May 2009

Snappy Sushi
Davis Square
Cambridge, MA

California roll
avocado, crabstick, cucumber
Philadelphia roll
cream cheese, smoked salmon
Spicy shrimp tempura roll
shrimp tempura, avocado, cucumber, green leaf, flying fish roe with spicy mayo
Portabella roll
roasted portabella, red & yellow pepper, cucumber, green leaf with basil sauce wrapped in vegetable sheet

Gyoza, as on our previous visit, make an excellent, lightweight introduction to a night of sushi. These gyoza are so delicate and tender that if you are ham-fisted or awkward with your chopsticks, you will probably have trouble eating them. We’re pretty deft with our chopsticks (not pros by any means, but fairly accomplished in wielding them), and we even paused before applying too much pressure to the vegetable-and-tofu dumplings. The spicy sauce with which they were served was, again, spicy, and just a swipe was enough to add flavour and depth. You really only get one chance at each dumpling, because once you’ve bitten through you can’t put it down to readjust your grip or the whole thing falls apart. I’m not complaining — these gyoza are fantastic.

We took our time eating the gyoza to give the chefs time to prepare our main course, but it was ready for us as soon as we’d cleared our appetizer. Our experimental sushi for the day was the fancy Portabella roll, which is a warm sushi and is wrapped in a vegetable sheet, just as the mamemaki roll which DH and I tried on a previous visit to the Snappy Sushi location on Newbury Street. The ratio of ingredients was spot-on, without one taste or texture becoming dominant over all the others, but despite the quality I wasn’t overly enamoured. The basil sauce must have been oil-based, as its oiliness started to overpower the rest of the textures. It was good, but it wasn’t sushi as I knew it.

Granted, neither, technically speaking, is the Philadelphia roll. I’ve noticed that it depends on the place and it depends on the evening’s chef, but Philly rolls can be heavy on the salmon, heavy on the cream cheese, or salmon and cream cheese in equal proportions. I much prefer the texture of rolls heavy on cream cheese, as the texture of a big lump of smoked salmon is just too much for me. This evening’s Philly rolls were rather stingy with the cream cheese, but I managed. I love when the fish is properly foiled by the creamy texture of the cheese, instead of the cheese flavour and texture being lost on a large piece of fish. Ah well, one takes one’s chances. Delicious with a generous dip in the soy sauce dish nonetheless.

Ah spicy shrimp tempura rolls, how I love thee. Oversized and no way to eat in a ladylike fashion, one just has to dive in and enjoy. My only complaint is the end piece, with the two shrimp tails protruding, because these have to be demolished a little in order to be eaten. Sometimes if there is enough tail left on, I can bite through the roll and discreetly detach the tails with my chopsticks, but that wasn’t possible here and I had to do some surgery. It made the roll a little unstable, but it all went in my mouth in one go and it was delicious. I didn’t used to be a spicy foods person, but spicy shrimp tempura rolls are the sort of spicy I like best — a steady level of heat with no hidden surprises. The first time I ever had flying fish roe I thought I was allergic, as the skin on my neck began to itch shortly after my meal. It turns out that may have been the wool sweater I was wearing, as I have never been inconvenienced by flying fish roe since.

The Davis Square outpost of Snappy Sushi has changed the interior up a little since our last visit this past winter. The main dining room had been dominated by a large, family-style table around which small parties were seated, but either they received complaints from guests (lack of privacy? awkwardness?) or they realised that an arrangement of smaller tables (tables for two along the walls, a few tables for four placed in the center) actually maximized the capacity of their dining room. They don’t have a large arrangement of counters the way the Newbury Street outpost does, an arrangement which does maximize that location’s small space. I did notice that by the time we were finishing our meal, the dining room was filling and a few parties were waiting when we left. I think the redecoration may have had more to do with capacity and less to do with any negative feedback from diners (it was an unorthodox seating arrangement for this country, but I liked the freshness).


Mr. Chan’s
East Milton Square
Milton MA

large Egg Rolls 
one pint Hot & Sour soup
Appetizer A
Boneless spareribs, chicken fingers, beef teriyaki
General Gau’s Chicken
Crispy chunks of chicken sauteed with our master chef’s special spicy sauce
House lo mein
with chicken, shrimp, and pork 


I wish that “large” egg rolls meant “more than two.” If I were a restaurant I would assume that the majority of my patrons are either singles (who would like leftovers) or couples (which contain two people), and in either case two egg rolls would be necessary. If the two of us wanted more than one egg roll each, e.g. as a leftover, we would need to order two large orders of egg rolls, and this seems excessive. But the egg rolls, no matter how many come in a “small” or “large” order, are well-made and fried evenly but not soggy with oil.

The hot & sour soup is DH’s treat, and while he was not impressed with it at first, he says it has improved over time as a leftover and it actually wound up quite tasty. I don’t know what sort of soup needs to be aged that much beyond when it was first served, it seems to me that if the soup needed to rest to let the flavours mature, this would have been done before it was served at the restaurant.

Last time we visited Mr. Chan’s we ordered Appetizer C, because we thought the “pork strips” would be the barbeque-flavoured strips DH likes so much in pu pu platters; they weren’t, they were just medallion-sized slices of plain pork. Appetizer A contains “boneless spareribs,” which is exactly what DH wanted.

The General Gau’s chicken that was divine last time we visited Mr. Chan’s completely put me off this time and I am sad to say it. I found two small pieces of cartilage in two pieces of chicken right away; DH found one the next day, a larger piece, while reheating leftovers. After the first incident I avoided the chicken because I was not willing to chance a repeat incident, but DH soldiered on.

I felt like the quality of this visit was starkly inconsistent against the quality of our last visit. Maybe the kitchen was strapped for manpower; maybe it was an off day for everybody; I’m not sure. But the next time we decide to get Chinese take-out, I might be tempted to go somewhere else just for a little break.

John Harvard’s Brew House
Harvard Square
Cambridge, MA

Gourmet Mac & Cheese – Carbonara
Cavatappi pasta topped with panko bread crumbs, rendered bacon, fresh green peas and cheddar cheese


John Harvard’s gourmet mac & cheese comes in three specialty flavours: South of the Border (Gouda and chorizo); Buffalo (roast chicken, bleu cheese, and Buffalo sauce); and Carbonara (bacon and peas).

Really, really, really good. Also really, really, really hot when it comes to the table, so don’t touch the plate and give it a few minutes to cool before you dig in. The cheese gets inside the cavatappi and each pasta becomes a cheesy, hot vessel. Three cheers of the bread crumbs, and that’s not something I praise often — panko bread crumbs here are big and laid on thick and browned to an excellent crisp — a cheesy cavatappi rolled in panko is joy at the end of a fork. The bacon was cut in large pieces and cooked so well that it retained its chewy, bacony nature, nothing like tiny bacon bits burnt to a crisp that passes for bacon in some establishments. The peas could have been more tender or more plentiful, but I am a bit of a sucker for a tender, sweet pea.

The worst I can say is that the leftover pasta did not refrigerate or reheat very well. It tasted a little mayonnaise-y when I tried so I ate it cold instead.

My girlfriend’s South of the Border mac & cheese looked great and the bite I had was just as tasty as my own dish, so I think next time I’m at Harvard’s for more than just a couple brews, I’ll be going with that dish.

Beachside Johnny’s
Quincy Shore Drive
Quincy MA

Half-and-half onion rings and fries

I usually don’t blog when we’ve only been somewhere for a quick snack. However, I am going to blog this evening’s stop at Beachside Johnny’s. Two summers ago this beachfront shack changed owners, and in the process the menu expanded. The menu at Beachside Johnny’s is huge — one extremely large whiteboard covered in tiny writing, plus various posted menu signs across the walk-in restaurant front — burgers, chicken, pizza, chili, Italian sausages, hot dogs, corn dogs, and countless types of ice cream and slushes… Hubby and I usually go for a lunch treat during the summer, and we usually get roast beef sandwiches (delicious delicious). Tonight we just needed a late snack, a little nibble, so we decided to get a bottle of water and a plate of fries. DH asked the owner/chef if he could do half fries and half onion rings. Apparently, in about two years of operation, no one had ever asked for this. There was absolutely no one else in the place, so he had plenty of time to cobble something together. Everything is made fresh to order, but in our case this even meant heating up the frying oil.

Nothing beats freshly-made food, even freshly-made fried food. I made the mistake of not letting it cool even a second before I snatched a small, fat onion ring off the top of the plated heap that was handed through the window. HOT but oh so tasty. Crispy exterior, perfectly cooked tender interior, no excess oil soaking the batter. I thought they were just nicely seasoned, but DH always needs to add salt so he salted his half of the plate. We sat on the restaurant’s front patio, enjoying the last glimmers of sunset and nibbling away. Then we took a walk up the beach a little ways, then back to the car and home when it started to get spring-night-chilly.

After we finished our snack, DH went back in to tell the owner/chef how much we enjoyed his food. He said that no one had ever asked for a half-and-half before and so it was an experiment for him, and on busy days he probably couldn’t have managed it but it was a quiet night. Upon leaving we promised ourselves that this summer, we’ll hop on the motorcycle and go down to the beach to sample more of the ridiculously enormous menu (in particular, the corn dogs and hot dogs).

Abington Ale House
Abington, MA

Buffalo Chicken Dip
Share an order of our secret chicken dip. Spicy, thick, three cheese dip with chunks of chicken served with celery sticks, carrot sticks and tortilla chips
The Ale House Prime Burger
8 oz prime beef burger topped with sliced beefsteak tomatoes, Bermuda onion and crisp iceberg lettuce
The Ale House Turkey Burger
8 oz of fresh ground turkey, hand-formed and grilled to your liking, served with green leaf lettuce, chipotle mayonnaise and sliced beefsteak tomatoes


An eclectically decorated, family-style restaurant. Even though it was the beginning of lunch hours, we were definitely on the early side and the place was practically empty — people were really starting to arrive about the time we left. I am going to a bridal shower at this place in a few months, so this trip had the double advantage of now I know where it is and how to get there. Have GPS will travel, but, still.

We tried to order onion strings and fries with our burgers. But, unfortunately, the fryolator was broken. This does not bode well for the Friday night dinner or Saturday lunch and dinner crowds if they can’t get it fixed before then. So we ended up having side salads (very modestly sized but good) instead of fries with our burgers, and reordering the appetizer. Buffalo Chicken Dip puts the chicken and the Buffalo sauce in to the melted cheese dip, making a particularly spicy and savoury queso con pollo dip. Served with mounds of red, blue, and white tortilla chips and celery and carrot sticks. Surprisingly delicious, even if I thought the chicken chunks were particularly large and in order to make a modest mouthful, I had to fork-cut each chunk in to about three smaller pieces, herd on to a chip, and top with an extra drizzle of sauce. The tenderness of the chicken is of course attested to in the fact that I could cut it with a fork. Even when I couldn’t manage the second half of my burger, I managed to continue munching, crunching, and dipping tortilla chips. Not filling at all, but satisfying to snack on.

Musing that the pepperjack burger might be too spicy, Meghan asked for chipotle mayo be added to her regular hamburger. I’m not sure about her experience, but the smear of chipotle mayo on my own turkey burger was so light as to barely impart a flavour to the burger. Better than being smothered, in my opinion, but I could have stood for something a little less subtle.

My own turkey burger actually far surpassed other chain-burger-joint turkey burgers. Plump and firm, delicately spiced to bring forward the flavour of the meat, I was very very pleased with my choice. Especially when my stomach is acting up and being “delicate,” which it was today, I do not have an easy time digesting red meat. None of the salads really jumped off the menu and appealed to me, so I decided to take a chance on the turkey burger. I am glad I did and given the opportunity, I would order it again. The patty was so thick I could barely open my mouth wide enough to encompass both it and the bun, and in size it certainly stood up to the hamburger patty (sometimes I notice that turkey burger patties can be appreciably thinner than their mooing counterparts).

The only thing that could have improved the plate before me (I couldn’t even miss the fries, really) would have been a big, fat, ice-cold kosher dill pickle spear. Or a dill pickle half.

With a dining room, a patio, and a generous-sized bar area for seating, the Abington Ale House can accommodate families,co-workers, groups of friends, and couples young and old for a meal or a night out in a comfortable, welcoming, homey setting.

Border Cafe
Harvard Square

Quesadilla with marinated chicken
Melted Monterey Jack cheese and salsa, stuffed in The Border’s homemade flour tortillas
Soft tacos
Two fresh flour tortillas stuffed with your choice of pulled beef or chicken and pico de gallo


In need of a little bit of food and something to drink after a rousing Saturday night concert, and with company at hand, I finally got to revisit the Border Cafe and order some food, my last visit having been entirely comprised of sangria. Though it was Saturday and there was a Celtics-Bulls game on, it was not too busy (we did not have to wait for a table) but it was a little loud and the bar service was a little slow. That was okay, we were in no rush whatsoever. Our waitress seemed a little rushed though and I was a bit worried about her; perhaps the restaurant was understaffed or something.

I wanted something filling but not heavy, so the appetizer of quesadilla with marinated chicken sounded just right. The quesadilla came cut in four slices but I took most of it home at the end of the night because it was a filling meal. There was heat, to be sure, but even for me it was a pleasant heat. DH has figured out that there are two kinds of heat: heat that stays at a steady level through the meal, and heat that builds; and I much prefer heat that stays at a steady level, almost no matter how hot it is. The homemade flour tortilla dried out a little upon reheating for next day’s lunch, but that’s okay.

DH originally ordered the popcorn crawfish appetizer, but the restaurant was out of crawfish tails and the waitress had to come back and get a new order from him. He ordered the soft tacos with chicken. He didn’t eat too much, but apparently halfway through the meal he was inexplicably seized by work-related stress and lost his appetite, so most of the second soft taco was brought home with us. The soft tacos were appreciably hotter than the quesadilla, which I attribute to the pico de gallo. The soft tacos had more meat and less cheese than the quesadilla, but otherwise were fairly similar. I don’t think there was enough chicken in the soft taco for DH’s taste, or he was not impressed by how the chicken was cooked, since he commented on the “mushiness” of his meal. I can definitely see where this critique came from, as the liquidy pico de gallo made for soggy tortilla leftovers.

I could definitely return to the Border Cafe for a weekday meal, when the big windows might afford excellent light and it may be less crowded and not as loud. Border Cafe specializes in Tex-Mex and Cajun/Creole, the latter cuisine being one I would like to spend more time exploring through restaurants and recipes.