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The Critics Ate Makimono, Squid Ink Noodles, and Tater Tot Poutine This Week

February 28th, 2017

At Ruka, Porto, and Roxy’s Central / A4cade

Cheesy snacks and vintage arcade games at Roxy’s Central & A4cade

February 27th, 2017
From left: Kara Brooks, JM Craven, and Cliff Ashbrook play video games at Roxy’s Central & A4cade.

ARAM BOGHOSIAN FOR THE BOSTON GLOBE

From left: Kara Brooks, JM Craven, and Cliff Ashbrook play video games at Roxy’s Central & A4cade.

Where to Roxy’s Central & A4cade, a hybrid grilled cheese shop, game room, and bar. This emporium of wholesome fun is a collaboration between Roxy’s restaurateur James DiSabatino and Area Four’s Michael Krupp.

What for Board games, booze, burgers, and grilled cheese. It’s a gluttonous mullet: Enter at Roxy’s for counter-service grilled cheese and tater tots; linger at stools or a table with Cambridge families introducing their toddlers to poutine. Or proceed through swinging doors into a holding pen-slash-storage area. You’ll step through what looks like a walk-in fridge — just call it a speak-cheesy — to present your ID to a host, who’ll outfit you with a paper bracelet. Once you’re in, it’s a free-for-all: Play skeeball and vintage arcade games like “Ms. Pac-Man,” ogle the longest shuffleboard table in the city, and order up some drinks. But prepare for a wait: Everyone had the same idea as you.

The scene Studio 54 for gamers. Michael Jackson’s “Rock With You” plays on the speakers. A Dr. Who arcade game twinkles alluringly. Three guys play foosball in a corner. Another man caresses the shuffleboard table, murmuring to it like a lost love. People mill around in a daze, awestruck by the assortment of throwback gaming options, occasionally clutching one another and squealing. A slushie machine behind the bar implores, “Drink Me!”

What you’re eating Meals designed for young metabolisms. Roxy’s is known for its husky grilled cheese sandwiches, and these are here in profusion, loaded with short ribs, bacon, guacamole, and more. There are also hot dogs, coated in smoked gouda sauce or topped with sliced pickles, and bacon cheeseburgers. A “fried potatoes” menu section offers truffle, cheese, and loaded fries, plus a beefy poutine, also available in tot form. For dessert, vanilla soft-serve.

Care for a drink? Enter A4cade for playful tipples like rum-and-coconut brain-freezer The Kill Screen and There’s No Crying in Skeeball, a tequila-based concoction that’s “spicy AF,” per the menu. A “Gettin’ Tiki With It” section promises tropical temptations like a Land Shark with cognac and passion fruit; Schwing, Schwing is a “foxy mixture” made with rye and plums. Or you could always order a magnum (P.I., heh-heh!) of wine.

Overheard Testosterone-fueled excitement; praise for poultry. A fellow with a fluffy man-bun punches his pal in the shoulder. “I’m gonna get my ‘Mortal Kombat’ on, man!” he says. A trio of young gents, one of whom wears a long navy lab coat, discuss the economics of arcades. “If you’re gonna open one of these places, the games had better be cheap,” says one. A man with a “Star Wars” long-sleeved T-shirt rhapsodizes about fried chicken. “Last time I was here, I ordered two! But I think you need to be drunk to do that,” he concludes.

292 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, 617-945-7244 or 617-714-3960, www.roxysgrilledcheese.com or www.areafour.com

Review: Riding the waves at new Jody Adams restaurant Porto

February 21st, 2017

Last year, a few months after co-owner and chef Jody Adams and the team from Trade opened their lively, suave Mediterranean-on-Back Bay restaurant Porto, I waddled in to review the place. Adams was perched at the bar.

It was October — four months and one chef de cuisine ago. Eataly, lurking in the Pru next door, wasn’t open yet. Rialto, long Adams’s flagship, had closed upon her departure in June.

Like a lot of things at Porto, the cocktail cart is a little better now.

This month, the cart pulled up to my table with two different aged rums and delivered a daiquiri that maintained the drink’s trademark tartness but added several layers of complexity.

Dragging the bartender into the middle of the room to do tricks like the chef at a Mongolian barbecue is still a godawful affectation. But the drink was good, and there was no chance of burning down the building.

 More than six months into Porto’s run, Adams — along with co-owners Eric Papachristos and Sean Griffing and recently added chef de cuisine Andrew Hebert — has steadied the ship somewhat. The deceptively spacious dining room, next to Saks Fifth Avenue in one of the city’s highest-rent districts, is a stunner. Subway tile lines the long open kitchen; macro photos of seafood hang on poured concrete walls; the dark, glassed-in front room can be bustling and even uncomfortably loud, while the main dining room offers a warmer, cozier vibe; a long L-shaped counter rings the kitchen, and a separate bar overlooks the street. And an elegant patio offers A+ people-watching opportunities in the summer.
Owing perhaps in part to Adams’s long track record, the crowd seems to skew slightly older, and some stop to greet Adams — still watching from the bar during one recent dinner service.

The restaurant is named for the Italian and Portuguese word for “port,” and the menu focuses on fish in its many forms; it excels with Mediterranean-inspired meze plates, raw and cooked, cold and hot.

A crudo of fresh scallops displays precise knifework, and a dice of briny, crunchy nicoise olives offsets the sweet shellfish. Clams and guanciale — cured pork jowl — swim in a rich, fennel-seasoned broth that will have you searching for a spoon once the bread has run out. Crunchy, cornmeal-dredged oysters and a bright preserved-lemon aioli complement each other perfectly.

Grilled octopus at Porto.

LANE TURNER/GLOBE STAFF

Grilled octopus at Porto.

Grilled octopus is omnipresent these days — good thing they have so many tentacles, I guess — but Porto’s version is anything but perfunctory. Mining the southern coast of the Mediterranean for flavor, the perfectly tender, lightly charred cephalopod is surrounded by chickpeas (whole and hummused) and hunks of eggplant and enlivened by harissa.

Pasta dishes, made in house, are also standouts. Squid ink noodles, sometimes a pointless gimmick, here redeem the whole black-pasta genre, tossed with delicate squid, chorizo, and peppers (an earlier incarnation, no longer on the menu, added a bright citrusy tang that made it even better). Delicate campanelle pasta, studded with roasted cherry tomatoes and covered with bottarga — cured, grated fish roe — would make for a good main course if it doubled in size.

That wouldn’t be a bad idea, because Porto, even now, is afflicted with the same disease that plagues so many otherwise excellent restaurants: The wonderful small plates are more exciting and better executed than the main courses.

Whether this is a terminal case remains to be seen. The entrees on Porto’s refreshed menu are indeed more interesting under Hebert, who worked with Adams at Trade and Rialto before gaining experience in kitchens all over the country.

Pan-seared monkfish, matched with Brussels sprouts, raisins, and pine nuts, is moist and flavorful, served with a swatch of squash romesco (apparently anything can be a romesco now).

Whole fried fish.

LANE TURNER/GLOBE STAFF

Whole fried fish.

Whole fried fish is crisp and tender and meaty — a snap to take apart and eminently shareable. Though the accompanying pool of aioli flavored with Aleppo pepper runs a few shades too salty, it’s easy enough to dip into it sparingly.

And fish stew, with a beautifully cooked cut of hake at its center and mussels, squid, and white beans swimming in a fragrant broth, is more cohesive and satisfying now.

But a massive boneless rib eye that should be a showstopper at $60 is instead marred by bad butchering. Imagine preparing a rich, bright sherry reduction, grilling and trimming a slab of beautiful romanesco, dotting the dish with black garlic and shaving a mortgage payment’s worth of truffles over the whole thing, only to spend the next half-hour chewing and hacking at connective tissue that shouldn’t be anywhere near a properly butchered rib eye.

And what to do with a pallid, gray confit duck leg — served with duck and pork sausage and a tasty fried cube of mashed sweet potato — that has been salted beyond all reason? After three visits of entree ennui, we’ve chosen to share three main courses among four people and pile on the small plates. If I was stuck with the duck all to myself, I’d be chugging water straight from the sturdy glass decanter on the table.

By the fourth visit, I’m totally convinced that the way to best enjoy Porto is to stick mostly to the small plates. Servers, warm and accommodating, and quick with clear recommendations, won’t dissuade you from that approach.

The bar is inventive and competent. The Greek negroni subs out every ingredient in a classic negroni but somehow succeeds in appropriating the idea with unusual flavors; to create a drink called Le Parfumeur, the bar infuses mezcal with black pepper and mixes it with good vermouth and a high-test version of the artichoke amaro Cynar, then cuts the heat with lemon and lavender.

Desserts run from satisfying to strange. Chocolate Om Ali, an Egyptian bread pudding made with coconut and coriander, is hot and sweet and melty; a cylinder of intense chocolate mousse in a pool of vibrant cherry syrup is easily enough for two. But get all the way out of here with a recent affogato, which asks an otherwise sane person to pour hot espresso over a fruity scoop of delicious, deep red sorbet, thereby ruining both.

Few area chefs have done as much to earn a loyal following as Adams. But whether the loyalists who flock here will find what they’re looking for is an open question. For all the grace and skill on display — on plates, in glasses, and all over the dining room — Porto can seem confoundingly adrift.

Campanelle.

LANE TURNER/GLOBE STAFF

Campanelle.

PORTO

Ring Road, Back Bay, Boston, 617-536-1234, www.porto-boston.comAll major credit cards accepted. Wheelchair accessible.

Prices Small and raw dishes $8-$17. Main courses $28-$60. Desserts $7-$12.

Hours Mon-Thu 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m., Fri-Sat 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m., Sun 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m.

Noise level The reverse mullet: party in the front, business in the back

What to order Raw scallop, barrel-aged Greek feta, fried oysters, clams, octopus, pan-seared monkfish, chocolate Om Ali.

Nestor Ramos can be reached at nestor.ramos@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @NestorARamos.

HOW RESTAURATEURS DESIGN SPACE FOR ROMANCE ON VALENTINE’S DAY

February 14th, 2017

Feb 14, 2017 Cameron Sperance,

 

While some attempt to aim Cupid’s arrow by sensually pairing entrees with live music, others are zeroed in on inviting materials. Restaurant owners look to surround their dishes with a romantic aura this time of year, and hiring the right team of designers is key to executing the perfect aesthetic shot.

Romantic restaurantFlickr / Portobay Hotels And Resorts

A restaurant build-out can cost a venue half its projected annual income, according to the Massachusetts Restaurant Association, so designers have to tug at purse strings before they can strike at diners’ heartstrings.

“Building for romance is definitely more expensive,” said Jo Megwa, owner of Italian eatery Piattini on Boston’s popular Newbury Street. The venue will open for its first Valentine’s Day since undergoing a romantic facelift.

“My designer fought me every step of the way,” Megwa said, “but we covered the front and back of our booths so we could pull them out for one day out of the year and provide our guests with intimate [seating arrangements].”

With more than half of her Valentine’s Day customers returning each year, she said the cost is ultimately worth it. Her seating strategy is pivotal in heating things up, as diners expect to feel like they are shrouded in privacy while in an expansive dining room.

“The way we sit is important when we think of romance,” said Cheryl Katz, the co-owner of C&J Katz Studio, which designed the dining rooms of Boston’s No. 9 Park and Menton. “We look to give the option of sitting on the same side with banquettes and always would recommend going with upholstered as opposed to wooden seating.”

While what is romantic might be up to each individual, certain things seem to be universal.

“Some people are wooed by grandiose spaces and others look for cozier spots, but the No. 1 thing that defines romance is lighting,” said Brian Miller, design director at Washington, DC, architecture firm Streetsense. “You can’t get romantic without good lighting.”

Boston's Bistro du Midi Fireplace Courtesy of Ashling Inc.

“Romance is a fireplace. There’s nothing like sitting in the dining room at Bistro du Midi by the antique fireplace and looking out on the lights of Boston Common,” said Tom Clark, president of restaurant construction company Ashling Inc. (responsible for the build-out of Bistro du Midi). “The only negative is that it might be slower business at those cozier spots during warmer months, so you need to find a balance.”

But Miller, who completed 41 restaurant projects while at Streetsense, said ideas of romance are also influenced by region.

“The perfect Valentine’s Day in Boston is going to be different than one in Miami or L.A. I look to give something primal or elemental — a courtyard in a warmer climate or a fireplace in a colder climate and then provide a counterbalance like expansive windows to make the space inviting year-round.”

There is another potential danger in narrowing your focus too much.

“The con of building for romance is that you become a cliché and that’s all your restaurant is about,” said Kenneth Feyl, architect for numerous Boston-area restaurants while at JD LaGrasse & Associates, “but for some restaurants, that may be the goal and what works.”

It works for Piattini, Megwa said.

“I don’t see any negative with going the romantic route,” she said. “We have candles — real ones because I’m against those battery ones — at our tables and back lighting to give an intimate ambiance, but we aren’t turning people off. We’re hosting financial firms at dinner, too.”

 

 

Not so fast: Roxy’s arrives at MarketStreet Lynnfield

February 13th, 2017

Not so fast: Roxy’s arrives at MarketStreet Lynnfield STEPHANIE SCHOROW  A sampling of Roxy’s Grilled Cheese offerings, including the cheese dog (upper right) and Green Muenster grilled cheese. (lower left). By Stephanie Schorow GLOBE CORRESPONDENT  FEBRUARY 10, 2017 WHO’S IN CHARGE The Hub’s guru of grilled cheese has chosen another, tougher testing ground. Last month, James DiSabatino, owner and operator of Roxy’s Grilled Cheese, took the comfort food formula that fueled his popular food truck business and launched it into a third brick-and-mortar location, this one in Lynnfield.   Roxy’s still runs food trucks, but its home kitchen is now located at its Allston outlet. (There’s another in South Boston, and Cambridge just became No. 4.) The Allston kitchen sets the menu for the various outlets, and DiSabatino continues to play with new sandwich variations.   THE LOCALE By opening a sit-down restaurant in the expansive MarketStreet Lynnfield shopping center, DiSabatino is not only testing the suburban market, but he’s going toe-to-toe with the big guys.   Bottom of Form Roxy’s is operating alongside behemoth chains such as Panera, Starbucks, and Boloco common to the American mall. However, DiSabatino really was jonesing for that Lynnfield location. He had grown up on the North Shore, and the MarketStreet site had once encompassed a club (the Colonial) that hosted his junior high school prom.   “It seems like the right place,” said DiSabatino, who launched the Roxy’s Grilled Cheese food truck in 2011 as a recent Emerson College graduate. “It puts us against much bigger competition. We’re taking our first steps of being more than a little food truck company.” The Lynnfield site features an expanded menu of new sandwiches, salads, hot dogs, and desserts. The décor still has a street-wise kick – there’s wall-size version of the tattoo that graced the shoulder of the cute but devilish girl in the original Roxy’s logo: a stylized skull with a fork and knife standing in for the crossbones. That tattoo, DiSabatino said, was originally aimed at putting a counterculture spin on a more traditional fast-food logo.   There are seats for 30 and there will be more when warm weather allows for patio dining. ZAC WOLF The stylized skull motify with fork and knife on the wall is based on the tattoo on the shoulder of the young girl in the original Roxy’s Grilled Cheese logo. ON THE MENU The Lynnfield spot has, of course, Roxy’s basic Classic Melt ($4.50) or Rookie Melt ($5) with Vermont cheddar and tomato, which you can match with roasted tomato soup ($3.50) for baby boomer nostalgia.   Vary your grilled cheese fix with the thoroughly gooey Three Cheese Melt ($5) or Green Muenster ($5), in which cheese, bacon, and guacamole make for a satisfying blend of tastes. Veggies can get down with the nicely made Caprese ($7.50) with mozzarella, roasted tomato, and kale pesto; there are vegan options as well.   Lots of sides to choose from: The hand-cut truffle tater tots ($4) were crisp and divine. You can go all out with Loaded Fries ($5.30/$6.30) or the West Coast fries, ($8), which came smothered with smoked gouda sauce, pickles, and caramelized onions. (These were a bit too loaded for us in terms of grease overkill.)   Hot dogs include plain, ($4.20) and cheese dog, ($4.80), loaded with smoked gouda cheese and barbeque sauce and crispy onions ($5.20). We sampled the cheese dog; the juicy, flavorful meat was almost drowned by the bland cheese.   Burger choices include the newly introduced Lucy ($7), a veggie patty with Muenster that makes for a nice meat substitute. For double-dipping into the deep fryer, there’s the Double Fried chicken sandwich ($7.30), in which the chicken somehow managed to be juicy despite the really crisped exterior.   Diet food, this ain’t. You can, however, get a turkey Caesar ($8.15) and house salad ($6.80). Both families and suburban hipsters will dig Roxy’s reasonable prices, and everyone can use some comfort food in these trying times. Roxy’s Grilled Cheese, 1205 Market St., Lynnfield. 781-304-4880,   www.roxysgrilledcheese.com. ROXY’S GRILLED CHEESE There’s no shortage of dishes and sides at Roxy’s Grilled Cheese in Lynnfield. Stephanie Schorow can be reached at sschorow@comcast.net.

 

https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/regionals/north/2017/02/10/not-fast-roxy-arrives-marketstreet-ynnfield/PE9DrWT6wnt9dd2xhmADLM/story.html

The Breakdown: Ruka’s Anticucho Skewers

February 6th, 2017

Fire it up.

ruka anticucho skewers

PHOTOGRAPH BY NINA GALLANT

From left:

 Aji dulce sauce accompanies fermented black-bean-marinated chicken thighs.
 Served with bonito mayo and sea beans, tamarind-glazed octopus is braised, then grilled.
 Luscious rib-eye cap is dolloped with dashi butter and slivered raw watermelon radish.
 Trumpet mushrooms are confited with chilies, then drizzled with an herbaceous sauce and hot mustard.

How do you follow up a stunner like Yvonne’s, Downtown Crossing’s gilded supper club? Give diners something entirely fresh. That’s what partners Chris Jamison, Mark Malatesta, and Tom Berry wanted to do with their latest, Ruka, which opened in December. Focusing on two new-to-Boston cuisines, Peruvian-Japanese (nikkei) and Peruvian-Chinese (chifa), the team is turning out a menu heavy on seafood, citrus, and fire. That translates to stylized sushi, bright ceviches, and these creative skewers, known in Peru as anticucho. Traditionally a simple snack of grilled beef heart, “These are Ruka anticucho,” Berry says. “Latin flavors, mixed with Asian, give us the opportunity to do things that are more vibrant.”

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