Review: Marrow

4 May 2016

Having to run to Terre Haute in the early morning, I spent what I had hoped to be a leisurely drive during the afternoon in anything less than — to be stuck with a major truck crash blocking a country road…which forced all of us onto a diversion onto a dirt track for miles. And it had been raining hard for hours, so it was a muddy mess. Plus, it was only wide enough for a small car, and at times there was traffic going both ways, so constantly driving into vegetation. One or two cars even got stuck… Oh, joys of rural driving…

I made it back to Indianapolis and having not been able to have lunch thanks to the traffic diversion from hell, I went to have dinner early. I had booked dinner (thanks OpenTable for making it easy to find out hours of a restaurant — not always obvious on their websites!) at another of the most talked about places in Indianapolis — Marrow — but I arrived early, just as the kitchen opened.

I chilled at a window-side hi-top and ordered a cocktail as I went through the menu. Interesting set of fusion dishes, some a little odd to the eye, but let’s see what happens. After ordering I chilled and soon the first item came. It’s become standard for me on this trip to have some deviled eggs, and these were beautiful…

1a-deviled eggs

Aside from being very photogenic, these smoked goodies were almost overloaded with tobiko and crab, even some eel sauce. Excellent, almost a little too much you know? But this was a fabulous start to the evening! A few more sips of cocktail and the next item appears, the seasonal roots salad.

2-root salad

These were quite nice, with a broad range of different carrots to parsnips to beets. I love roots, and this was just what I needed. This is the way to do this dish…as I was eating this I cringed for a second thinking of the horrible root fritters I had at Kensington Quarters in Philadelphia…then I snapped back to reality and smiled again.

Good start. Enjoyed another cocktail before my main arrived, and it was interesting but puzzling bit of fusion…

3b-tandoori fried chicken

It’s an interesting thing to fry up tandoori chicken. However, the flavours didn’t quite work; the breading was a bit thick and ate a bit too much into the tandoori with a sweet-ish thing that clashed a little. The meat was good, so I almost just ate them separately. One major plating fail on this dish…it looks cute to have the 3 “chutneys” on the plate like that but it made it almost an annoyance as you constantly drag your palm onto it and it was a mess. I had to ask for a separate plate without making more of a mess…

In fact, if there’s one criticism I have for the kitchen here is: photogenic plating is wonderful, but when it messes with the taste or practicality of eating the said food, it’s not helpful.

Anyway, this was good certainly, though nowhere near as good as the awesome Black Market last night. But two solid meals in Indianapolis and I was looking very much forward to coming back. I always find cities like this, Louisville and Jackson utterly underrated food-wise, which is a shame, because they can easily compete with the overrated NYC, Chicago and especially SF.

Marrow
1106 Prospect Street
Indianapolis, Indiana

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Review: Black Market

3 May 2016

It was a wonderful trip to Maine, and after a poorly-planned-caused overnight in Baltimore I headed off to Indiana — just in time for the primary. I got there and had a very busy day, even taking a few moments to do some cemetery trekking. I was tired and hungry, but wanted to eat early so I can get back to the hotel to track the results, so I headed to dinner early.

The place in town that has the most buzz has to be Black Market. No reservations, but the kitchen just opened at 5pm so that worked perfectly. I chilled out with a cocktail and smiled. This is a cool bar…

bar

A great selection and the concoctions were excellent. But I was hungry so I was eagerly awaiting my food, and soon the first item showed up. Wow…

1-heart-asparagus

First up was the grilled heart and asparagus, and this was just amazing. The heart was perfectly seasoned and cooked, retaining both the unique taste and texture of the heart without compromising its uniqueness. One of the best executed heart dish I’ve ever had. Fabulous!

I was in a great mood now and I ordered another cocktail as the second dish arrived, and I was in heaven…

2-tongue

This is a beautiful tongue, again executed perfectly. It was tender but not smushy, retaining the unique taste and feel of tongue. The beets were just beautiful too. Oh goodness, 2 of my favourite things on a plate!

I was extremely happy at this point and I actually ordered another cocktail before the main dish came, and it was big…

3-pork chop

Wow, a very nice pork chop here. Cooked medium, brined nicely, with a touch of maple syrup making this a fabulous main number. Excellent, although it can’t top the 2 starters which brought me to my personal heaven.

I ended up staying for one last drink as all the exit polls were way skewed, so it’s an early night for all of us. I thanked them and headed out more than happy with this dinner. Honestly one of the top meals of the year so far! Wow, Indianapolis — especially Black Market — you’ve really impressed me!

Black Market
922 Massachusetts Avenue
Indianapolis, Indiana

Review: Vinland

1 May 2016

My trip to Maine was coming to a close, and the final night in Maine was spent in Portland. Now Portland has gained a strong reputation for becoming a food mecca — albeit not the same reputation as the city in Oregon that took its name from this place thanks to a coin-flip. But nevertheless this Portland is becoming a draw not just for New Englanders, but folks that want to see that the good produce found in Maine goes beyond the lobster.

As an extra surprise, my good friends Sybil and Simon Majumdar were coincidentally in town, so we caught up for some cocktails at the excellent Bearded Lady’s Jewel Box. Just time for 2 quick ones as I had a reservation to get to for dinner, as did they. So cool our travels converged at the same place at the exact same time, happens so rarely!

I saluted them on their special evening as I headed off in the mist for my dinner at the restaurant that’s getting a lot, a LOT of buzz in and out of the area — Vinland. They took localvore to the next level as the kitchen uses ONLY stuff they get in Maine. Even if that means no citrus, they use whey heavily as an acid replacement. In fact, what they do is using local substitutes for things most chefs take for granted. It’s a fabulous experiment, and I was keen to explore this concept.

I must apologise first of all for the poor quality of pictures this evening. Earlier in the day in the mist something happened to the camera and I think some moisture may have seeped into the lens, giving the focusing a total nightmare. I always take multiple photos of each item, but this evening the camera just refused to focus so many times — so the photos in this review are not doing the food justice. I apologise, especially to the kitchen here, since they put so much into this meal and these photos don’t do their hard work justice…

In any case, the evening begins as Chef David Levy serves the first snack, the salad toast.

01-salad toast

If any opener tells you how a night is going to go even before you eat it, it’s this. Clearly Chef is dedicated to his Maine-only concept, and that involves using ingredients that are less common, or used in different ways. Keep in mind that Maine has just entered spring. Nice little snack, then the first dish.

02-carrot soup

The hearty carrot makes for a good little soup, but once again something interesting. The lack of citrus in Maine gives Chef more limited options in adding acid into dishes, so he uses whey. Interesting, though the balance maybe needs a little more working in this dish. Then we have another snack, a beet chip.

03-beet chip

I love beets and thank goodness roots grow well in harsher climates. Nice taste. I also see they are going with the snack-dish-snack-dish progression, which is kind of nice, especially at a kitchen counter. Instead of the rapid-snacks-until-you-surrender tactic at places like Kadeau, this makes for more convivial dining. Nice to chat with the team too between courses. Next up, a fermented oat cake.

04-fermented oak cake

Interesting, again using different grains compared to other places, this has a strong texture, with the taste accentuated by shiitake. Went well with a Slovenian pinot gris (well, obviously the wines are not local…). The next snack surprised me when Chef Levy announced it — mangalica.

05-mangalica

Mmm, this was a tasty coppa made with mangalica. I was surprised there was mangalica in Maine and indeed — and we chatted a bit about issues regarding butchery and husbandry in Maine. It’s amazing how he’s managed to work through all this to have not just tonight’s menu, but to sustain a restaurant especially in the harsher season that comes with life in Maine. Then we go back to the sea and Maine’s bounty with a crab dish.

06-crab

Very nice, full of natural flavours here. Chef doesn’t try to overdo anything, letting the Jonah crab’s wonderful taste speak for itself with just minor additions. His use of seaweeds is excellent, one of the more under-used items especially in the US, with a wide variety of them with which to experiment. Then back to another snack, and this got a grin out of me.

07-lichen

Lichen. Very cool. I think you can see the Nordic influence here, from the restaurant’s name to how he uses ingredients that are forged by Maine’s environment — both good and challenging. You don’t see this often in US restaurants, but it works so well here in Maine. His time at Noma may have helped with guiding him here. Then we move on to the roasted lettuce.

08-roasted lettuce

Now this is one dish that the photo did no justice. Bad focus, bad lighting, and you don’t get the full effect of this. May not be photogenic, but it’s interesting and tasty, with some local cheddar that actually make this work. I am still kicking myself for the photos from this night…

I kept chatting with Chef Levy and you really see not just a dedication to his craft and concept, but also an inquisitive mind that wants not just to be continually challenged by Maine but for him to challenge Maine itself. It’s like, “bring it on” and I’ll still craft a workable, excellent tasting menu. This is the type of inventiveness — on such a daily basis — that makes me like this place. It’ll be rougher than most tasting menus because of issue of sourcing, but it’s really one that lets the chef shine or flop. So far he’s shining.

We slide back to another snack and it suddenly feels like I’m back in the Nordics as we get some harðfiskur of all things!

09-hardfiskur

This is a nice rendition of the Icelandic dried fish, though the butter added a little more for people who are less familiar with this dish. We stay in the water with the next dish, hake.

10-hake

Nice little fish done well, with some early spring corn and kelp to add to the overall flavour. Then back to the snack with the dehydrated scallop.

11-dried scallop

A nice bit, though not as flavourful as the version Chef Evan Hennessey does at the amazing Stages at One Washington in Dover, New Hampshire. Then more from the wonderful ocean bounty, this time monkfish.

12-monkfish

Once again sorry for the bad focus! Solidly cooked and meaty, the kelp being a wonderful addition. I love the usage of sea vegetables and fungi in the cooking here, really brings out the earth and ocean to the cooking. This has been a fun and tasty evening so far, and we’re still going!

13-mussels

The next snack was some mussels, as good as you see. Nice and plump. Then we get to the meats, first up focuses on local beef.

14-raw beef

Mmm, nice raw minced beef, full of flavour. A touch of horseradish, this did not need the ubiquitous raw egg at all. Excellent. Then a cute little chicken skin snack…

15-chicken skin

I actually really like the way the snacks are in-between dishes as a segue between items. It’s more interesting than the parade-o-snacks you get everywhere. Then we get to the last savoury dish, the smoked capocollo.

16-smoked capocollo

Really sorry for the bad pix here. Again, an interesting taste of one of my favourite pigs, accented by a herbed lardo. The hen-of-the-woods was a nice addition. This was a rather long tasting menu, but I was sad it was drawing to a close…

I chatted with Chef and his sous a bit more as the night went on before we reached desserts, talking the industry, ingredients and places in Europe he’s staged in. Plenty of wine, this was a wonderful evening, and next up was a panna cotta…

17-seaweed panna cotta

Once again sorry about the poor focus! White always gives this thing a problem. But a cute start, especially the seaweed. Next up, the custard.

18-parsnip tumeric custard

This focuses on parsnip — which works so well with dessert, like at Stages at One Washington a few days ago — with a nice tumeric touch. Then we have the final dessert, the blueberry semifreddo.

19-blueberry semifreddo

A nice close, adding that bit of fruit acid that is so hard to find here. You wonder why Nordic cuisine uses berries so frequently — it’s the lack of citrus. You take things for granted until you work within certain constraints, and that’s what makes this evening more challenging and interesting than usual. Wow, that was some tasting menu.

I was done with the food and was just having an after-dinner drink when my friends Simon and Sybil were heading back to their place, so I invited them to join me here for a drink. We ended up staying for hours, having a wonderful evening of drinking and conversation, and we enticed them enough for them to book dinner for the next night.

I think the two of them enjoyed the dinner they had sitting in the same spot the next day as I languished at BWI due to a booking boo-boo…

At the end, I was happy and think the experiment worked, that these local substitutes worked well and filled all the holes successfully. Could things have been better with other non-Maine ingredients? At some points, honestly yes. But the point of this restaurant is to feature Maine in a box, and it successfully did that.

Innovative yet tasty, and a wonderful team in addition. It’s a pleasure to spend so much time in this place not just to eat, but also to enjoy every aspect of this evening. Highly recommended!

Vinland
593 Congress Street
Portland, Maine

Surf & Turf Maine Style…

30 April 2016

After yesterday’s debacle in Bangor at the rather poor Timber Kitchen and Bar, I was just not in a great mood. In fact, my stomach was fighting me all night — probably thanks to that utterly undercooked poor piece of beef… Sooner I forget that place the better…

Thank goodness things like this helped. This was a view from Castine, which is on a small peninsula jutting into the Atlantic. What a beautiful view… I hugged the coast this beautiful sunny day and enjoyed the view, and eventually rolled into the town of Belfast for today’s stop.

It was mid-afternoon so I thought about doing an early dinner since I had no lunch. I was just waiting for my visit to Young’s Lobster Pound to have some — you guessed it — lobster. You go in, order from the huge live tank, and they throw whatever you want into the cooker Some order lobster, some order clams, some order mussels, whatever it is, the aroma is truly saliva-inducing.

Belfast - 01

I waited the 20 or so minutes as the lobster cooked and enjoyed this view…now this is nearly priceless and perfect. After the 20 minutes I went and grabbed my lobster. Since I was staying at a motel next door, I decided to just take this with me, so I can devour this in the privacy of my own room.

I tend to destroy these things when I eat them, and have been using my rather strong teeth to crack lobster shells since I was 8 years old, so I rather do this without folks staring at me! I got to my room and unpacked and…oh, the aroma of fresh-cooked lobster is just wonderful…

lobster 1

Isn’t this just bliss? Ever part of this beast was juicy, from the meaty tail to the rich legs, from the dense claws to the sublime innards. What a treat… There was nothing left but shell after I was done…

To be very honest I planned ahead and got a second one. When in Maine, right?

This evening ended very well indeed…

And to explain this blog entry’s title, that was the surf side of Maine, and the turf side was to come for a late lunch the next day. I got up very early at the break of dawn and enjoyed the slow drive down the coast, stopping off at some historic cemeteries along the way. From visiting the grave of some of our Founding Fathers to playing with a baby fox chilling out in another, it was a fun morning.

Some slow traffic on the historic (but 2-lane) US-1 all the way towards Portland and I rolled into town just as the weather turned. It had been beautiful and unseasonably warm for days, but the mist rolled in as I got to Portland. So the best lunch idea? BBQ. Yes, BBQ in Maine.

I headed to the well-regarded Salvage BBQ and ordered and enjoyed a beer. Just as I finished the pint the food was ready, so I headed out and checked into my hotel. The food was mixed. Lots of food, but they also served as breakfast for the next day before my flight out of Maine. First up, the chouriço.

chorizo

They chose the Portuguese spelling but it tasted nothing like it. This was actually not very good to be honest, the contents a bit off. This is disappointing….

ribs

But the ribs, which were slightly over-done at the end, was interesting. It was on the sweet side, but the flavour actually worked pretty good. But the best bits?

brisket

Yep, the brisket. Usually not a great brisket fan, but these were excellent. I wish it was all brisket. I managed to finish the brisket and most of the ribs for lunch, leaving most of the sausages for breakfast tomorrow (which I actually abandoned to be honest). The turf side was a bit of a hit-and-miss, but the brisket here is excellent.

I was a little sad my short Main adventure was near an end, but all to end in a spectacular way here in Portland the last evening — which will be chronicled in the next entry. But the surf-and-turf? Worked good.

But still, nothing beats that lobster. No need butter. No need utensils. No need anything except my teeth and my cut-up hands. Now that is pure joy…

Young’s Lobster Pound
2 Fairview Street
Belfast, Maine

Salvage BBQ
919 Congress Street
Portland, Maine

Review: Timber Kitchen and Bar

29 April 2016

After last night’s amazing tasting menu at Stages at One Washington, I headed back up to Maine full of energy. I had a very, very long day trekking through Maine, including quite a bit of hiking in Augusta. I was tired but happy when I drifted into Bangor, and having skipped lunch I was hoping for a nice dinner.

I couldn’t find much online to be honest, and the only place that looked interesting that was not connected to a casino was a place called Timber Kitchen and Bar. They have a no reservation policy which I didn’t quite care for, but let’s see what happens this Friday early evening.

Apparently there was a circus across the street so parking was a mess, as was traffic. Throw in some protestors and you got a bit of unnecessary chaos. I got there and it seemed more like a bar, and it was already busy with people glammed up. Geez, am I in the right place? They seated me at the sort-of chef’s counter and I tried to chill out with a cocktail.

I ordered my dinner and hoped for a good meal. Cocktail wasn’t bad, but then my lobster bisque arrived — with no utensils.

1-bisque

Then the runner actually THREW the spoon onto the wooden plank. Huh? Goodness, I know you’re in a rush but that is a total NO-NO! And as you can see, it’s already grown a pretty thick skin on top. It was nothing special beneath the skin either, but it did its job. I could not say how fresh this is, but it’ll do.

Maybe the next starter will be better; however, when it arrived my heart sank a little…

2-oysters

Baked oysters. It seems way overbaked, as most of the lips have melted into the shell as you can see — as well as a good part of the meat. Not sure why there was a mutilated citrus on the plate either… And of course, the oysters were not shucked right; in fact, 1 of them was just not shucked at all. I had to shuck it there basically… stupid price for 4 bad oysters…

I was losing any hope of this being a good dinner. They really oversold the beef two ways for the main, which I went with, and that was a mistake…you make mistakes when you’re tired and hungry…

3a-beef

This looked okay at first, but then I noticed why was the tenderloin partly mutilated? As if the kitchen had cut deep into it to see the temperature. Well, I had ordered medium rare, but this was borderline blue in the middle. I was too tired and impatient to say something at this stage, so I just ate it; seems whoever decided to cook this has it at a completely wrong temperature setting. Imagine a low-temperature, quick cook of beef. Ugh… Plus it was bland and boring, as was the shortrib — which, of course, was overcooked and sawdust-y… Sigh…

I actually ended up abandoning this dinner and asked for the bill. I pointed out a few things to my server, about the poorly-cooked meats and the runner tossing utensils, and he was unhappy and wanted to comp me something, but I was one foot out the door already. I just don’t want to see this place again.

This for me is exactly what not to do to be a serious restaurant. You spend so much money glamming the place up, fancy website, extensive cocktail menu. If you want to be a bar, be a bar. If you want to be a lounge, be a lounge. When you try to do all that in one space and not have a super strong kitchen to defend that decision, it does not work! At least this place has the huge space for this failed experiment, unlike the utterly disastrous Orsay in Jacksonville

This place came so very close to be the worst meal of 2016 so far. Not quite, after the disasters in Buffalo last week, but it’s close. It was so bad I ended up getting half a Subway sandwich at a gas station later in the evening…that bad…

Avoid. Just avoid.

Timber Kitchen and Bar
22 Bass Park Boulevard
Bangor, Maine

Review #2: Stages at One Washington

28 April 2016

I find the car rental rules so annoying sometimes. This is why this morning I left Boston’s North Station by train and went through New Hampshire, including the town of Dover, to arrive at the beautiful city of Portland, Maine — only to hop into a rental and drive straight south. I had to stop off in northern Massachusetts quickly — meaning I’m basically driving back to where I started… Then I made my way to Dover for a dining experience I have been anticipating for months.

After last night’s rubbish experience at the previously reliable Craigie on Main, I was keen to get things back on track, and nowhere could that happen best as at Dover’s absolutely amazing Stages at One Washington. My first visit here last year provided one of the year’s most memorable meals, and I knew I would come back to this place time and time again.

I got to the restaurant and was seated at the counter, where a group of 4 was enjoying their tasting menus already. As I enjoyed a cocktail, quickly catching up with Chef-extraordinaire Evan Hennessey, I decided to do the big tasting. And as I suspected, Chef decided to go off-script a little from what was on the printed menu. This should be fun!

Chef and his sous chef also had to run the different tasting menu for the other four diners, but they managed very well as they always. Last time, remember, it was just Chef, so I know they have the ability to juggle this challenging dinner. And soon enough, a French chardonnay was poured, and the first dish appeared, and I smiled.

01-carrots

Nope, not what you think it is. This is a carrot dish! It’s a cute play on the classic beef tartar dish, with the egg a gooey carrot surprise too. Excellent carrot too, so a nice and fun start! Next up something I could smell during prep, a dish focused on mushrooms.

02-mushrooms

Mmm, these were terrific, especially the king trumpets. The “soil” that was made with rye brought even more earthiness to this combination, all going well with a Chilean pinot noir pairing. Excellent! I am so glad I took this detour today!

Enjoyed a bit more of that pinot noir as I awaited the third dish, and wow…

03-beets

These beautiful beets were fabulous, retaining a nice crunchy but not hard-to-eat texture. Gotta be careful as they are so spherical and not soft you may accidentally push them off the plate! The glazing was fabulous, bringing out the natural beet flavours. And the mint was a surprise. Chef Hennessey is a stickler for herb usage, and he grows them himself and these had a very distinct bite unlike most of the mint you buy elsewhere. Fabulous!

So far it’s been a parade of vegetables, all good local stuff from New England. If there was a restaurant that did their ingredients proud, it’s this. If it doesn’t need messin’ with, why mess with it, right? Next up was more local vegetables in a beautifully-plated dish.

04-cabbage-rutabaga

The focus of this dish are the much-maligned (but I love them) rutabagas, as well as dried cabbage. You may imagine this being bland, but far from it. The items are all well-seasoned and the herbal additions really carried more complexity than you’d imagine from this. And I really like rutabaga!

We finally get something meat for the next dish, and goodness this looks fantastic…

05-musquée de Provence

These dumplings are filled with an heirlook pumpkin called musquée de Provence, and it has a warm and rich flavour — which works so well with that goose prosciutto I remember so well from my previous visit. A gorgeous dish, amazing flavours. The next dish moved onto seafood.

06-cusk-uni

Cusk is something you don’t see often on menus, and I’m always glad to get them. This was topped with some dehydrated sea urchin, and it’s amazing how quickly the flavour explodes out of them once they get into your mouth; it works like a magical version of grated cheese! Don’t discount the kohlrabi on the side either, I love all of these roots! Fish had wonderful texture and flavour, and that urchin…mmm…

I was smiling ear to ear at this point and as the other diners had finished and departed, the conversation with the two became more detailed. Love this dedication to ingredients and how to get the best out of them, not just to “cook for cooking sake” that so many chefs are guilty of these days (I blame TV frankly). And then the next dish appeared, focused on the duck.

07-duck

This duck was nice and tasty, full of flavour. Now perhaps the grain on top didn’t quite work for me, some may like the contrasting texture. But the duck was wonderful. A bit more wine, and sadly we moved onto the final savoury course for the night — the pork.

08-pork

It’s actually a porridge using local grains! The pork was amazingly rich, and I could have kept shovelling this into my mouth all night! Lovely rich and strong finish!

Then a little bit of a break before we move into the next phase of the dinner. And here it comes, the cheese course.

09-goat cheese

Of course Chef has a surprise, and this is actually dehydrated goat cheese. Again, like the urchin, the flavour just explode in your mouth. I love this. Then we move into the sweets, first with a sweet potato cracker.

10-sweet potato

Tasty on its own, but the vanilla on the side was just delicious. Could have licked the plate here. Then the first of the main desserts, and again Chef uses the brilliant vegetables at his disposal.

11-parsnip

This was focused on parsnips — more awesome root vegetables! Tasty, not too sweet, with several different takes of parsnip used here. I was just sad this meal was coming to an end! And the final item indeed arrived.

12-chocolate-herbs

Chocolate and herbs, a perfect ending. The marshmallow was certainly cute, and far better than the metaphoric flødebolle at Atera. A fabulous close.

The team looked tired and I was the only diner left, so I didn’t want to hang around too long. So I had a coffee and headed out soon after, thanking them for another awesome evening. This clearly showed last time was no fluke, and it’s already near the top of 2016 for me. Chef Hennessey is a rare talent who really knows his ingredients and how to bring the best out of them. He is not bothered by PR and media and showing off; he’s there to deliver a dish a diner will like, a dish where the ingredients rule with their natural flavours with his skills providing a supporting role. A humble chef who shows true respect for his ingredients.

I very highly recommend this place to everyone. It’s not as hard to get to as you think, as Dover is linked by train to Boston several times a day and the restaurant is a 10-minute stroll from the train station. It’s more than worth a trip here. I know I will be making my way back here time and time again.

Stages at One Washington
1 Washington Street, Suite 325
Dover, New Hampshire

Review: Craigie on Main

27 April 2016

I had an interesting day in Boston and Quincy, and was certainly glad to see the weather improve. What was supposed to be a busy day turned out not, as my meeting (reason for the short trip to Boston) was cancelled. Oh well, I just get to enjoy a city I like a lot, so… Instead of checking out new places, I decided for this second and last dinner in Beantown to revisit a place I’ve not been in years.

Tonight’s destination was the venerable and trailblazing Craigie on Main. Its innovation and popularity really put Boston back on the foodie map years ago, thanks to the imagination and skills of Tony Maws. I’m glad to see his restaurant empire expanding, and that’s why I headed back to the always-good Craigie despite my general annoyance with the Cambridge side of the Charles…

I was sat at the chef’s counter during an already very busy Wednesday night. Actually it seemed a little chaotic to be honest. Took a bit to get the menu and so forth, and the server seemed a bit confused — and was over-explaining things at points and telling me there were nothing off the menu tonight; however, I heard other diners being offered specials. Sigh…

I ordered and enjoyed my cocktail, though it took quite a while to arrive to be honest — way after the amuse. This place is still ridiculously popular, and it was already slammed at 6.30pm. As I worked on my cocktail my starter came, and I looked a bit confused…

1-pig tail

I’ve had the crispy fried pigs tails here before, but this didn’t quite look the same. Frankly I didn’t anticipate a mountain of distraction on top of them… And it didn’t taste that good. It had a very sticky, sweet feel about it, far more than the balanced version before. For what little meat was on the bones, it was nothing special. Of course that mountain of fried unfortunates just taunted me…

Oh well. I couldn’t get my server’s attention for another drink for a long time, and it was frustrating. The place is turning into a bit of a shitshow tonight, when it’s busy but chaotic in a bad way. There seems to be a disconnection between staff, even in the kitchen. I won’t repeat some of the things I overheard from the kitchen crew between each other, but they seemed confused by items on the menu. Perhaps too many changes, especially items they added for Passover?

In any case, it took ages to get my server’s attention for wine, and of course it took ages to come out, far after my main course arrived.

2-pork

I actually ordered a similar dish as my previous visit years ago, pork in three ways. Sorry for the bad photo, but it’s probably for the best. A clearer photo would put more of you off even more. The guy sitting next to me stared at my dish, telling me he ordered the same thing. He eyes betrayed his thoughts…

Look at this. The “charred rabe” was soggy and looks like something you throw out of the bottom of the fridge having started to rot. The rib portion was so overcooked it was charred to the bone throughout. The sausage was undercooked, and tasted very questionable. And the belly? Huh? Lucky I didn’t take a better photo, it was the MOST DISGUSTING piece I have ever seen. It looked more like a chunk of pork butt. There was nearly no meat, and it was just horrible fat, with no other flavours.

I basically abandoned most of this dish and when the guy sitting next to me got his dish, I just gasped. HE GOT WHAT I WANTED! His rabe looked charred. His sausage looked cooked. His rib looked good. HIS BELLY LOOKED LIKE BELLY! UGH!

I was so unhappy at this point I gave up. This was ridiculous. I mentioned this to the staff and the manager took it off the bill, but I REALLY HATE THAT. Why can’t I just have food done right, at least nominally, which I would more than happily pay for, and not get into this situation? I left beyond unhappy, and it’s safe to say I will never step foot into this restaurant again.

What that kitchen was trying to pass off to me is just ridiculous. If it was coming out bad, they should have REDONE the dish instead of sending out this horrible mess. I am SO GLAD my photo did not focus, because it would show the true horror of this dish.

Oh, Boston, what a horrible way to close this part of the trip. And what was one of the most reliable places to go in the East Coast is now stunningly bad. I don’t care if this was an anomaly, the anomaly happened to me. How they decided to bring that main course out is beyond me, and any chef that plated and sent this out should be embarrassed. Sorry. This, along with the confused and slow service, ensures something.

I’m never coming back.

Craigie on Main
853 Main Street
Cambridge, Massachusetts

PS: The fact their “social media team” reached out to try to “resolve” this brought back bad memories of the Graham Elliot mess in Chicago a few years back. Frankly, if restaurants put more attention into their food and service instead of their social media presence things would go far, far better.