Oates, the Doobie Brothers, Billy Joel, Elton John, Fleetwood Mac, Bette Midler, Barry Manilow…I could go on and on. But when you see Stevie (even if he can’t see you), you can’t help but be amazed. My kids are genuinely amazed by his talent and ability, and thankfully respect him as a musician almost as much as they respect Jack Black. It would hurt me tremendously if they didn’t put him in same league with Tenacious D.

You’ve been great…now I gotta go watch Ne-Yo.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

One…singular sensation…

Just a brief note complimenting a chain restaurant. It is soooooo rare that I would have anything good to say about chains, that I feel it’s only fair to them to say something good.

Tonight we took the kids to Uno’s, with two other families. When you think of unhealthy, pre-fab places, you’re there. But nonetheless, I grabbed my bottle of Lipitor, and we headed out. It was packed!!! I tell you, if the economy is suffering at all, it isn’t there, at least at 7:15pm on a Saturday night.

We had a very attentive waitress (Jackie) and everything came out correctly, except for my burger. It was cooked exactly the way I like it, and it was served hot, but I had asked for it without their house burger sauce, and of course, it was covered in it. Oh well…I sent it back, and she was very apologetic, and that was fine. I would wait and didn’t have any problem with that. It seemed like just some basic mistake and I didn’t mention another word other than saying “Jackie, I asked for this without sauce.”

Well, no sooner had Jackie gone into the kitchen than the manager ran right up to us. He was extraordinarily solicitous and apologetic, and I never uttered a word. He said “we’ve taken your burger off the bill. Can I get you a complimentary salad or soup while you wait?” I declined, and a few minutes later, the burger came out, and the manager stopped by again to apologize, and while he was taking away some dirty plates, told me he would send some fresh, hot fries over (Mom, don’t worry…I was eating roasted vegetables with the burger.) Mom, stop reading…okay, we ate some of the fries.

At the end of the meal, they brought over a giant chocolate chip cookie, served in a pizza pan, warm, with vanilla ice cream and a candle for Mrs. Palate’s birthday. After the requisite embarrassing Uno’s birthday song, once again, the manager apologized for my burger mistake, and comped us on the dessert too.

I share this story with all of you because I think that Uno’s really tries hard, and when something is wrong with your meal, you’re more likely to let it slide if the staff is attentive and apologetic. This manager was bending over backwards to make up for a relatively small mistake, and I appreciate his efforts. I also think that when the economy is in the tank, Uno’s, or any place for that matter, will not want to risk your business when there are so many other choices around. I give them credit for realizing that there are a lot of choices for the dining-out dollar, and I’ll remember this, which is exactly the result they want.

Thanks for reading…now enjoy Three Dog Night.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Yo Adrian...

I have watched movies my entire life. I am a huge fan of the silver screen. Even to this day, I can recall where and under what circumstances I’ve seen certain movies. Some movies stay with you forever, and never get old, no matter how many times you see them.

For you addicts of the Critical Palate, for all of you going back and reading my early posts, you know how I feel about the current state of Hollywood. Most of the stuff coming out is crap, no matter what the critics tell us…I look at the list of Academy Award nominees and I wonder how some of this stuff is getting made, and how Meryl Streep keeps getting nominated…ugh! Also, call me a heretic, but GMFB about Heath Ledger already…as I’ve said several time-paint my face and ask me to act like a drooling freak, and I’ll give you a performance. Playing a messed-up psycho isn’t hard when there’s nothing to compare it to, other than that scene-chewer Jack Nicholson…

With that in mind, I had the pleasure of watching “Rocky” today. That story is as timeless as a fine, three-button Brooks Brothers suit. “Rocky” speaks to our core-a down and out nobody, overcoming all odds, just looking for a chance to be a winner, and if not a winner, at least a contender with some self-respect. I have watched this movie a million times, and no matter how many times, as soon as Bill Conti’s music starts building to its crescendo in the final rounds, I can’t help but get goose bumps. This is “the” underdog movie that defined the genre. There isn’t an underdog tale that Hollywood has produced since 1977 that hasn’t been compared to “Rocky”. From “The Karate Kid” to “Rudy” to “Hoosiers”…even their ad campaigns referred to “Rocky”.

In 1976, as a relative unknown, Stallone drove “Rocky” to 3 Academy Awards (Best Director, Best Film Editing and Best Picture) and received nominations in every other major category (Best Actor, 2 Best Supporting Actors [Burgess Meredith and the always under-respected Burt Young], Best Actress, Best Original Song and Best Writing-Original Work). Seeing “Rambo--VA Hospital” last year, I can’t help but shake my head at what a shell of his former self Sly Stallone has become. Between the Botox and HGH injections, if he smiles his cheeks might fall in. It’s sad to see what has happened to him physically, but going back to his seminal role as Rocky Balboa, a young Sly Stallone had an understated brilliance about him as he inhabited the role that defined a genre.

Sure after Rocky II, it might have been time to hang up the cup, but I’ll give him Rocky III as a fun way to go out. Once we get to Siberia in IV, I’m ready to hit the vodka, by V, I want Tommy Morrison to beat him silly, but in “Rocky Balboa”, it was a nice, quiet way for Rocky to fade away. Frankly, the most recent “Indiana Jones” was a stink-burger too, but we have to give actors like Stallone and Ford a pass when it comes to letting go of their defining roles…sometimes you just want to visit with old friends to say goodbye.

You’re been great…now The Hardest Working Man in Show Business…James Brown!