Highland Kitchen, Somerville

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We stopped into Highland Kitchen for a late night bite with friends on a Saturday and sat in the bar area. This place was crowded and packed with people even though it is not a very large space. Even the tables are very close together in the dining area. It is also so loud from the crowd and music that it is hard to hear what your companions are saying. This is definitely a place to hang out with friends for drinks because face it, you’re not here for a date with the kitschy hipster ambiance. This restaurant and bar is hugely popular but we are not sure we get all the hype.

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Monsoon

It’s summer. Tropical rum drinks are in season and this one does not disappoint. It’s a boozy sweet mango in a cup.

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Cuban sandwich

The Cuban is mouthwatering-ly scrumptious. There’s a good ratio of meat-cheese-bread. The bread is hot and toasted while the cheese is freshly melted. The only thing that bugs me us that the plate is nearly two thirds full with mediocre fries. These fries are the kind that are just awful after they cool off from the fryer.

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Chocolate mousse

This dessert was delicious. The chocolate strength was perfect and the consistency was fluffy and smooth. The pecan cookies were a nice touch. I have to ask why the dessert was the size of an espresso cup for $8 because I wanted much, much more. I guess I’ll never know.

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Overall, Highland Kitchen is fun for drinks but the pricing or the quality of some of the food needs to be better. Granted, these are Somerville/Cambridge prices, where a lot of things are inflated. We definitely would come back, just not on a busy Friday or Saturday night and definitely with reservations to try more drinks and food.

Highland Kitchen
150 Highland Ave
Somerville, MA 02143

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Crave Mad for Chicken, Chinatown, Boston

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Crave Mad for Chicken is a chain that originated in New York with sister locations in NJ and MA. Their claim is they only use fresh, never frozen and all natural chicken. We tried out Bonchon’s new Boston competition with no expectations and an open mind.

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The decor is very modern, sleek and spacious. The bar and lounge is on the left when you walk in, tables are in the middle and the sushi bar as well as the kitchen are in the back. The only negative thing is that the music is played far too loud, as if we are in the club raring to get on the dance floor. The only silly assumption I can make is that because the customers seem to be mostly young adults and students, they may want loud music to go with the myriad of scorpion bowls we saw being consumed. Parking is very easy. If you go down Hudson Street, directly behind Crave Mad for Chicken, there us a fenced in lot owned by Tufts. If you park there and give the parking attendant your receipt afterwards, parking is free after 4 pm.

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The menu offers a wide variety of savory Korean fried chicken, sushi, tapas, craft beer and scorpion bowls. If you follow their Facebook page, they sometimes randomly offer $1 oyster nights on game nights. One of the things that we noticed is that their are more wing sauces to choose from- soy garlic, spicy, extra spicy, BBQ or buffalo.

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Rock and Rye old fashioned on left, Wild Cherry on right

All I can say is that they mix their delicious drinks on the strong side. ‘Nuff said.

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Sushi pizza

Sushi pizza is a great starter. The crispy rice base is a good foil to the tender bits of salmon, tuna, and octopus that is lightly dressed in spicy mayo. It’s perfect for sharing between 2-4 people.

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Medium Half and Half Combo

We opted for the medium half and half combo, or 10 wings and 4 drumsticks. We questioned our server about the difference between Mad- spicy and Furious- extra spicy sauce, then decided on the Furious sauce. The chicken tasted great after it arrived at the table. I know the restaurant recently opened and has a few things to still work out, but it is definitely decent chicken. When it is fresh, it is crisp and delicious. The chicken meat is tender but the wings are much smaller in size than I expected. I don’t think it would be very good the next day or even as take out because it would get soggy. Unless of course you don’t mind reheat then in the oven. The soy garlic sauce is similar to Bonchon’s and balances sweet with savory well. The furious sauce is similar to Bonchon’s as well, spicy with a good kick of heat. I just don’t get why they offer a mad sauce which is like a mild medium spicy then. It sort of defeats the purpose of eating spicy food. Even buffalo sauce is more of a medium spicy level in comparison.

If we had to rank the Korean chicken overall, we would rank it as good for Boston, but okay for national. For people who can’t make the trek to Allston, Crave Mad for Chicken hits the spot because of it’s Chinatown location and ease of parking. We’ll be back to try other sauces and more chicken. Maybe we’ll even explore the sushi and soju drink menu further.

Crave Mad for Chicken
75 Kneeland St
Boston, MA 02111
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Gyu-Kaku, Brookline- Japanese BBQ

Gyu-Kaku is a Japanese chain that focuses on grilling your meat over open charcoal and gas flames. They have many locations in California, New York and internationally. The restaurant has mini-grills built into the tables, with seating for 151 inside and another 40 outside, and are open for lunch and dinner daily.

The decor and atmosphere here is lovely. Gyu-Kaku has mostly dark wood decor, but it is decorated beautifully. If you have a larger party, you may be seated in the back area which has light wood decor. The layout follows that of Japanese culture, where feeling a sense of privacy is emphasized, even though you have people directly next to you.

Gyu-Kaku features an array of Japanese and Korean items–with the focus being on barbecued beef dishes. They also offer large course prix-fixe style meals for 2 to 10 people. Some of the menu options include cold vegetable appetizers, miso soup, kimchee, maki, gyoza, ramen, bibimbap, short rib, prime rib, lamb, duck, shrimp, Kobe style beef, and spicy pork. You can choose to marinate your meats in any of the following flavors- miso, tare, basil, shio, garlic, yuzu- or have your server choose for you.

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We ordered about 3 meat dishes per person and it definitely wouldn’t be enough if we didn’t have miso soup, salad, and rice to go along with it. Be sure to order accordingly. Also, if your meat starts to stick to the grill, it’s time to have your waiter switch out grill plates for a new one because the meat will stick and rip. Normally, we switch grill plates 3-4 times a visit. We also got a side of asparagus. They pre-marinate it inside the foil, we don’t recommend getting it because it gets soggy, even though you cook it for a minute on each side. My favorite meats were the Kobe style flap steak miso and the Kobe style tri-tip tare because they were both very flavorful and tender. Unfortunately I forgot to take a picture of them in my excitement to eat. You can get them as a happy hour set sometimes.

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Miso soup

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Half house salad on the left, seaweed salad on the right

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Beef tongue with lemon

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Chicken basil, premium sirloin, shrimp garlic, filet mignon from top to bottom

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For dessert, we shared the Lady M Green Tea crepe cake with ice cream. Every Thursday, the restaurant receives a shipment of freshly made cakes from this popular NYC bakery. It’s a French style dessert that is not commonly made in Boston, so I would definitely try it once. Quantities are limited, so time your meal accordingly. I really enjoyed this crepe cake because it was not overly sweet and the green tea flavor was balanced. The texture is unique- delicate, creamy, and a little sponge-cake like.

Customer service here is very prompt and friendly. Prices at Gyu-Kaku can be expensive for the amount of meat you get, so I would come here during weekday happy hour as prices are much cheaper than dinner. Happy hour specials are available from 11:30am – 5:00pm and 9pm-10:30pm, Monday through Thursday. This is a good deal because you can save 50% on select dishes. I can’t wait to come back to try more meats, especially the duck and pork belly, as well as try a special set meal.

Gyu-Kaku
1002 Beacon Street
Brookline, MA, 02446

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Dumpling House, Cambridge

When we heard Gourmet Dumpling House was opening a sister restaurant in Cambridge, we were thrilled. There aren’t not a lot of really good quality Chinese restaurants in Cambridge, so we hope it helps elevate the quality of Chinese food further in the area.

We came in on a Sunday night to try out their food. Other friends had mentioned to us that they were open for business so we invited them along.

The is a lot of nice, clean, bright open space inside the restaurant. We really like the wall hangings that they use for decoration.

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Mini Soup Dumplings with pork aka Pork xiao long bao

These soup dumplings were the primary reason we came for dinner. We ended up with two orders because they were good, but not great compared to the location in Chinatown. To eat a soup dumpling, you have to wait for it to cool down a bit, then gently bite down on the wrapper and suck out the soup. Then you eat everything else. These ones had a good amount of soup and ground pork inside. I wish the ground pork was more flavorful however.

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Beef with Scallions Roll in Pancakes aka Scallion pancake wrapped beef

This was a decent version of this Taiwanese traditional appetizer. The beef was tender and the scallion pancake a bit thick but very crispy. We needed more dipping sauce because they didn’t put enough inside. It was good and we would definitely order it again but Jean & Lee Kitchen in Newton makes an even better version in our opinion.

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Baby Clams in Special Chili Sauce

This dish would have been excellent if the clams were properly washed and not so gritty. It was hard to decide because the flavor and the heat from chili sauce were delicious. The major issue was not knowing if you would get a sandy clam really put a dent in our enjoyment. Every fourth or fifth clam we would go “Awww, more sand!”

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Sizzling Beef Short Ribs with Black Pepper Sauce

This beef short rib dish was very good. The beef was tender from the marination and very more-ish. These sesame seeds on top added a light crunch, which was nice. There were more onions than peppers in the pepper sauce. We would order it again.

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Beef and broccoli

The beef and broccoli stir-fry was good as we hoped it would be. Beef was fresh and the broccoli was not overcooked but still a little crunchy. Everything was stir-fried with soy sauce. This isn’t a true Chinese dish however. It is a Chinese American invention. This is my friend’s take out favorite so if it wasn’t up to par they probably wouldn’t return on their own. They liked it immensely.

As with many Chinese restaurants, the customer service aspect is sincerely lacking, as the emphasis is on food, not service. As long ad you don’t take it personally and realize this is a cultural difference, you should be fine. We ended up with two different servers. The first one was polite but had to leave because their shift was over and the second one was extremely brusque.

Overall, Dumpling House puts out solid Chinese food. With some adjustments as they get used to working as a team, it can be as popular and as delicious as Gourmet Dumpling House in Chinatown.

Dumpling House
Central Square
950 Massachusetts Ave
Cambridge, MA 02149

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Shabu & Mein, Cambridge

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Shabu & Mein is a new shabu and ramen restaurant in Cambridge that opened about a month ago. It’s located very close to the Cambridge side Galleria, across the street from The Helmand and The Similians. This is the 9th restaurant opened by the JP Fuji Group, who owns Fuji 1546, Fuji at Kendall, B Cafe, and Yocha for example.

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The decor is quite lovely. The restaurant is clean and neat, as well as modern and contemporary. The front main room that you enter from is strictly for shabu because all the tables have 1-2 induction stove top plates installed in them.

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If you go through the long hallway in the back, there is another area with more seating and a full bar for drinks. The windows in this room are very large and let in a lot of light. They usually seat the customers who are eating ramen in this area.

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It’s very important to check out the special’s board in the front room. They tend to have some interesting meats or drinks available. The tontoro and ostrich both intrigued me because most of the shabu places I have been to around Boston don’t offer either item.

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We tried the 6 piece wings. We got 4 sweet soy, 1 Sriracha and 1 spicy BBQ Gangnam style. To be frank these wings were good but not as good as BonChon, which are double fried. They were definitely tasty and the chicken mean was succulent. The sauces were nice and had good flavor. My favorite was the sweet soy and spicy BBQ. The Sriracha fell short in terms of flavor because it just seem like the wing was dunked in some Sriracha. Because they were coated in sauce, the crispiness was lost from frying. The Sriracha one had the least amount of sauce and was more crunchy than the others because of the lack of sauce. The other deterrent for us to re-order wings again is price because they were charging similar prices to BonChon.

If you opt to do shabu, there are a lot of options for broth, meats, and vegetables. You can choose to order a la carte or do a combo. An order of meat/seafood or double/triple meat/seafood combo will come with your choice of rice/noodles and a side of vegetables, which includes enoki mushrooms, daikon, taro, tomato, spinach, and cabbage.

There are 14 broths to choose from- regular, kimchi, tom yum, spicy Szechuan, miso, Tonkotsu, vegetarian, soybean, beef & tomato, Vietnamese pho, Japanese curry, cilantro with preserved duck egg, goji berry, and salmon with cilantro & ginger.

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We ordered Tonkotsu (left) and regular broth (right) for the non-spicy eaters. The tonkotsu broth had much more flavor than the regular broth. Although both are made with pork, the tonkotsu had a stronger, more flavorful taste while the regular broth did not taste like much. I do not recommend getting the regular broth because it is almost flavorless, unless you don’t want to pay for the flavored broths.

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We go Szechuan broth on both sides of the other shabu burner. It was spicy and the waitress was clear to state that if it wasn’t spicy enough, we could have them make it even spicier. That’s music to my ears since I love to eat very spicy foods.

Along with the broth, the waitress brought out the dipping sauce and condiments. The dipping sauce and condiments were the same as the majority of Japanese style shabu places we have been to. You get chopped garlic, chopped chilies, scallions and hoisin paste. You can use these condiments to doctor up your own dipping sauce for the shabu.

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Tilapia and cabbage

Co-owner Jimmy Liang sent these two items out gratis because we were talking about how whitefish and cabbage in the condensed Szechuan broth would be similar to clay pot Szechuan sliced fish together. He was absolutely spot on. It was delicious and we definitely will be trying this combination again.

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Bok choy, watercress, taro

One thing that I was very pleased with is the quality of the vegetables that Shabu & Mein offer. The bok choy and watercress were the freshest and most vibrant green I have ever received at a shabu restaurant. Usually the greens we order are not as fresh and tend to look more tired. The taro was just slices of taro, no pre-pansearing for this shabu place to soften this tough root vegetable up.

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Angus beef (left), chicken (right)

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Half order of ostrich (front left), beef tongue (back right)

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Prime beef (below, lower right corner)

We were very impressed with the level of attention and excellent service we received here. If you’ve never had shabu before, they are very patient and will explain the process step by step. We’ll definitely be back for more shabu or to try the ramen in the bar area. Talking with Jimmy Liang was refreshing because he is passionate about food and his businesses. We wish them much success with the JP Fuji group’s 9th venture.

Shabu & Mein
148 1st Street
Cambridge, MA 02142

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KO Pies, East Boston- Super Burger Bros Level 4 Pop-up

Almost two weeks ago, we went to the Level 4 burger pop up for Super Burger Bros. We had a great time at Super Burger Bros Level 3, so we were really looking forward to seeing what they would be serving up this month.

Level 4 was held at KO Pies at the Shipyard with Chef and owner Sammy Jackson on Thursday, July 24, 2014 at 9 PM. The event was free to attend, with no reservations necessary at KO Pies and you could RSVP on Facebook if you so desired. For anyone familiar with the old Scup’s, you know that the location of KO Pies at the Shipyard is an odd one. It is located in the Boston Harbor Shipyard in East Boston’s Jeffries Point neighborhood, nearby Piers Park. You basically drive down Marginal Street, along the waterfront passing Piers Park on the right until you reach a guard booth. At the guard booth, you tell the guard you are going to KO Pies. Once they wave you through, KO Pies is located in an old brick building to the left. The space itself is simple, with an ordering area just inside the door after a cute parakeet in a cage at the entrance and a few red tables to the left. More seating can be found outside, with a covered patio that has a fair amount of communal bench seating as well as round tables with stools.

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There was only two draft beers available for purchase in the patio area when we arrived- Harpoon and Cooper’s pale ale, one of Australia’s top selling beers. Later on in the evening, bottled beer was available for purchase.

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The Filthy Aussie aka The Sammy Jackson- pickled beet root, charred pineapple, wok charred onions, fried egg, lettuce, tomato, bacon, Swiss, HP sauce, Iggy’s sesame seed bun

This burger was my second favorite of the evening. This was a burger with a lot of toppings. It was delicious except for the addition of the grilled pineapple. The pineapple wasn’t very ripe so it couldn’t play off the tartness of the pickled beets. The fried egg and soft onions went well with the juicy beef patty. The toasted Iggy’s bun was excellent as expected. Iggy’s truly makes some great bread. All in all, this burger did not disappoint in terms of flavor. I did however question why this was considered Australian at all, save the pickled beets & HP sauce, which Australians put on everything.

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The Walker Texas Ranger- carne asada style ground beef, Comote al Horno crema, pepper jack, pickled red onions, gordita bun

This was my favorite of the 3 burgers. The flat cornmeal gordita bun was different in a good way. It was very dense with a slight sweetness from the cornmeal and some crunch on the outside from the griddle. I could see how this whole burger was like a traditional gordita, which is like an arepa, but this take was more like a gordita on steroids because there was at least double the amount of filling. The thick, cool crema gave the pickled red onion something to contrast with besides the bun and burger. I think the red onions could have been pickled in stronger vinegar so they could have been more acidic tasting. Or maybe before serving a fresh squeeze of lime to add brightness. The carne asada burger patty was rich, studded with finely chopped green onion, cilantro, and garlic. The burger patty perfectly cooked to medium.

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The Blacked Out Drunk Count of Monte Cristo- jammy yolk, maple-cinnamon ketchup, tasso, 11 hour corned beef hash, baby Swiss, glazed donut bun

This was the burger that made me go maybe it works, yes it works, no it doesn’t. Sadly, I don’t love donuts. If this burger was on a more traditional type of bun, it would have easily been my first choice in the burger round up. Instead it ended up last. I felt like the donut and the rest of the burger worked great separately but when you put them together, maybe not so much. I ended up peeling off the donut and eating the burger paleo-style. You have to be a fan of eating sweet and salty foods together to really enjoy this burger. When I initially picked it up to eat, I had burger juice and sauce dripping down my hand. The corned beef hash and spicy, peppery tasso were drenched in the sweet maple-cinnamon ketchup and burger juice. I really loved all the meat elements in this messy juicy burger.

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KO Potato Wedges with Sweet Chili Sauce & Sour Cream

One order was more than enough for 2 people, but we stretched it to accommodate 3 because we were scared of overindulgence. The wedges were fresh from the fryer so they were piping hot and we had to wait for them to cool down. They were crispy with a mealy soft interior, just the way we like them. I actually preferred them plain or just the sweet chili sauce mixed with some ketchup. The sour cream was good with the wedges but definitely very rich.

We brought home two meat pies, beef stew and lamb, for lunch the next day. KO Pies at the Shipyard is an offshoot of the original location in South Boston. Their focus is on Australian food, primarily meat pies, though their menu does include other items as well. A variety of pies are offered- ground beef, beef and cheese, braised lamb shank, curried vegetable, beef stew, and a rotating selection of pies of the month. Each pie is roughly five inches in diameter, with savory fillings encased in shortcrust base and a puff pastry on top. All of the pies are quite filling, with one usually being more than enough for a meal, especially if you add on a side of garlic mashed potatoes and gravy, roasted fingerling potatoes, potato wedges, chips, green beans, or mushy peas.

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Beef stew pie

I made sure to reheat the pies in the oven for about 10 minutes to make sure the crust was crisp and the filling was nice and warm. The beef stew pie is simple and chock full of beef in a savory gravy. That’s it. I’d say the beef stew pie is perfect man food if you pair it with a side of mashed potatoes and more gravy.

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Braised lamb shank

This pie turned out to be my favorite of the two. The filling was tender braised lamb shank with peas, green beans and carrots. Surprisingly, the lamb shank didn’t have a very gamey flavor. The was a good amount of lamb to vegetable ratio.

KO Pies at the Shipyard is a fun and eclectic restaurant that is a unique experience. It’s a hidden gem. You can even take a water taxi from Long Wharf in downtown Boston right to the restaurant.

As far as the burgers go… Were these three burgers worth storming the castle for? To be frank, yes for the first 2 burgers and maybe for the last burger. We might just be burger traditionalists at heart who appreciate a few new twists, but we don’t fall into the mix-everything-and-the-kitchen-sink camp, over here. But our opinion is just that, an opinion.

We are still looking forward to seeing what these two great chefs cook up for August and hope to see you there. We’ll also be back to try more of the delicious meat pies at either KO Pie locations.

KO Pies at the Shipyard
256 Marginal St, Building 16
East Boston, MA 02128

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Strip T’s, Watertown- Dinner

Strip T’s is a restaurant that has a menu that is always evolving. We have really enjoyed our meals at the Watertown restaurant because there’s always something new to try. It’s a wonderful unique local eatery that can be popular among foodies and food industry people.

Strip T’s is a small restaurant with two rooms- a bar and dining area. The decor is simple and functional. The bar mimics this theme. There are blackboards displaying the specials, the regular menu and the desserts.

I started with a Virgil’s root beer, which is made in Maine. It was very good and not too carbonated.

We decided to try the much hyped about Moxie wings. They were tasty but the Moxie sauce was a bit to sweet. I can handle the stickiness but too much sugar made the sauce a bit cloying. The chicken meat itself was tender and delicious.

The roasted cauliflower appetizer was my favorite item the entire dinner. The cauliflower is something I would rave to others about if they wanted to come here. It’s a dish I’d attempt to recreate at home because I think it is so memorable and it uses simple fresh ingredients. The tangy crunch from the pickled onions went well with the crispy crunchy golden cauliflower and creamy bits of cheese.

This was the housemade sausage with quinoa. I really liked the sausage because it was a blend of pork but the quinoa was bland. The pickled baby beets saved me from disliking the dish completely however. A good squirt of hot sauce would have done the trick.

This was the smoked bluefish special. This was my second favorite of the evening. The strong smoky oiliness of the bluefish was tempered by the creaminess of the labne. The crunch from the cucumbers and radishes added a nice textural contrast when you chewed.

As a complimentary sweet ending to dinner they gave us mini cardamom marshmallows. The cardamom flavor was very pronounced in a good way.

We love coming to Strip T’s amd we will be back. On our return trip, we’d love to try the foot-on fried chicken, Japanese sweet potato fries, Strip T’s burger, the chocolate pots de creme and of course, more cauliflower.

Strip T’s
93 School Street
Watertown, MA 02472

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