Garden Grille Cafe, Pawtucket

Garden Grille Cafe serves delicious vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free food. The Garden Grille Cafe displays its leadership in preparing vegetarian and vegan dishes done right. They are unpretentious, healthful, inventive and very tasty.

Before we went to the restaurant, our friends were sheepish asking if it was okay to a vegetarian restaurant. If there is amazing food, veggie or otherwise, we are there and willing.

We were discussing during dinner there still is a negative association and elitist stigma when admitting one is a vegan, vegetarian or even eating gluten-free. Portlandia and its organic Aliki Farms vignette highlights some of these perceptions, in a clever and absurd way.

I loved the plant motif, enchanting tree at the bar area, wooden seating, the dangling twinkle lights and light fixtures.

The staff was very friendly and patient educating us on various grains such as faro or items we were unfamiliar with. Although we were in a mid-sized group, the drinks did take sometime to be brought to the table. However, since we were not in any rush, we did not mind. The only time restriction we had that night was to get to Wildflour Vegan Bakery before it closed at 10pm.

Garden Grille’s menu is extensive and creative. There is vegan or gluten-free mac and cheese, tofu blts, butternut squash quesadillas, zataar tofu with horseradish mashed potatoes, hearts of palm burgers and many other specials.

There was a nice selection of beers, cocktails, as well as fresh smoothies. The Playa Tulum ($5) was a luscious and refreshing strawberry based smoothie. Tulum is on my list of travel to do’s and the New York Times wrote a colorful article how Tulum has become an emerging oasis of the fashion elite. If I visited Tulum, I would stay at Be Tulum boutique hotel.

Our new friends ordered multiple Moscow Mules (vodka and ginger beer) which was served an attractive Russian Standard copper mug. It is very distinctive looking and I plan on purchasing several copper mugs. Our other dining companion ordered a custom cocktail which had St. Germain and pear liqueur.

Garden Grille’s nachos were amazing, some of the best I have ever eaten for $10. They were light and not greasy, unlike nachos from chain restaurants. The jalapeno, scallions added nice flavor to the salsa, guacamole and vegan sour cream. The “cheese” was baked on the nacho chip, but very tasty.

Everyone seemed very pleased with their dishes including the Korean Tacos with sweet Chili Sauce, tempeh, cabbage and sriracha mayo for $8, the sweet potato wedges with bbq sauce for $6 and the Farm table special with sweet potatoes, turnips and faro for $16.

The Buttercup Squash Polenta  with Toasted Grains, Radicchio,  Beets,  Almond Romesco looked very tantalizing for $15.

Next time, I will order the Grilled Maitake Mushrooms with bok choy, sweet potatoes, red rice, roasted turnips and miso broth for $16. I was quite envious of the diner and could envision how this dish would taste. Earthy, lightly sweet and full of umami flavor from the miso.

Along with two other friends, we each enjoyed the Charred Leek Risotto Cakes  with Sweet Brown Rice, Brussels Sprouts, Oyster Mushrooms & Shallot, Cashew-Parsnip Puree and Pumpkin Seed Oil for $16. The dish was very lovely, hearty and very filling. The leek risotto cakes were my favorite aspect of the dish and had a nice flavor. The oyster mushrooms and cashew parsnip puree gave an extra layer of richness, which elevated the dish. I would definitely suggest this dish.

Our dining experience at Garden Grille was an impeccable one and I would suggest this restaurant to everyone visiting Providence. There are few exclusively vegetarian dining establishments of this caliber such as Grasshopper or reasonably priced vegetarian friendly restaurants such as Foo(d) AS220.

In fact, I prefer using creative vegetarian cookbooks such as Herbivoracious by Michael Natkin and Emmons’ Vegetarian Planet when I am in the mood for more veggie dishes. I am looking forward to another dinner at Garden Grille soon.

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Russell House Tavern, Harvard Square, Cambridge- Revisited

Russell House Tavern is a mid-priced dark-wood and leather decorated gastropub, located directly off the T-stop in Harvard Square. It is a popular location with locals and visitors alike. We previously had brunch at Russell House Tavern last fall and we have been looking forward to dinner since.

The food here is good and fills a definite food void for me in Harvard Square. There are cheap eats and higher-end fare to be found but nothing as well-rounded with delicious, quality fare in the mid-price range. It’s modern, clean and the menu has something for everyone. The focus is on creative casual American food that is locally sourced and seasonally grown.

Chef Michael Schlefo gives a nod to offal in quite a few dishes on the menu as well. Although portion sizes can be a bit tinier than expected for the price, I find that Russell House Tavern provides unique and comforting food and drinks that I will be returning for, again and again. I’ve certainly got my eye on the crispy soft poached egg and the grass-fed burger next time around. Please note that Russell House Tavern is owned by the Grafton Group which also runs Temple Bar, Grafton Street and opening in Fall 2012, Park at the former Redline location.

We came on a Friday night around 9pm after a show at the A.R.T. to find an overly crowded downstairs bar. Following the usual waiting routine, we put our names in with the hostesses. Obviously while we waited, we were going to scout out the bar and sit there if we could find seating for three. Poised and ready to snatch seats, we waited. And waited. Then stared and conversed amongst our little trio. We waited some more, then positioned ourselves on opposite ends of the bar and continued to wait for leaving patrons. Finally after a fairly short thirty minute wait (it probably felt much longer because we were hungry) we snagged two seats at the bar, pushed them together and shared the impromptu banquette all together.

There were three bartenders for the large bar downstairs that night. Each one was dressed in a nice uniform of jeans, a grey suit vest, button down shirt with rolled sleeves and a tie. Given the busy hour, it was a bit tough to get their attention, but managed to do alright.

City of Eternal Spring- Rosangel Tequila, St. Germain, Meletti Amaro, Lemon, Grapefruit Bitters for $10

I really enjoyed this drink because it had one of my favorite liqueurs in it- St. Germain- an elderflower liqueur. The citrus and tequila helped to tone down the sweetness of the St. Germain and liven things up.

Pimm’s Cup- Pimm’s No. 1, ginger beer, lemon, cucumber for $10

This national, refreshing, seasonal English drink is not on the Russell House Tavern menu but any good bartender should be able to make you one. Pimm’s is a lovely fruit and herb infused gin that is a staple at most bars and restaurants. Pour some Pimm’s over ice, add seltzer or your favorite ginger beer/lemonade/ginger ale, and garnish with cucumber if you want to make it at home.

Archer Farms Beef &Tongue Meatballs- roasted tomato, melted Robiola, sage $9

You get two meatballs folks. Yup, that’s right. Why am I warning you? Because these little babies are so tender and tasty that you’ll want a whole plateful. They melt in your mouth and can easily be eaten with spoon.The roasted tomato is well seasoned with salt on the outside so make sure you chew it well to release the concentrated sweetness you get from roasting vegetables.

Archer Farms Beef Heart Ravioli, Pecorino crunchies, red wine sauce, pickled apple $9

I liked this a lot but wanted to love it. It was somehow missing something to push me in the right direction sadly. I’m definitely willing to try it again. I loved the tender, meaty beef heart inside as well as  the sweet and sour pickled apples with the au jus sauce but something about the pasta exterior was off for me. It could have been a random fluke.

Painted Hills Steak Tartare, griddled caper-brioche, chip-in farm egg yolk for $8

This was a very good tartare. The meat is clean, lightly seasoned and tasty. The egg is not on top like most traditional tartare but already mixed in. The brioche was crisp on the outside and slightly soft on the inside. The only disappointment was it was a small portion. For an additional $2, you can get a slightly larger portion size.

Warm Burrata Salad, honey roasted brussel sprouts, apple, Calabrian chili oil for $10

I really enjoy good brussel sprouts so when I saw this on the menu, I had to try it. I was glad we did. The roasted sprouts kissed with honey combined with the sweet apples and spicy oil went well with the creaminess of the cheesy burrata.

Citrus & Juniper Cured Gravlax- rye crumbs, pickled grapes, creme fraiche $8

This is a new item on the menu and it was pretty good. The housemade salmon was silky, smooth and lightly seasoned with citrus salt. When I ate it, there was only a hint of the citrus and I didn’t detect any juniper. The rye crumbs were more like mini rye croutons.The pickled grapes were something new to me. I’d never had a picked grape before. Sure, I’ve tried picked onions and beets, but grapes were a new territory in pickled foods. They added a pleasant sweet tang to the gravlax. Try it for yourself and see.

Russell House Tavern on Urbanspoon

Coppa, South End, Boston

Co-Owners Ken Oringer and Jamie Bissonnette have racked up positive commentary for Toro (BMH review of Toro). Since Coppa’s opening in October 2009, the South End has welcomed the Italian tapas eatery with glowing reviews for its salumi, pig terrine, burrata and pastas. You must be amenable to nose to tail dining including hearts, ears, sweetbreads.

Chef Bissonnette (Food & Wine’s 2011 People’s Best New Chef Award) served oysters escabeche using moon shell oysters from the Cape, with cava and vinegar at the Chef’s For Obama Fundraiser. Ever since we sampled Jamie’s clever oyster rendition, we knew we would be visiting Coppa.

The main constructive comments we have heard is the wait. Perhaps due to Coppa’s popularity and its quaint, 40 seat size, friends reported more than a 2 hour wait time. This issue is now ameliorated and a moment of the past. Since early 2011, Coppa takes reservations for dinner.

The restaurant’s Italian wine list is extensive and the cocktails look fantastic.

Our server was very warm, sweet-natured, constantly filling our water glasses. She was very apologetic that the two items we wanted to order, the pig terrine and pig’s tail were not available. She suggested alternatives and her favorites, which we enjoyed, but was not the perfect substitute. The soft bread was fantastic in the lightly salted olive oil.

Berkel slicer and Viking panini press

The paper-thin duck prosciutto ($10) was melt in you mouth and had a lovely ducky flavor. I was alternating between laying a slice of the prosciutto on a bit of the rustic bread to savor the experience even longer. I wanted another order for myself and would definitely get this again.

The Bruschetta di Girasole, toasted crostini with roasted sunchokes, tasso ham butter, anchovies and garlic for $5 was tasty. Each of the components were enjoyable independently, but the tasso ham butter really tied the bruschetta together into a greater dish.

The Brussels Sprouts al Forno, wood roasted mini brussels sprouts with horseradish and pecorino ($9) had a nice bite from the horseradish. My dining companion commented that this dish was a bit heavy-handed on the salt. I agree.

Our final dish was the Fettuccine di Brambly, al dente house made chestnut pasta with wild boar and roasted chestnuts for $16. The rich wild boar heart with the smooth chestnut flavor was delicious. We ate this plate clean.

Although there was gelato and bread pudding for dessert, we did not have room. I would definitely be back to try the pig ear’s terrine, roasted pig’s tail and bone marrow pizza. I would also try Coppa’s brunch because I love pressed sandwiches, both savory and sweet. The Nutella Panino, Nutella and banana for $5 and Panino di Mattina, pressed proscuitto, fontina and farm egg for $10 are both beckoning me.

Coppa on Urbanspoon

Sweet Cheeks BBQ, Fenway, Boston

Top Chef competitor and former chef of now defunct Rocca, Tiffany Faison recently opened Sweet Cheeks. The amount of buzz in the food community indicates how it popular it has become and a new hit in the Boston area.

Redbones, Blackstrap BBQ and Darryl’s are some of the Boston area restaurants who offer ribs and Southern fare. Dare we say it? Sweet Cheek’s BBQ ribs are some of the best in town.

The bar has large screen televisions and the dining area has a lot of wood. Many tables had the bucket of four biscuits with honey butter for $10. I’m sure they are unbelievable, but sometimes $3 for a canister of six Pillsbury biscuits and homemade honey butter sounds good too.

Wood in front of the kitchen area with a pile of blue camping trays.

The Sweet Cheeks menu includes pork, ribs, chicken with a choice of hot or cold scoops or sides ranging from $6 to $12 such as bbq beans, collard greens, mac n’ cheese and coleslaw and carrot and raisin salad. The fried items includes hush puppies, fried green tomatoes and fried okra.

Patrons can order meat as sandwiches ranging from $10 to $12 or by increments of 1/4 lb, as well from $16/lb for the pulled chicken to $19/lb for the berkshire pork belly.

The little design additions were vintages pieces, as if they were freshly picked from Antique Archaeology.  I really loved the details of the antique scale and glass bottle Coca Colas in the fridge. Frank and Mike would be proud.

After checking out the menu and vibe one afternoon, we decided we would order take out another time. On our evening visit to the restaurant, the signs were vibrant all lit up.

Although Rocky Top cocktail with smokey apple cider moonshine, carriage house apple brandy, spiced apple cider, vya sweet vermouth ($10) looked awesome, but what caught my eye more was the beer selection, especially the Crispin and Hoss beers.

It was difficult to decide what to order for take out, so we decided to grab suggestions from the hostess and she suggested we get the ribs with broccoli casserole and the farm salad. Although she estimated we would wait 15 minutes our take out bag was ready in ten. Underpromise and over deliver.

We got the Berkshire half rack for $19 with our two scoops. Our rib tray was served with two slices of soft white bread, to sop up the sauces and slightly tangy pickled cucumbers and onions.

The high quality, dry-rubbed smoked ribs were lip smacking good. The thicker sweet barbeque sauce and North Carolina style vinegar sauce enhanced the flavor of the meat.

We would go back to the restaurant for the two sides, Cita’s Broccoli Cheese Casserole and the Farm Salad alone.

The salad had arugula, tiny brussels sprouts, halved red grapes, roasted hazelnuts, and a sprinkling of Pecorino Romano cheese. The broccoli casserole tasted like a broccoli and cheese quiche and made me want to try to recreate the recipe right away.

We will be back and make sure we make room for desserts. The cleverly named white trash fruit salad for $6 or the Giant Nutter Butter for $8 caught our eye.

Sweet Cheeks Q on Urbanspoon

Myers + Chang, South End, Boston

Myers + Chang restaurant is a co-venture with Joanne Chang of Flour Bakery and her husband, Chris Myers of Radius and Via Matta. Myers + Chang offers Pan-Asian fare, dim sum (bao and dumplings), stir-fried vegetables and creative desserts. The thoughtful menu is sensitive to those who have allergies and designates which items are shell-fish, gluten and nut free and which items are vegetarian.

The restaurant had an audible buzz and the patrons were well dressed and fashionable. We really enjoyed the Asian touches such as the lucky gold cats sculptures, Chinese newspapers lining the tables and the white and red plastic bowls (typically found in Asian supermarkets).

We tried the lychee soda with a marachino cherry and iced Vietnamese coffee. Our favorite of all the dishes we tried were the wok-charred brussels with caramelized onions. By far, these were some of the best brussel sprouts we have ever had, a bit of spicy, tangy, sweet and salty.

The Tiger’s Tears for $11 (bang bang & olufsen beef) grilled steak, thai basil, lime, khao koor was a bit salty. We also had to order Mama Chang’s pork and chive dumplings for $11, which had a nice chive scented filling.  The Taiwanese-style cool dan dan noodles with fresh peanut and chili sambal for $8 were really tasty and we loved the nutty flavor.

The tea-smoked pork spare ribs were positively delectable for $14. We have been to tea class with one of the few tea sommeliers in the world and she mentioned few chefs and home cooks are familiar with cooking with tea. These ribs had a light hint of tea and they were sublime. We may have to start cooking with tea this year.

We have been on the search for chicken and waffles and would love to go back and try Myers + Chang’s rendition of their chicken and ginger-sesame waffle for $17. Additionally, the hot & sweet sauce chocolate and cocoa nib terrine, Vietnamese coffee sauce for $7 will be tested in the near future.

Myers + Chang on Urbanspoon

Five Horses Tavern, Davis Square, Somerville

Five Horses Tavern is known for their great selection of beers, offering 36 rotating drafts and 80 bottles. The tavern replaced Sagra Ristorante and was a new addition to Davis in 2011. The beer tap lighting sculpture at the entrance is super cool.

Kegs = art sculptures

Walk in beer refrigerator

The dining area was buzzing, with every seat in the house filled. The dark wood, fireplace and chandeliers made the bar exceptionally warm and casual.

Three of us ordered the Fried Chicken Sammy for $11. The Kentucky Fried country style chicken breast, Kirk Webster’s raw Vermont honey, lettuce sounded too good to not order. The brioche was a bit too much bread, but was well toasted. The chicken itself was ok, the coating did not have much flavor, although the chicken inside was juicy. I think what made the chicken sandwich better with the honey and lettuce slaw.

All sandwiches come with choice of side including tater tots, cheddar jalapeno mashed potatoes, mesclun greens, fruit salad and we all went for crunchy and tender tater tots.

My vegetarian friend had the veggie burger, which she said was similar to a boca burger, nothing to sing praises about.

My friend’s apple crisp for $6 was such a disappointment and and tasted as depressing as it looked in its bowl. Although the vanilla ice cream was good, the crisp was cold, as if it was scooped from the fridge and not heated fully. Unfortunately, our waiter suggested too late to get the creme brulee. Next time.

Whenever I am in the Davis next, I’ll try the kentucky fried cornish game hen (k.f.c.g.h.) with jalapeno cheddar mashed potatoes, pork belly spiked mac and cheese ($16), the pork belly taco, crisped confit pork belly, pickled red onions, dragon lady sauce, ($5) and brussels sprouts with pork belly, pickled apples, fish sauce vinaigrette, shitake and wood ear mushrooms ($5). I heard these three items are unbelievable and the sprouts even made a friend who hates brussel sprouts a convert.

Five Horses Tavern on Urbanspoon

Coda Bar and Kitchen, Back Bay, Boston

After a decade of piano instruction, I have always known coda as a music notation. Coda the restaurant, directly next to Cleary’s, means Columbus Avenue and Dartmouth Street and fantastic cocktails paired with cozy American food.  

The dining room has funky art on the brick walls and white canvases on the ceiling to dampen the noise level. Although there is spacious bar and bar tables in the back, I personally prefer the few booth seats in the immediate front of the house for additional privacy.

Their specialty drinks are mixed to perfection and I have enjoyed the Basil gimlet martini and sangria before.

We tried the Madagascar Manhattan (Woodford reserve, Madagascar Vanilla, vermouth, bitters) for $10 and the Grapefruit Press (Absolut Ruby Red Vodka, St. Gremain Wile Elderflower, Grapefruit juice and lime) for $9.

The grapefruit press had a lightly sweetened and tart flavor and I could have easily finished off the drink in a few minutes. The Madagascar Manhattan is one of my new favorites being strong (good economic value) and has a hint of sophistication from the vanilla. I was happy to enjoy the candy sweet marschino cherry at the very end.

Delicious olive bread with fresh hummus

I have been known to have a few of their solid chargrilled 10oz. Black Angus Hamburger with bacon and bleu cheese. However, no burgers for me that evening, the best item we enjoyed was the pine nut bacon salad.

The frisee had little chunks of blue cheese, pinenuts and vinaigrette for $8. The multiple layers of saltiness, creaminess and nuttiness was genius. Conceptually, this salad is a simple one, because bacon and bleu cheese is an old flavor combination. However, the addition of the pine nuts with the dressing gives the salad an exponential factor that makes me want to order this again.

The side of brussel sprouts were well seasoned and going well with the rest of the meal, however we have had better ones at Myers + Chang.

The duck fettucine appetizer ($9 appetizer/$18 for entree portion) had tender pieces of duck, al dente pasta, ragout of root vegetables and duck jus. The dish was hearty and is perfect for those bitter cold evenings.

The steak frites was a great entree for $20. The medium rare, chargrilled balsamic marinated hanger steak had a nice texture and the handcut shoestring fries were seasoned well, but nothing spectacular. The frisee with balsamic vinaigrette that accompanied the steak allowed us to make an impromptu steak salad.

Our server was very charismatic and attentive and the bartender was very friendly and laid back. Looking forward to Coda’s cocktails and more comfort food to fend of the remainder of the winter.

Coda Bar & Kitchen on Urbanspoon