26 March 2009

Evenfall Restaurant: "Take that, you supercilious urban food snob!"

Longtime Boston residents like me have a tendency to be a little skeptical if not downright condescending about restaurants in the suburbs. I’m not as dismissive as my pal DJ Wolf, who's fond of saying, “I live in the South End; why would I ever leave the neighborhood to dine out?” But I have found myself frequently underwhelmed by restaurants that are more than a walk, subway jaunt, or taxi ride from my downtown lair.

Why do many suburban restaurants undershoot their in-town counterparts? Maybe it’s the children: the suburbs demand more family-friendly, casual, accessible restaurants. Or possibly folks just like the idea of going into Boston for an occasion dinner: their local can’t feel as special or romantic, so it doesn't try. Occam’s Razor suggests that lower population density translates into unprofitably low demand for the kind of small, concept-driven, chef-owned establishments that make Boston’s in-town dining scene so vibrant. Whatever the reason, I’ve endured many a less-than-thrilling meal beyond Boston’s beltways.

In the midst of a grim suburban dinner, I often amuse myself by tacitly enumerating The Reasons Why This Place Would Never Make It In Boston. Some past observations:
  • “Ambitious but shoddily executed; no surprise this chef isn’t in a big-city kitchen.”
  • "I've never seen a server squeeze a wine bottle between her thighs to gain leverage with the corkscrew. Impressive.”
  • “Oof: not the old simultaneous-silver-dome-lifting, voilà-your-entrées trick! That’s pretentious even by city standards.”
  • “Sushi and French bistro and pub fare out of one kitchen? No wonder it’s all mediocre.”
  • "The chef is a sweetheart, but who besides locals would bother if he weren’t a TV personality?”
  • “Gross, another hog trough: ‘small plates’ the size of entrées, entrées that could feed four.”
Experiences like these make Evenfall Restaurant a welcome surprise. It’s in Haverhill, 50 minutes north of Boston near the New Hampshire border. Chef/owner Scott Pelletier is clearly proudest of his eclectic New American fine-dining menu, driven by seasonal, local ingredients. But he's pragmatically versatile. Evenfall's dark bar is packed with folks enjoying casual comfort fare: good-looking sandwiches, thin-crust pizzas, finger foods. There’s a surprisingly cliché-free cocktail menu, and a lounge where diners relax around sofas and low tables with drinks and snacks.

A more dressed-up crowd sits in the roomy, fancier dining room, where Pelletier's gifts shine brightest. Example: the "cheese selection” appetizer ($15) is creative without being weird, putting Great Hill blue cheese and figs into a fried spring roll. Then there's beautiful local ingredients like a passel of thimble-sized Hannahbells, a fabulous artisanal goat cheese from Shy Brothers Farm that I first enjoyed at the White Barn Inn in Kennebunkport. And the plate shows a lot of give-a-damn with hand-crafted ingredients, like a delicious house-made apple compote, and (of all things) mozzarella sticks. Usually, mozz sticks are a Sysco-grade insult, but here the chef makes them into something lovely with hand-pulled, house-made cheese.

The lamb rack entrée ($31) suffers a bit from suburban bloat: it’s too big by half, built on a pair of huge, meaty racks where one would be plenty. But this dish, like most here, is beautifully composed and plated, and its detailed flavors accumulate with great impact. The chops boast an intense rosemary-scented demi-glace. The accompanying ravioli are fashioned from house-made fresh pasta, filled with oxtail and mascarpone: wickedly rich. (I’d happily make an entrée of five of these.) Swiss chard is braised with house-cured guanciale. There’s a cunning, piquant pile of house-pickled fresh cranberries. Much craft and care went into this dish, and though I can’t come close to finishing it, I believe it would stand proudly alongside the work of many of Boston’s more famous farm-to-table-oriented chefs. That’s one hard-working kitchen, also hand-making many other ingredients, like the excellent breads and pretty sorbets.

It doesn’t hurt that our server is an engaging and polished pro, providing a hint of pampering without being intrusive. We also like thoughtfully-chosen wines at 250% of retail, a refreshing change from the 4x-retail gouging I receive at many Boston restaurants. The place doesn’t look like much from the outside, and the dining room would hardly elicit gasps from your designer friends. But we have a fantastic time, and I consider it a great value (though I’d prefer that lamb dish 50% smaller and 10% cheaper.)

In the end, Evenfall has me thinking, “This restaurant would hold its own just fine in the big bad city.” I hope Haverhill recognizes what a good thing it has, as it’s a long slow drive into Boston, with scary parking rates at the end. In any event, I'm going to remind The Wolf next time I see him: it’s not entirely a chain-outlet culinary wasteland out past Columbus Avenue, the city limits, Route 128, and beyond. Some suburban restaurants really are good enough to make you set aside your Town Mouse prejudices, shut the hell up, and enjoy.

14 March 2009

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? in the Restaurant, or, Dirty Laundry and Dining Out Don't Mix

Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor share a tender moment
 in "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" (1966)
A funny thing happens when my beloved and I head out for a romantic dinner: we often get seated next to couples who are obviously having a miserable time. The comically bad first date is one common scenario. We still wince to recall the hapless dope at Khao Sarn Cuisine who got snappish with the server upon learning he couldn’t order egg drop soup or General Gau’s chicken at a traditional Thai restaurant. Given his date's cringing embarrassment, we rated the odds of her returning his subsequent calls as vanishingly low.

More pitiable was the couple at Casa Romero who were celebrating years of wedded bliss by loudly calling each other the vilest names I've ever heard uttered in a public place. (There's something about the C-word that just pole-axes the romance and tenderness of an anniversary dinner.) I kept glancing sideways, wondering when the crockery might start flying. The idea of divorce was being broached by the time we gratefully left, to which I thought, “Hmm, maybe not such a bad idea for you two.

On another evening, at the new L’Espalier, a sixtyish man with the mien of an insurance executive prosecuted an excruciating fight with his garishly attractive, thirtyish paramour. Apparently he was remodeling their love nest and accused her of cheating on him with one of his contractors. She protested against what she characterized as insane, jealous delusions. The recriminations, too sordid to detail here, got uglier and louder, though the young woman did a better job of retaining her dignity.

The whole shabby business unfolded and escalated rapidly. In ten minutes, we went from being unwilling but slightly titillated eavesdroppers ("Ha-ha!, Ole Sugar Daddy and His Siliconed Hottie Mistress are having a little tiff") to feeling sad and ashamed for them. I think the tipping point was when we realized that this dinner was her birthday celebration. Or maybe it was just witnessing the bloom go off the rose of their romance -- perhaps once beautiful, now revealed as arid mutual exploitation -- in real time.

I got up and sought out the floor manager, who with the help of three servers deftly relocated us, our wine, and the second course of our tasting menu to another table out of earshot, though not line-of-sight. After a bit more sparring, Miss Decolletage finally stalked out. The old man sat there for another hour, sulking blackly with his entree untouched, knocking back a whole bottle of wine and a few whiskeys by himself. Happy effing birthday.

So, why on earth do people air out their personal lives like so much threadbare, stained underwear in restaurants where strangers can't look away? I have a few theories. One, to certain couples, restaurants afford rare moments of imagined privacy away from children and in-laws and telephones and texting, a seeming oasis for real conversation. Two, lovers let their guard down at the table, lulled by attentive service, warm atmosphere and good food, the illusion of privacy enhanced by a ring of unfamiliar faces. Three, flowing alcohol is often a lubricant, sliding open windows long barred by familial pressures, guilt, connubial obligation, or propriety.

Whatever the reason, you may find yourself dining next to a soap opera you didn’t ask to see and can’t easily tune out. With luck, you'll be at a place like L’Espalier, where a highly polished waitstaff will adroitly swoop in whenever a party of Battling Bickersons threatens to spoil your dinner. But more often, especially during restaurants' increasingly crowded weekend nights, the host simply won't be able to move you to another table. That's something to remember the next time your own conversation in a restaurant turns toward more intimate subjects. Chances are your neighbors are getting an earful of your private drama, and would really rather not.

11 March 2009

A food critic's manifesto

Starting another blog among tens of millions led me to ponder why I’m in the food writing game, and scratch out a rough manifesto. Here are some principles and goals that guide my professional and amateur food writing:
  • Do it for the love of it. I started simply as someone who explores every corner of the restaurant scene obsessively because that’s one of my keenest pleasures in life. Chowhound.com gave me a platform to share my obsession and trade tips with a community of like-minded locals. Notoriety on Chowhound led to my current professional gigs. But it’s still an avocation, the pursuit of an amateur: literally, someone who does it for the love of it, not to pay the bills (though it does help with the dining-out bills).
  • Shun influence. I strive to preserve my anonymity so restaurateurs are less likely to see me coming and thereby try to improve my experience over that of the typical diner. I don’t accept free meals and other industry compensation. I read everything I can on the local food scene, but don’t attend press dinners and other promotional events. I maintain a professional distance from the industry, though I correspond with many owners, chefs, cooks, bartenders, and servers.
  • Help consumers first. My primary goal is to help diners find the best places at every price level, and the best ways to enjoy them. Less often, I steer diners away from the mediocre and the overhyped. In both cases, I’m advocating for consumers. While I’m happy if worthy restaurants benefit from my praise, there’s already a large PR, advertising, and marketing industry devoted to promoting the industry’s interests. As the diner’s advocate, the critic must call the good and the bad as he sees them, fairly and truthfully, even when that means taking stands that might adversely affect a restaurant’s business. Good restaurateurs take negative criticism constructively; bad ones simply attack the critic (it’s easier and cheaper than fixing problems). Enduring the latter’s enmity is part of the job.
  • Be entertaining. There is an ever-swelling ocean of opinions out there, so I labor to make mine clear, pungent, occasionally provocative, but always readable. Whether they agree with me or not, I hope readers will want to keep reading my work.

10 March 2009

Support your local restaurant: dine out Sunday to Thursday

A friend of mine runs one of the neighborhood associations in Boston's South End. He related the story of how one local restaurateur -- Felino Samson of Pops Restaurant, which I think is one of the neighborhood's better fine-dining values -- is seeking approvals to expand his seating to include a bar area. Pops loses a lot of business on weekends from walk-ins who'd like to dine there but have no comfortable place to wait 30-60 minutes for a table at peak hours. Rather than cooling their heels on the curb, these folks often just mosey along to one of the other dozens of nearby restaurants to see if they can get in on shorter notice, or at least relax with a drink indoors while they're waiting.

While I hope Samson gets his wish to expand, his problem points to a broader one with Boston restaurants in the current economy: many diners have greatly curtailed their dining out on weeknights. I can confirm this just walking around the South End from Sundays through Thursdays: one dining room after another sits largely empty, with perhaps a handful of patrons dining at the bar. People are still dining out, but are heavily concentrating their business into Friday and Saturday nights. That leads to weekend crushes and long waits for those without the foresight to make reservations. For places like Pops (and I suspect other restaurants), it means further lost business because they're close to capacity on those nights, and the business goes elsewhere, but doesn't return on a weeknight when they've got ready seats.

I live in the South End and have long avoided weekend dining out in the neighborhood because the character of the crowd changes too much: it feels like a Weston/Wellesley cocktail party. Unlike weeknights, I see few people I know from the neighborhood. With the recession-driven shift in habits, weekend dining out has gotten worse: the crowds in the bars, the extra-long waits even for reserved tables, the general harriedness of the service and the kitchens all add up to a sub-optimal experience for my limited dining-out dollars.

So I'm dining out mostly on weeknights now, not just in the South End, but everywhere. I'm getting better service, avoiding the exurbanite masses, and supporting my favorite restaurants when the business means more to them. If you want your most beloved places to stay in business, and to have a better time for yourself, I encourage you to do the same.

09 March 2009

What’s up with the odd moniker, MC Slim JB?

Pictured: an actual MC
Photo courtesy of Wikipedia
I’ll try to limit the navel-gazing here, but the title question comes up a lot, as my pen name is obviously unconventional for a food writer. It dates back to the days when my friends and I, very young punk-rock kids, became fans of old-school hip-hop: The Sugarhill Gang, Afrika Bambaataa, Grandmaster Flash, Kurtis Blow, et. al. We sat around dreaming up stage names: what would your emcee (rapper) or deejay (turntablist) name be? Good for a laugh, but as I was unlikely ever to rap outside of the shower, “MC Slim JB” went into a drawer alongside “DJ Phattee Phat Phat” or some such.

I revived it a few years ago as my alias on Chowhound.com, where most posters go by nicknames. As a frequent poster on Chowhound's Boston Board, I came to the attention of two local print-media editors: Scott Kathan of Stuff Magazine, and Eric Solomon of Boston’s Weekly Dig. Both approached me the same week with offers of freelance food writing work. Kathan, my first editor, suggested I write under my Chowhound moniker, saying “MC Slim JB has some credibility with local Chowhounds, and I’d like you to bring that Chowhound sensibility to your food writing here.” Solomon saw similar value in the name for use at The Dig.

After my food writing debut with a Stuff cover story and over 30 pieces for The Dig, I felt the name had brand equity worth preserving, and so pitched it as I went on to write for Boston Magazine (where predictably it made the editors nervous) and The Boston Phoenix (which valued its name recognition). My current gigs at The Phoenix (a cheap-eats review column) and Stuff Magazine (a fine-dining review column) are what I am now best known for, all as MC Slim JB.

So through no real plan, a jokey lark from my youth ended up as my nom de plume. As it happens, choosing an alias for Chowhound instead my real name proved a happy accident, as the anonymity it afforded has made it easier to avoid special treatment, the extra service and kitchen attention that well-known critics get. (The great Ruth Reichl outlines this phenomenon in her excellent, funny restaurant-critic memoir “Garlic and Sapphires”.)

Anonymity is a fragile thing; no critic goes unrecognized forever. But thanks to the MC Slim alias, many restaurants still don’t know me by sight, and I strive to be an unobtrusive, ordinary-Joe diner. This improves the chances that my experience will be the same as that of any diner walking in off the street, not the “as perfect as it can be” version that recognized critics tend to get. With any luck, there will always be restaurants that don’t connect the dots between that person sitting at the counter and the food writer with the odd hip-hop name.

05 March 2009

Welcome!

I started this blog as a convenient repository of links to my professional restaurant criticism and food/drinks features that are currently available online, dating back to August 2007. I'll post occasional commentary on the Boston restaurant and bar scene here, too.

Many of my food/drinks features and restaurant reviews that were published prior to August 2007 are no longer available online; I’ve included short descriptions of those articles here.

Trying to dine Chez Ozymandias, or: Seasons Restaurant died and nobody noticed

I recently contributed an article entitled "Leftovers: Testing the enduring appeal of some of Boston's old-school dining favorites" to Stuff Magazine, in which I revisited several Boston restaurants (Olives Charlestown and Anthony’s Pier 4 and Locke-Ober) that were once considered “It Places” but have slipped in the dining public’s consciousness, though they’re still packing in the customers (and still occasionally get my business).

Due to length limitations, the last part of my submitted article, a visit to a fourth former It Place, was cut. But I thought it was a useful cautionary tale about being an It Place -- and being the kind of diner who spends all his or her time in It Places -- so I scooped it off the cutting room floor to post here:

RESTAURANT: SEASONS
PEAK OF IT-NESS: 25 YEARS AGO

My last stop on my tour of former “It Places” was Seasons at the Millennium Bostonian Hotel, which in the early 1980s was an essential station on the Boston fine-dining circuit. The owners had a knack for hiring immensely talented, fast-rising chefs to execute the restaurant’s innovative New American menu, many of whom left to attain local and national stardom on their own. Among its storied alumni are Jasper White (Jasper's, Jasper White's Summer Shack), Lydia Shire (Biba, Pignoli, Locke-Ober, Scampo), Jody Adams (Rialto), Gordon Hamersley (Hamersley's Bistro), Scott Hebert (Troquet), Peter McCarthy (EVOO), Tony Ambrose (Ambrosia, Blackfin), and many others.

As I walked up to the hotel, I thought, “Nobody talks about Seasons anymore, but maybe it’s hiding the next Tony Maws (Craigie on Main) or Barry Maiden (Hungry Mother). Hmm, where did the entrance go?” The doorman ruefully informed me that Seasons had closed nine months ago, converted into a ballroom. I felt a pang: a wellspring of Boston’s culinary renaissance had vanished, unremarked and unlamented. I mentally lit a candle for Seasons, wondering how a former It Place could fade away with most of us not even noticing.

That experience left me hoping that restaurateurs remember to cherish their regulars, the folks who come in on a Tuesday night when it’s snowing, and will still be there when the trend-moths have fluttered along to the newest sparkly light in town. And I reminded myself that it’s never good as a diner to get too wrapped up in the pursuit of novelty – especially when the pressures of the economy now threaten to put many worthy restaurants out of business. While you’re out scrambling for a table at the current Flavor of the Month, you’re neglecting a solid old standby in your back yard that may be dying. And guess which one you’ll miss more if they both disappear?

03 March 2009

My published articles that are no longer available online

Much of my early professional food writing was for the alt-weekly Boston's Weekly Dig, now known as Dig Boston. The restaurant reviews, food/drink features, and film writing I contributed there are no longer available online, thanks to a summer 2007 website redesign that vaporized its archives. Only my last piece for The Dig, a review of J.J. Foley's Cafe in Boston's South End, written just after the new website went up, is still online. Other pieces you can link to here are ones I have republished on this blog.

Here's a summary of my now-offline work; scans of the print versions of these pieces are available on request:

Coda – 18 Jul 07
A review of a casual bar/restaurant in Boston’s South End
Reviews: Coda Kitchen & Drinks
Mentions: Tim’s Tavern, Franklin Café, Aububon Circle, Charlie’s Kitchen, Rattlesnake, Daisy Buchanan’s, Taberna de Haro
Word count: 850

T.W. Food – 27 Jun 07
A review of an upscale bistro in Cambridge.
Reviews: T.W. Food
Word count: 1222

Ratatouille -- 27 Jun 07
My first professional film review, written from the perspective of a restaurant critic and cinephile. It’s a food-themed movie, Pixar’s computer-animated feature about a rat who dreams of becoming a chef. Oh, and one of the heavies is a restaurant critic.
Reviews: Ratatouille
Mentions: Tampopo, Big Night
Word count: 887

Discovering Another, Better North End at Lunch -- 06 Jun 07
A roundup of worthy North End restaurants serving lunch, with a look at why the neighborhood is often more enjoyable in daylight than at dinner.
Reviews: Volle Nolle, Pizzeria Regina, Massimino’s, Mangia Mangia, Neptune Oyster
Word count: 1313

Build Up Your Bar Bench with a Better Bottle of Vermouth -- 23 May 07
A look at vermouth as an aperitif and cocktail ingredient, with reviews of specific bottlings as well as some vermouth-based cocktails served at my favorite Boston restaurant/bars.
Reviews: Eastern Standard Kitchen, No. 9 Park, B-Side Lounge, Tremont 647
Word count: 851

Wandering Into (and Waddling out of) Roslindale’s Restaurants -- 02 May 07
A roundup of restaurants in Roslindale, an outer borough of Boston.
Reviews: Nuvo Kitchen & Wine Bar, Birch Street Bistro, Romano’s Pizzeria, Delfino
Mentions: The Cheesecake Factory, Fornax Bread Baking Co.
Word count: 1471

Learning to Take the Bitters with the Sweet -- 11 Apr 07
A look at bitters, a rarified corner of the drinking world that I’m fond of. I discuss both the potable kind (the sort you pour) and the non-potable kind (the sort you decant by the drop), both important ingredients of classic cocktails.
Reviews: No. 9 Park, Eastern Standard Kitchen & Drinks
Mentions: The Rat
Word count: 661

Newton Restaurants in a (Minor) League of Their Own -- 21 Mar 07
A roundup of four restaurants in Newton, a suburb of Boston, done in the manner of a baseball scout evaluating position players.
Reviews: Restaurant Pava, Ariadne, 51 Lincoln, The Biltmore
Mentions: Lumiere, Oishii, Karoun, Aquitaine Bis, Jumbo Seafood, Biba, Pignoli, UpStairs on the Square
Word count: 1445

Squeegee Your Anomie with Rye Whiskey -- 21 Feb 07
My first piece that focuses on a distilled spirit, specifically rye whiskey, and some cocktails made from it. I sample some rye cocktails at a few of my favorite Boston-area bars, part of a small group of establishments that take old-school cocktails seriously.
Reviews: Green Street, Deep Ellum, No. 9 Park
Mentions: The B-Side Lounge
Word count: 896

Relief for the Starving, Stingy Wine-Lover -- 14 Feb 07
A look at three restaurants with excellent mid-priced food and value-priced wines that aren’t marked up too much, a too-rare combination in Boston.
Reviews: Silvertone Bar & Grill, Taberna de Haro, Les Zygomates
Mentions: Toro
Word count: 902

A Beacon of Deliciousness in the Suburban Heart of Darkness -- 10 Jan 07
A roundup of restaurants in Waltham, a small city about 10 miles NW of Boston, and a great dining destination for its size.
Reviews: Beijing Star, Mi Tierra, Domenic’s Italian Bakery, Taqueria El Amigo, La Campania
Word count: 893

Deliverance -- 10 Jan 07
A staff compendium of things you can get delivered to your home in Boston. My four contributions were on Smithfield ham, local real barbecue, wines/spirits, and Thai sukiyaki.
Reviews: Finchville Farms, Redbones, Bauer Wines & Spirits, Chilli Duck
Word count (of my contribution): 168

West Roxbury at the Culinary Crossroads -- 06 Dec 06
A roundup of restaurants in West Roxbury, another outer borough of Boston.
Reviews: Vintage Restaurant, Viva Mi Arepa, West on Centre, Masona Grill
Mentions: Orinoco, The Blarney Stone, Claremont Café, The Nightingale
Word count: 906

Beatitude on a Budget: The Dig Bánh Mì Survey -- 15 Nov 06
A roundup of places in Greater Boston that make bánh mì, the Vietnamese submarine sandwich.
Reviews: Lu’s, Ba Le Bakery, Mei Sum Bakery, Pho Viet
Mentions: L’Espalier, No. 9 Park, Clio, Aujourd’hui, Speed’s Famous Hot Dog Wagon
Word count: 898

A Soupçon of Soul in the Lusophone Bowl -- 18 Oct 06
A look at three East Cambridge restaurants featuring cuisines of Lusophone (Portuguese-speaking) countries: two Portuguese places and a Brazilian one.
Reviews: Casa Portugal, Muqueca, O Cantinho,
Word count: 890

Trailing the Cool Kids to Jamaica Plain -- 20 Sep 06
A roundup of restaurants in Jamaica Plain, one of Boston’s more multicultural neighborhoods.
Reviews: La Pupusa Guanaca, Zon’s, Costello’s Tavern, Ten Tables
Word count: 886

La Brace -- 06 Sep 06
A review of an Italian restaurant in Boston's North End.
Reviews: La Brace
Mentions: Mare, Umbria, Prezza, Davio’s
Word count: 874

Dining Out In Style with the Sox -- 12 Jul 06
A review of some places I favor when I want to catch the Red Sox on TV but want better food than is served at most local sports bars.
Reviews: Audobon Circle, Green Street, Pho Lemongrass, Caffe Umbra
Mentions: Union Bar & Grill, Stella, Sibling Rivalry
Word count: 814

Don't Be Balking at Balkan -- 14 Jun 06
A review of such Balkan restaurants as we had in Boston at the time, which included Greek, Turkish, and Albanian places.
Reviews: Brookline Family Restaurant, Café Apollonia, Meze Estiatorio
Word count: 840

Sudsy Grub (with Ruth Tobias) -- 31 May 06
A piece co-bylined with my friend and sometime collaborator Ruth Tobias, on neighborhood places to dine out after drinking. She did her neighborhood (Boston's North End), I did mine (the South End).
Reviews: Anchovies, Picco
Word count (of my contribution): 391

When I Hear the Word "Culture", I Reach For My Fork -- 17 May 06
A look at restaurants in unlikely places (museums, libraries), with a discussion of the untrustworthiness of most public reviews of restaurants.
Reviews: Bravo, Novel, Sebastian’s Map Room Café, Quotes Cafe
Word count: 831

A Jug of "Bull's Blood", a Plate of Pierogi, Und Zie -- 12 Apr 06
A roundup of Central European restaurants in Greater Boston.
Reviews: Oxford Street Grill, Café Polonia, Jacob Wirth, Jasmine Bistro
Restaurants Mentioned: Karl’s Café, Café Budapest
Word count: 874

5-Drink Minimum: Vinalia Restaurant, Lounge, & Wine Bar -- 15 Mar 06
For its periodic Nightlife Issue, The Dig sends its writers out to various bars to have five drinks in a row there and try to capture the atmosphere of the place while getting tipsy. I covered a fancy wine bar and restaurant in downtown Boston.
Reviews: Vinalia
Word count: 436

Eastie Eats -- 01 Mar 06
A roundup of restaurants in East Boston, home of Logan Airport and a mostly working-class neighborhood with a huge Latino population and a longstanding Italian-American community. This piece appeared in the "Fashion Issue", hence its fashion-industry theme.
Reviews: Rincon Limeno, Taqeuria El Rancho Grande, Carmen’s Kitchen, Zafferano, Royal Roast Beef and Seafood, Santarpio’s
Word count: 1564

The New Dorchester Dining Scene: Like the South End, But Fun -- 18 Jan 06
A look at restaurants in Dorchester, Boston's largest residential neighborhood. This got some grateful letters from residents of Dorchester, which is largely ignored by local food writers.
Reviews: 224 Boston Street, The Blarney Stone, Ashmont Grill, dbar
Mentions: The Paramount, Peking Thom’s, Icarus
Word count: 1537

Table for Everyone and Their Brother – 06 Dec 05
Just in time for the holidays, a roundup of good places to dine out with large groups. Its accompanying illustration was a clever parody of DaVinci's "Last Supper".
Reviews: Laurel Grill & Bar, Khao Sarn Cuisine, Eastern Standard Kitchen and Drinks, The Rendezvous at Central Square, Maggiano’s Little Italy
Mentions: Rod Dee, Dok Bua
Word count: 1525

My Dirty Secret: I Like the New Bar That Killed the Old Man Bar – 16 Nov 05
A roundup of bar/restaurants in spots once occupied by old-time dive bars. The local press had been rife with stories about how gentrification was ruining these beloved places, so I wrote about places I thought were improvements over the "Old Man Bars" they supplanted.
Reviews: B-Side Lounge, Mission Bar & Grill, Franklin Café
Mentions: The Littlest Bar, Alchemist Lounge, Sullivan's Pub (Charlestown), Jack Lynch’s Webster Lounge, Bukowski Tavern, Hammond Lounge, Washington Square Tavern, Windsor Tap, Choppin’ Block Pub, Waltham Tavern
Word count: 1526

Trattoria Toscana -- 26 Oct 05
My first traditional review of a single restaurant. Most of my restaurant reviews to date had been about collections of thematically-linked restaurants.
Reviews: Trattoria Toscana
Word count: 837

Pasta La Vista (with Michael Brodeur) – 26 Oct 05
A mini-review of five regional Italian restaurants, co-bylined with my editor Michael Brodeur, designed to complement my review of Trattoria Toscana. I wrote the first two items (Taranta and Umbria), and suggested the other three places that Michael covered. This piece ran again as the debut entry in a new weekly feature, “Top 5 List”, in the “Eats and Drinks” section, on 26 Jul 06.
Reviews: Taranta, Umbria
Word count (of my contribution): 190

Trading the Cow for the Magic Beans – 21 Sep 05
Reviews: Addis Red Sea, Fasika, Tamarind Bay, Kashmir, Oleana, L’Espalier
Mentions: Julien Room, Mantra
A roundup of vegetarian fine dining restaurants. This got some appreciative letters from the under-served vegetarian/vegan community.
Word count: 1508

Seasonal Comfort Food -- 14 Sep 05
An article on the autumnal changes to local food and drink menus.
Reviews: Tuscan Grill, The Helmand, Sandrine’s, Aquitaine, Brasserie Jo, City-Bar, Eastern Standard Kitchen & Drinks, Petit Robert Bistro, South End Formaggio
Mentions: Bolton Spring Farm, Cider Hill Farm
Word count: 1278

How Low Can You Go? – 10 Aug 05
A roundup of alternatives to luxury steakhouses. Not yet sold on the name "MC Slim JB", the publisher insisted on a slightly different byline, "JB Slim", for this one piece (he relented afterward). My original title was "Beef! How Low Can You Go!"
Reviews: Aquitaine, Brasserie Jo, Beacon Hill Bistro, Petit Robert Bistro, Midwest Grill, Green Field Churrascaria, Koreana, Apollo Grill, The Good Life, Lucky’s, Frank’s Steakhouse, The Stockyard
Mentions: The Oak Room, Grill 23 & Bar, Capital Grill, Morton’s, Plaza III, The Palm, Fleming’s, The 57, Dakota’s, Smith & Wollensky, Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, Abe & Louie’s, Bonfire, Davio’s Back Bay, Blackfin Chophouse & Raw Bar, Outback, Bugaboo Creek, Hilltop Steakhouse
Word count: 1480

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FOR STUFF AT NIGHT (later known as STUFF MAGAZINE)

Five Reasons to Dine at the Bar -- 09 Jun 05
My first piece of published food writing was a cover story on why dining at the bar is sometimes a better idea than sitting in the dining room, illustrated with reviews of restaurants where I often do just that.
Reviews: Union Bar & Grill, Dedo, Caffe Umbra, Bonfire
Mentions: Oleana, Olives
Word count : 2088

(Special, undying thanks to Scott Kathan of Stuff At Night and Eric Solomon of Boston's Weekly Dig for plucking me from the ranks of amateur reviewers on Chowhound.com and giving me a shot at writing professionally!)