May's Cafe

>>  Thursday, June 14, 2007

May's Cafe is a tiny, family owned Taiwanese restaurant tucked in the middle of a purely residential neighborhood in Allston. The food is Taiwanese home cooking - and it's very good.

We arrived on a Thursday night around 7 PM. Surprisingly, the place was relatively empty and thus we were able to nab one of the two parking spots that May's Cafe owns. The decor inside is clean and pleasant. May herself ended up taking our order and serving us that evening.

Perhaps I'm partial to Taiwanese food, but I really enjoyed the food we had. For appetizers, we ordered the fresh steamed greens ($4.75), the egg pancake ($4.75), and formosa turnip cake ($4.75). The greens were delicious - a small plate of steamed leafy greens tossed in a garlicky-soy based sauce. The egg pancake was also very good. The formosa turnip cake was fine - a lot less greasy than the typical turnip cake you'd get at a dimsum place.

We ordered three dishes as well. An interesting fried rice which consisted of Chinese sausage, pineapple, cabbage, and pork sung ($9.95); Da Loo noodle soup (thick noodle soup with eggs, vegetables, and seafood) ($10.95); and shredded pork with bamboo shoot and beancurd ($11.95 entree/$8.50 rice plate).

The food reminded me of home cooking - which, essentially, is what it is. May Pan's parents do most of the cooking in the back. The cooking style is less reminiscent of large scale Chinese restaurant cuisine, which often involves deep flash frying meats and vegetables in hot oil. Instead, it's more like the stuff that you're Taiwanese mom would make for you when visit home - simple stir fry on a small wok. None of the dishes were overly greasy, yet all had very satisfying flavors.

I loved the fried rice, not only because of its awesome blend of flavors, but also because of the ratio of rice to "stuff." I'd say the rice was about 45% of the dish, which made it quite flavorful and fun to eat. The pork sung adds an interesting dimension to the dish. I think I'm gonna try that some time. The shredded pork with bamboo shoot and beancurd dish was also very tasty. It was spiced with chili oil to just the right amount of heat. The DaLoo noodles were also good. According to Bryan, it doesn't compare to California, but it's probably the best DaLoo noodles that we've had in Boston to date.

Finally, the kitchen went out of their way to accommodate the young child that was in our dining party. He kept requesting "tang yuan" (Rice balls). The waitress (May) kept telling him that they didn't have any. Finally, May's parents decided to hand-make some rice balls on the spot. After about 10 minutes, a piping hot bowl of red bean soup with rice balls appeared. The little boy was ecstatic.

Boston.com did a review on May's cafe back in October. According to that article, May cares a lot about healthy eating, and thus cooks with less oil and salt compared to a typical Chinese restaurant. She also offers Akai whole grain rice, fruit shakes and smoothies, herbal tea, and boba tea. Oh, and the bathroom was immaculate.

In conclusion, this is truly a hidden gem that's a bit hard to find. If you like simple, Taiwanese home cooking, this is definitely worth the visit.

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Yenching

>>  Wednesday, June 13, 2007

We have always walked by this restaurant and have never walked inside. In general, we are skeptical of Chinese restaurants, and thus we do not venture in unless if we have received a recommendation from at least one other person who has tried the food.

We received a recommendation the other day to try this restaurant on Mass. Ave in Harvard Square. The menu looked slightly more expensive than typical Chinatown prices. Nevertheless, we thought we'd try it, since it was so close to our house.

Conclusion: it's alright, and most likely the best Chinese food in Harvard Square, which is not saying too much. It's definitely not as good as places like Shangri-La, Chung shin Yuan, and Taiwan Cafe. However, it's decent. I think I'd say it's comparable to a place like Royal East or New Mayflower.

We ordered the pan fried rice cakes (one of my favorite dishes in general), the Kuenming Duck, and the mapo tofu. Both Bryan and I liked the pan fried rice cakes the best. The balance of flavors was just right. We also liked the addition of egg, which we seldom see in this dish. It added a nice punch to the over all flavor. I don't really like duck, so I can't comment on the duck dish. Bryan thought it was OK, although it had some weird spice that he wasn't used to. Finally, the mapo tofu had decent flavor, although I thought it was too salty. I had to eat a lot of rice to enjoy it. It's nothing compared to my favorite mapo tofu in Boston, which is at Zoe's (where they use the real Szechuan peppercorns! YUM!).

I probably won't go back again for a full fledged meal. If I'm craving the fried rice cakes, however, I may just get take out or something.

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Pacific Cafe

Pacific Cafe is a small sandwich, bakery, coffeeshop in the first floor of Sid-Pac (Sidney Pacific), the MIT graduate dorm. It opened about a year ago, and is owned by a Moroccan family.

The sandwiches are freshly prepared, and in general, are very tasty. I really like getting the "Tomato Mozz," which, as its name indicates, contains tomatoes, fresh mozarella, and pesto in a grilled panini. It's quite good, pretty big, and a decent value at $5.95. In fact, most of the sandwiches cost less than $6. The specialty sandwiches cost around $6, and the design-your-own sandwiches are a bit cheaper, around $4-$5.

They also sell several hot dishes, which they call Blue Plate Specials. I've never tried one, so I can't comment on them, but if they are anything like the sandwiches, they will probably be pretty tasty.

The cafe also sells a variety of baked goods and fancy looking cakes. I've never ordered one, but they sure look nice.

I've also ordered cappuccinos and coffees there. The drinks are pretty good. According to my officemate, "Not as good as Starbucks, but pretty close." They also carry a pretty large variety of exotic teas, such as Morrocan Mint and Earl Grey. For those of us that work in the industrial part of Cambridgeport where there are virtually no restaurants around, it's a welcomed relief to have such a nice cafe within a couple minutes walk.

Pacific Street Cafe
70 Pacific Street

Cambridge, MA

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Legal Seafoods

This restaurant is near iconic in Boston, and is a "must visit" for Boston tourists and residents alike. Not only that, it has many locations throughout the city. Accordingly, I'm assuming every person who is reading this blog has eaten at Legal Seafood at least once, if not 10 times.

Thus, instead of giving a whole review on the restaurant, I will just comment on ways I like to enjoy Legal's without spending a fortune.

Lunch
Lunch is a great time to go to Legal's because the prices for a lot of the dishes are significantly lower. A favorite of ours is the tuna burger ($12.50). Tuna fish is ground up with spices and hot peppers into a flavorful spicy burger which is grilled. I also like to order the Alaskan Butterfish appetizer, which comes with a side of seaweed salad. The fish itself is buttery and sweet, and is prepared in an Asian fashion, not unlike Ming Tsai's famous miso-fish dish at Blue Ginger. I like this one because the portion size is relatively small, the flavor is awesome, and the price isn't too bad ($10.95). I also like the blackened raw tuna sashimi ($13.50), which is like eating sashimi that has been ever-so-lightly seared. It's the closest thing I can get to sushi here.

I once ordered the "Mediterranean salmon" off of the lunch menu, which is grilled salmon with a falafel crust. It was OK, but I wasn't terribly impressed. I've also heard that their fried clams are amazing, and the lobster roll is really good as well. As I've never had these, I can't really personally comment on them.

Raw Bar
Another fun thing to try are their raw oysters. We've enjoyed getting an assortment to try. Their oysters are fresh and very good. One surprisingly good value is the "Treasures of the Reef" which costs $29.95. It includes an entire boiled lobster, about 8 cocktail shrimp, ~6-8 mussels, and 6-8 raw oysters (various different kinds). Considering that a lobster alone probably costs around $20, this is an excellent deal.

Classics
Of course, the clam chowder is excellent, and the fish is always good. The salads are actually pretty good as well, and the mixed drinks are yummy, even though not cheap. They have some interesting drinks made from champagne, yum!



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P.F. Chang's

This restaurant has been around a long time in Boston (near the theater district) and I'd never tried it before. More recently, about two months ago, a new P.F. Chang's opened up at the Prudential Center in Back Bay. I went there with two other friends last week.

I was not sure what to expect. They market themselves as a "Chinese Bistro." I had my suspicions. Could a place that had things such as "lettuce wraps," "almond cashew chicken" and "salad with gorgonzola and walnuts" have good Chinese food?

I was pleasantly surprised, actually. True, they gave us brown rice as default, which is quite un-Chinese. However, the food was quite tasty and the prices were surprisingly reasonably, especially considering the ambiance of the place and the location.

We ordered three dishes: Spicy Ground Chicken and Eggplant ($9.50), Tam's Noodles with Savory Beef and Shrimp ($14) -- (translation - Chinese rice cakes), and Spinach stir-fried with Garlic ($5).

All three dishes were very good. I was especially surprised at the portion size of the $5 spinach dish - it was equivalent to the size of the other two dishes, and the flavor was delicious. The addition of sesame oil and white pepper to the garlic and spinach made for a perfect dish. The eggplant dish was very flavorful - spicy and fragrant. It was a bit oily, although that is to be expected of most eggplant dishes in Chinese restaurants, as eggplants are sponges for oil. The rice cakes were fine - nothing extraordinary, but pretty decent.

Over all, the total we paid (including tax and tip) was only $36, a pretty good value for a nice, sit-down dinner at the Prudential Mall. Also, there's validated parking at the Prudential Center Garage if you eat here.

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Monica's Restaurant

Monica's is a family owned establishment in the North End, and is our favorite restaurant in the North End.
The family that owns Monica's actually owns three establishments in the area. Monica's restaurant is the most upscale of the three. They recently remodeled the interior and added a whole new sitting area and a bar, which means it's easier than before to get a seat. There's also Monica's Trattoria, which offers a slightly more simple menu and a more casual atmosphere. Finally, there is a store, which sells their homemade sauces, fresh pasta, freshly baked bread, and a whole variety of Italian imported food.

The food at Monica's is top notch. They make fresh pasta on the premises, they use all fresh ingredients, and the flavors are absolutely amazing. They also have a good wine selection, and the waitstaff is very knowledgeable about both the dishes and the wines.

Appetizers
On this past trip, my favorite appetizer was the truffle mushroom salad ($22). A special for the night, the dish consists of a variety of different wild mushrooms sauteed and tossed together with truffle oil and salt. The result? Each bite burst with a complex concert of flavors from the wild mushrooms. The dish was absolutely heavenly. Bryan's favorite appetizer (off the regulary menu) is the Involtini di prosciutto e provoline al forno.

Provolone cheese, prosciutto, and tomato slices are baked in layers with basil oil and roasted red peppers. The appetizer is really good. My favorite appetizer off the regular menu is any bruschetta that they have. They pan grill the bread with olive oil and then put fresh, seasonal ingredients on top. The combination of the crusty, olive-oil infused bread with the fresh tomatoes (or mushrooms) on top is delicious.

Pastas

We almost always order pasta when we go, since that is one of Bryan's favorite foods of all times. We've been happy with everything we've ordered, in general.

July 2009 Update

We ordered the seafood with fresh linguini, shown above, which was excellent.  Fresh, seafood flavors permeated the dish.  And of course, the texture of the fresh pasta was incredible.

This past time Bryan and I ordered the special of the night, which was paper thin pasta tossed with truffle oil and sliced truffles. The dish was quite light (no meat), and very expensive (unpleasant surprise of finding out it was $38 a dish!), although pretty good. I have realized, however, that even though I LOVE things flavored with truffle oil, I think that truffles are only OK. They don't have that much flavor, in my opinion.

I've also ordered the gnocchi there. Bryan thought it was pretty good, although I thought it was a bit mushy and soft. I personally like a much chewier gnocchi - sort of like mochi or Chinese rice cakes. I've only been able to find one restaurant in Boston whose fresh gnocchi has the right chewy consistency that I like (Umbra). In general, I actually like frozen gnocchi better (such as the ones they serve at Il Panino Express or sell at Harvest COOP in the freezer section). So strange so strange.
Update: July 2009
Perhaps my tastes have changed, but I really enjoyed my gnocchi this time around.  The texture was soft but definitely had a bit of a "bite."  The sauce, a simple veal Bolognese, was perfect. 

Over all, Monica's is an excellent restaurant in the North End. We think it beats out most of the competition (and we've tried a lot of restaurants in the North End!). We've highly recommended it to others, and everyone who has tried it loves it and continues to return. Definitely try to go out there for a special occasion!

P.S. They will validate parking at the Central Artery Garage (up to 3 hours for only $3!) That's cheaper than taking the T round trip! Plus you can stop by a pastry shop on the way home.
Monica's Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Originally posted June 13, 2007; Updated July 2009

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Dabin

>>  Sunday, June 10, 2007

Dabin is a Japanese/Korean Restaurant (seemingly staffed and owned by Chinese) in Lexington Center. I've only been there for lunch, so I can't really comment on the dinner menu.

Dabin is usually pretty empty during lunch on a Saturday, so it's a good place to go with a larger party. You will most likely be seated right away.

My favorite dish at Dabin currently is Chirashi. It only costs $13 and comes with a generous assortment of items on top of the roe-speckled sushi rice. My bowl of chirashi contained shrimp, tuna, salmon, tamago (egg), octopus, and crab stick. I thought the sushi rice mixed with tiny roe (fish eggs) tasted really good, and the toppings were really good as well.

I've also had the dosolt Bibimbop (bibimbop in a hot, stone bowl) which was very tasty.

Over all, a pretty good Japanese/Korean restaurant in Lexington.

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Cafe Sushi

Cafe Sushi is a sushi-focused restaurant on the edge of Harvard Square on Mass Ave, about a 5-minute walk from our home. One of its best kept secrets is the $1/piece Sushi special on Sunday nights. This makes Cafe Sushi one of the cheapest sushi places around (cheaper than Bluefin at Porter Square) and it serves very good sushi.

The restaurant is owned by Japanese people (unlike places such as Fugakyu, Ginza, and even Oishii!). It truly focuses on sushi, as it does not even offer a lot of other typical Japanese dishes, such as tonkatsu, curry rice dishes, and tempura. The restaurant also offers a few hot dishes, such as grilled fish, grilled meat, and various bento boxes.

As for the sushi, the fish slices are not particularly thick. I would equate the sushi to Bluefin. However, the ambiance is fun, the food is delicious, and the prices are cheaper (at least on Sundays, which is the only time we ever go). We've stopped going to Bluefin ever since they remodeled, raised their prices, and charge money for parking.

I really can't comment on any of the other dishes at Cafe Sushi, because we only order sushi when we go. If you're ever in the neighborhood on a Sunday, I would recommend checking this place out.

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Qingdao Garden

Wow, I'm falling behind on the food blogging. It's time to catch up.

Qingdao Garden is a small Northern Chinese restaurant in north Cambridge between Porter Square and Arlington on Mass Ave. We had heard that they had good dumplings, and thus decided to give it a try.

Conclusion: the dumplings are good, the appetizer we got was excellent, but we were disappointed with the stir-fry dish we ordered. We ordered a couple orders of dumplings - a vegetarian spinach dumpling, a pork and leek dumpling, and also their namesake dish, Qingdao Fried dumplings. We also ordered a pork, tofu, and vegetable stir-fry and a cold cucumber salad.

The cucumber salad was excellent. Slices of fresh cucumber tossed with a sesame-oil based sauce and garnished with cilantro. We both really enjoyed that dish a lot.

The dumplings were cheap (about $5 for 12 dumplings) and quite good. I liked how the vegetarian ones were flavorful without feeling too heavy. The meat ones were OK as well. We both agreed that the pan-fried dumplings were better than the boiled ones. The pan fried dumplings are among the best in Boston (which, according to Bryan, is not saying much - I guess he's comparing with California).

The stir-fried tofu and vegetable dish was uneventful. The flavor was a bit boring (salty soy-based gooey sauce) and the dish was a bit oily. We packed it up to go but ended up throwing it out because neither of us really felt like eating it.

Finally, the service was only average. There was only one waitress working at the time, which translated to slow service at times. The clincher for me occurred when I observed the following thing: We had opened the top of our teapot to signal that our tea had gotten cold and we wanted some hot tea. I watched the waitress go into the kitchen, pour the rest of our cold tea into the common tea maker, and then pour out some hot tea from the same container for us. I was a little grossed out by that.

Over all, Bryan said the food wasn't good enough for him to travel "so far" to eat there.

Oh well, it was worth a try.

Qing Dao Garden Restaurant on Urbanspoon

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