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

Gyu-Kaku on Urbanspoon

WOW BBQ Restaurant, Malden- A First Look

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On a rainy late Monday summer evening in between thunderstorms, we stopped in to try WOW BBQ restaurant. This is the brick and mortar Malden location of the popular food truck that has been making the rounds in Boston for over a year. The new location has been open for 2 months now. WOW BBQ specializes in chuan’r, a type of charcoal-grilled kebab from Xinjiang, a northwest region of mainland China. The most popular kind is yang rou chuan’r, or cumin-spiced lamb skewer.

The restaurant is brightly lit with plenty of street parking available. They are open until midnight or later during the week. WOW BBQ in Malden is the only chuan’r restaurant that I know is open very late. Other places that serve chuan’r, namely One of The Kind and Gene’s Flatbread Cafe, are not open as late nor do the lamb skewers taste as authentic or good because they are deep-fried (Gene’s are only fried during the week supposedly) not grilled.

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The inside is freshly painted in red and black with fun, hip graffiti and large wall murals. There’s the main room with two large Samsung flat screen TVs and another room with a bar and another flat screen TV. They are in the process of creating a cocktail menu at this time. WOW BBQ is a good place to watch basketball or soccer games. One thing we also noticed is that they are also very social media savvy and use Facebook, Twitter and Instagram regularly as a large number of their customers are Chinese students.

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Sandy, our server, was a little stiff at first but perfectly polite. She explained the ordering process and made a few menu suggestions. You basically indicate what you want by placing the quantity of each predetermined meat/vegetable/drink next to the appropriate item and the server enters it into the computer system. If you prefer your food with a spicy kick their are containers of ground chili pepper on each table so you can season to your liking.

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Our server suggested that we try the cabbage and she was right. It was delicious. The cabbage was lightly tangy and covered with a peppery seasoning.

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The bok choy (top) was good but unfortunately swabbed with a bit too much oil. Next time we would probably request light or no oil on any of the vegetables.

The whole shrimp (bottom) were very tasty and perfectly grilled. I am always happy when my shrimp come with the head-on. That’s the best way to eat them because you get a creamy crunchy contrast.

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The beef skewers (top) were cooked to well done and turned too dry. Be sure to specify medium or medium rare so the meat stays tender. The seasoning was good.

We tried the chicken hearts (bottom) as we do love offal. The hearts were split into half, like little filets, before being threaded on the skewer. They were the right kind of chewy meaty muscle.

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The chicken skewers (top) were delicious because they were tender and well-seasoned. Very more-ish. They were my dining companion’s favorite of the evening.

The lamb skewers (bottom) were my favorite. The heavy cumin seasoning was the perfect complement to the lamb. Please note that they each had one piece of fat per skewer to keep the lamb meat from drying out while being cooked.

We highly recommend WOW BBQ Restaurant for their excellent chuan’r. If you’re a first timer, try the lamb, chicken, shrimp or cabbage skewers. We also suggest checking out their website or Twitter for weekly specials, because sometimes they offer small discounts. We wish WOW BBQ much continued success!

WOW Barbeque Restaurant
184 Salem Street
Malden, MA 02148

WOW BBQ Restaurant Facebook page

Wow BBQ Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Pho Viet’s, Allston- Banh Mi

Pho Viet’s is one of many mom and pop Vietnamese restaurants in the Boston area. They are located in the Hong Kong market food court. If you ever happen to find yourself hungry in Allston with only a few bucks to spare, look no further than Pho Viet’s. For only $3.75 (it used to be $2.70 when I first started coming here years ago), you can possibly get the best sub ever made.

The banh mi come in beef, pork, chicken, shredded pork, tofu, and ham. The only ones I’ve ever had are the beef and pork. They both taste fairly similar with the pork tasting a little sweeter to me. It starts off with a freshly baked airy baguette slathered in their house mayo. Next comes a generous portion of marinated grilled meat topped of with fresh crunchy tangy pickled radish & carrots, cucumbers, spicy chilis or jalapeños, and a few sprigs of fresh cilantro. It’s a simple yet delicious sub.

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Grilled beef

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Grilled pork

Don’t have high expectations of stellar high end customer service and you’ll be fine. They want you to order quickly and get you your meal as fast as they can. Service was fairly quick despite being in a queue at 6 in the evening that was 7 people deep. There’s not a lot of difference in styles of banh mi avaible but what sets different places apart is quality. The good quality and constant turnover of the ingredients combined with a good price help to make this a restaurant a regular in our Boston banh mi rotation.

We’ll be back to try the pho, bun bo hue, combination rice plates and of course, more banh mi.

Pho Viet’s
(Hong Kong Market food court)

1095 Commonwealth Ave

Boston, MA 02215

Pho Viet's on Urbanspoon

East Ocean City, Chinatown, Boston

Over the years, East Ocean City has been one of our family favorites for large celebrations and apparently it is for many as well.

Our father loves East Ocean City’s fried fish and extensive seafood dishes. In fact, EOC is known for their twin lobster with ginger and scallioin.

The popular Beach Street seafood restaurant has become overwhelmingly busy. Although the food still is executed well, the service is harried and we felt as if we were being pushed out to turnaround tables.

Throughout the restaurant, there are several fish tanks full of exotic species.

We started with complimentary oolong tea and pickled vegetables. Our father had so much to choose from including noodles, beef, of course seafood, a variety of dishes from tofu to fish to baby bok choy.

We deeply enjoyed the pan fried Baby Bok Choy with garlic for $9.25. The mini Chinese cabbages glistened and had a nice flavor. We couldn’t stop eating them and would order them again.

The Sliced Beef with String Bean, Mushrooms and Onions ($6.00) was covered in a thin pepper gravy. The tender beef went well with the onions, earthy mushrooms and blanched string beans.

The Pan Fried Jumbo shrimp with shell and head ($14.95) was nicely dusted in corn starch and lightly fried. The seasoning enhanced the salty flavor of the shrimp and the multitude of textures from the edible shell and tail was fanstastic. The best aspect of the shrimp are the heads full of creamy innards.

Our little brother’s favorite, Spicy Salted Spare Ribs ($11.25) had a nice spicy salt crust surrounding tender meat. The spare ribs were tasty.

One of our favorites are the Fried Stuffed Bean Curd ($11.50) topped with green onion and a light gravy. The tender tofu inside was soft and creamy and the exterior had a nice skin.

The Roasted Chicken with bone ($13.40) had flavorful soy skin, tender chicken meat and came with fried shrimp chips. Unfortunately, the light pastel shrimp chips were stale.

A true delicacy, we sampled the fried, battered anchovies. The thin, salty anchovies    came with fried wonton crisps.

Our father’s favorite, the Pan Fried Sole with Ginger and Scallion was divided by our waiter and in a flavorful sweet soy sauce. The slivers of scallions and ginger covered the fish. Surprisingly this sole was full of white beady roe. Although I am a fan of caviar and tobiko, not so much on cooked roe.

The complimentary tapioca and yam soup was lightly sweet and warming.

Overall, our meal at East Ocean City was tasty and solid food. Hopefully, the next time we visit we go on an off hour when there can be a higher level of service.

East Ocean City on Urbanspoon

El Jibarito, Old San Juan

After wandering the Forts and Old San Juan, we stopped at El Jibarito for some local cuisine. El Jibarito is 36 years old and has an interesting design concept. The interior of the restaurant has indoor window scapes and Disney-like building exteriors.

The bar area had the industrial green and white juicer we wish came in an at home model.Our favorite window diorama was the adorable wood cabin window scape, with a proper rocking chair.

We enjoyed the Holiday or Christmas plate, which was filled with pigeon peas and yellow rice, slightly sweet and fried maduros, tender pork riblets and Puerto Rican tamales (pasteles). The plate was filling and a traditional meal one would have at Christmas.

The shrimp in creole garlic sauce was light, fresh and was served with fried mofongo ($14.95).

Although milanesa was off the menu, El Jibarito made the breaded cutlet under special request. The milanesa itself was nicely crusted with a moist meat center. The rice and beans, gravy and potato fritters (similar to latkes) was a nice compliment to the milanesa ($9.95).

Our server was friendly and very quick. Although the food was very generous in size and filling, it was very tasty. We are waiting impatiently for the opening of South End/Roxbury’s Vejigante. The decor is suppose to be similar to El Jibarito with the pastel window scapes and authentic Puerto Rican cuisine. We can not wait!

Lolita Cucina and Tequila Bar, Back Bay, Boston Revisited

From burritos, tacos, ceviche to tapas, we have enjoyed Latin and Mexican cuisine at El Pelon, La Verdad, Temazcal, Toro, Ole Mexican, Zocalo, as well as Rick Bayless’s Xoco. Despite gorging on some amazing Latin cuisine recently, the best is still directly from the source. It was well overdue that we try the Mexican restaurant and tequila bar and former Papa Razzi for dinner, especially after previously enjoying margaritas and cocktails at Lolita. Lolita Cucina and Tequila Bar is open from 5pm on and is open until 2am daily (even Sundays). Most weekend evenings there is a line out the door. Upon entrance, there is dim red lighting and a coat check at the entrance and the sconces and candelabras evoke a haunting, but romantic sensibility. We gave our name with the staff, received an estimate for an hour wait and headed to the back bar. A group of us enjoyed a pitcher of Lolita margarita ($44) Sauza ‘100 years’, Patron Citronage, lime, cane syrup and grapefruit. It had the perfect balance of tangy and sweet. Very refreshing. My friend tried the red sugar rimmed Broken Heart, which I really enjoyed on my last visit, which contains St. Germain, Patron Citronage, white grapes and fresh raspberries ($13). This evening it was a bit too strong (normally we would not complain, but the drink’s balance was off).

The deep red roses in the square glass and votive candles at our table drove home the red theme. As we contemplated what we wanted to try from the menu from guacamole, tacos, enchiladas, sopas, ceviche, quesadillas to nachos we enjoyed the eclectic mix of dance beats including Canned Heat by Jamiroquai (the Napolean Dynamite dance song), Avicii’s Levels and the brilliant collaboration between David Guetta and Sia- Titanium. I love the music here.

As we were settling into our table, our friendly server placed a complimentary “smoking” chilled grapefruit granita with a splash of tequila. It was a great palate cleanser and a nice start. We started our meal with the Fresco guacamole with tomato, serrano chili, diced onion, cilantro ($9) served with a basket of fresh tortilla chips and a trio of complimentary salsas (red salsa, tomatillo salsa and crema).The not so hot mango habanero hot sauce needed to be kicked up exponentially on the Scoville scale to meet our tastes. One of my favorite dishes was the fresh and crusted Ahi tuna tostada ($13). The Pepita crusted ahi tuna was smooth on the crisp tortilla, creamy avocado, citter watercress and chipolte aioli. The combination together was delicious and I wish I had another one all to myself. The shrimp ajillo ($24) jumbo shrimp were perfectly cooked, seared in butter, garlic, chipoltle and lime and lay next to a bed of avocado, pink onions, radish and watercress. The garlicky pink shrimp had a nice contrast with the bitter greens. The pulled pork tacos were nicely marinated and seared, then sprinkled with cheese ($12). My friend loved this dish. Several of us ordered the Rib-eye tacos ($15) which our server said was very popular and was listed on the menu as sliced grilled rib eye, tobacco onions with garlic crema. We had this impression that the steak tacos would be a freshly grilled steak (fajita style) with light grilled peppers and super light. However, this was a heavier dish. A man’s dish maybe if you’re looking for something more hearty. The rib-eye tacos were filled with steak and slathered in a thick garlicky cream cause. Then they were completely covered in the equivalent of an entire Blooming Onion. The onion pieces were nice and crispy, but all the components of tacos combined enabled me to only eat one. My friend said it was too salty for her taste and it was too heavy for mine. I gave the two remaining tacos to a friend who appreciates a nice steak and fried onion rings. They devoured it and loved it. The Zocalo corn ($6) was nicely charred and covered in the cotija cheese. Despite this, there are much better, more flavorful corn to be eaten elsewhere, including La Verdad and Toro. As we wrapped up the bill, we received complimentary green apple cotton candy and a plate of Lolita temporary tattoos with a wet towel. The cotton candy was pastel green, super fluffy and a whimsical touch. The only downside was it was overly sweet and not many of us touched it after a little sampling. Perhaps a different flavor or use less sugar? Either way we had a great time placing the temporary tattoos on and reflecting on when we last used temp tattoos. Junior high for me. It took several failed attempts and reading the instructions (30 seconds of wait time to properly moisten the tattoo) to get the tattoo on, but we had fun. Lolita has fantastic ambiance, margaritas and all the staff from bartenders, bus boys, our server and the manager are expert at execution and making sure their guests were taken care of. Everyone in our party noted that Lolita’s service is impeccable and they would grab a few snacks and definitely enjoy the drinks again. Lolita Cocina & Tequila Bar on Urbanspoon

Hei La Moon, Chinatown, Boston (Dim Sum)

Hei La Moon serves dim sum until 3 pm on weekends. You definitely get an authentic dim sum experience- complete with the big round tables, waitresses pushing carts around, and loads Chinese people. Always remember that if the place is completely packed with Chinese people, odds are that the food is decent to pretty darn good. The restaurant is decorated with your typical Cantonese Chinese decorations- brightly colored or gold. Once seated, you will receive a sheet of paper that the waitresses stamp every time they give you food off of the cart. Prices are reasonable. I love being able to pick out my food from carts being wheeled around. Or, if it’s too busy, having to chase down the cart to get the food you want or even share your table with strangers. There is parking in a garage right above the building. There is also a Chinese supermarket, C-Mart, attached to the same building in case you need anything.

Having had Chinese food in NYC, Atlanta, San Francisco and LA, my sister and I both still agree that Boston is not yet up to par as these cities when it comes to Chinese food in general. However, I think the food at Hei La Moon is still quite good, and it’s probably one of the best dim sum places in Boston.

We came here for a late dim sum with friends. We tried:

Har gau

This is one of my favorite items to order at dim sum. They are always a solid winner for me. The shrimp dumplings are also fairly plump. Very soft smooth outside with lots of shrimp with water chestnut and ginger on the inside.

Siu mai

Probably some of the most pork-filled dumplings I have found in a dim sum restaurant in Boston’s Chinatown. My favorite version of this dish is made at Hei La Moon and I think they do a great job.

Har cheun fun

This shrimp rice noodle roll is always best when it’s fresh and hot from the kitchen otherwise it has a tendency to get gummy if they didn’t make it well. It doesn’t have as much shrimp as the har gau do, but the texture of the rice noodle and the flavor of the sweet soy sauce is good.

Wu gok

The fried taro dumplings are pretty good. These were made very well and we got them hot. In one bite you will get the crispy fried outside which melts into the creamy slightly sweet taro inside and then the savory minced pork meat center.

Turnip cake in XO sauce

Also known as “lo bak go,” these mashed turnip cakes are cooked right in front of you on the cart. They have a slight crispy outside, and a nice warm tender inside. It’s not too oily, which is good. The dark XO sauce on the side just makes the turnip cake even better.

Char siu bao

I always get the roasted pork bun. The bun itself is fluffy yet dense and the chopped roast pork is plentiful with a good meaty flavor. It’s a great choice if you didn’t order enough and want to fill up space in your stomach.

Phoenix claws

This classic dim sum dish of chicken feet always creeps out my dining companions. I’m not sure which one is stranger looking, the chicken feet or the tripe? What do you think? Either way, these chicken feet have plenty to gnaw on and are deliciously fall-off-the-bone tender.

Chinese crueller wrapped in rice noodle with scallion oil

I’ll admit this isn’t my favorite dim sum dish to eat. I like the crueller alone to dip into congee, or rice porridge but once you wrap it in thin rice noodles, you lose me. I then have no interest in eating it but my sister does like them a lot because it’s a cross between fried dough and rice noodles.

Sticky red bean cake

These sticky mochi cakes are pan-seared. The oooey-gooey mochi wrapped around the smooth red bean paste is very filling but satisfying way to end your dim sum experience.

If you’ve never had dim sum before, I would highly recommend trying Hei La Moon.

Hei la Moon on Urbanspoon