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High End Wine Store?

Try Federal Wine & Spirits, at the intersection of Congress and State Streets downtown, opposite the Boston Massacre site and the Old State House. Don't be put off by their small storefront, there is a sizable wine cellar in the basement. Len, the owner, has an encyclopedic knowledge of French wines and their Burgundy selection is superb. (Not as sure about the Rhone selection, but they have always directed me to terrific ones). Their selection of high end Italian wines is phenomenal--Peter seems to know every producer in Italy and he gets stuff no one else has. And if you want high end whiskeys from small distilleries that you will never find in New Hampshire, Joe is your man. The staff is very friendly and helpful to both experts and novices.

Federal Wine & Spirits
29 State St, Boston, MA

State Street Cafe
114 State St, Boston, MA 02109

Oct 12, 2011
matabb in Greater Boston Area

Special but moderate priced dinner in Belmont, Watertown, Newton, Waltham area

Kouzina is very good and well priced. I'm not sure I'd classify it as "special", its more of a excellent neighborhood place. Probably very few expense account diners. Also I'm pretty sure it doesn't have a full liquor license.

If Ariadne is in your price range, I'd try 51 Lincoln in Newton Highlands instead. 51 Lincoln is about the same price but has better food and much better service. It has a full bar and an attractive decor. This is the right season for their signature appetizer--grilled watermelon. No dedicated parking, but on street parking (and a municipal lot half a block away) should be okay, especially on a weeknight.

Jul 12, 2009
matabb in Greater Boston Area

How Rare Do They Eat Chicken in Madrid?

I can't remember the name of the dish in English or Spanish. It's the only chicken entree on Pandelujo's current menu (but the menu is not posted on the web) But it was definitely chicken.

Apr 12, 2009
matabb in Spain/Portugal

Naples: Were we ripped off at Da Dora?

Dora is in every English guidebook--Frommers, Fodors, Time Out, Lonely Planet, etc. etc. It was the featured restaurant in the most recent NY Times 36 Hrs in Naples. The place is small and we were there on a Saturday night. I'd say the clientele was more than half Italian, especially as the evening got later. There were a couple of large parties of family members.

The food was very very good, but as I said above, the situation with the check left a very bad taste in our mouths. It one thing to go in knowing it will be expensive, its another to feel you got cheated, even if its only 10 Eu.

Erica, we also ate in two of the Slow Food Naples locations, Europeo and Hostelia Toledo. Both were less fancy and less expensive and the food was very good at both (In fact, Hostelia Toledo was my wife's favorite place on our trip.) The nice thing about HT is that it is one of the few places in Naples open on a Sunday evening. HT is cheaper than Europeo. The owner of Europeo was marvelously friendly and outgoing (as were most of the Neapolitans we met--we loved the people). And the place gets going late! We arrived at about 8:45 and it was empty. By 10:30 it was full and at 11:30, when we left, there were people lined up outside waiting to get in. Fish in both places was fresh and well prepared. We highly recommend both.

Apr 10, 2009
matabb in Italy

Naples: Were we ripped off at Da Dora?

After what had been a very good meal at Da Dora, we had an unpleasant experience with the check that really soured the whole affair. My wife had ordered Dora's Linguini, which is a large linguini plate piled with seafood on top. Topping the plate was a spiny lobster. The menu priced the dish @ 22 Eu, but when we got the check we were charged 27. We noticed the difference and asked the waiter (whose English was good). He said we were charged more because there was a lobster added to the plate. I was willing to accept the explanation, but my wife checked the menu, and the description of the plater said that a Norway lobster was included. So she went back to the waiter and asked again. Yes, the waiter admitted, there is supposed to be lobster in the plate, but this was local lobster not a Norway lobster, and he said they were more. (After the fact my wife questioned why a local lobster would cost more than one from 1,500 miles away, but we didn't raise that at the time). She argued a little, but the waiter insisted, and we paid. We didn't really want to start an argument where we did not speak the local language.

After thinking about the check more, as one is prone to do after a bad experience, other things started to bother us. We were charge 6 Eu for a litre bottle of San Peligrino. That's an awfully high markup for a simple bottle of water. Any then my wife began to wonder if they charged us the proper price for the fish we ordered. They didn't show us the fish before they cooked it, which is common in Compania. We were charged by the weight. Could there have been a thumb on the scale? We knew before we came in that Dora was not cheap. Are these "surcharges" the price you pay for quality?

My wife is convinced we were taken because we were foreigners in a restaurant that is frequented by foreigners, and they would have never charged Italians the prices we complained about. Dora has such a terrific reputation (everyone raves about it, and the food was excellent) that I can't believe they'd play such tricks for 10 eu (on a bill that was well over 100). We have been to restaurants in Rome where things we didn't order were on the check and there were arithmetic "errors" in the house's favor. I know the second and third tier of restaurants in some of the Italian tourist cities play these games. But Dora?

Seems to me if they were going to charge us more than the published menu price, we should have been told ahead of time. Or am I applying US contract logic to a different culture? Was what we experienced on the level?

And what is the etiquette of challenging a bill in a foreign language? If we spoke the language we would have asked for the manager. Should we have done that here?

Apr 10, 2009
matabb in Italy

How Rare Do They Eat Chicken in Madrid?

We just came back from Madrid, and had an irritating experience that I wanted to run by people who were more familiar with Spanish cuisine. My wife order a chicken entree at Pan de Lujo, that was served rare. I'm not talking a little pink, I'm talking very close to red. It was so undercooked that it was hard to cut.

Of course, they were willing to send it back. (It took another 15 minutes before it came back the color which we would recognize as proper). But when we spoke to the waiter, he told us that the restaurant, and other places in Madrid, regularly served their chickens rare. That was supposedly the local style.

Now in US, if you served poultry that red, I think you'd probably have a health hazard. Salmonella is a serious problem here if you don't cook chicken properly. Do they really eat chicken that rare in Spain (or Madrid)? If so, is it safe? Can they serve it cooler, because the birds are raised differently in Europe?

We're just curious if what we were told was accurate or if we were fed a line by a kitchen that had served us a seriously undercooked entree?

Apr 10, 2009
matabb in Spain/Portugal

ALBA-eating and food shopping in and around the city


We only spent two nights in Turin, one of which was a Sunday (and almost nothing was open). The first night we ate at C'era una Volta, which was quite good. Their tasting menu is very reasonable (about 38 euro if I recall, maybe less), and it comes with course after course of food. If I remember correctly there were two antipasto dishes, a primi, a secondi and a desert. All courses were good, so make sure you come hungry.

Sunday night we went to Eataly, which is a gas. In addition to all of the food store stuff (and a very reasonable wine cellar), it has something like 9 different food counters, from a pasta bar, to seafood, to meat dishes to desserts. The Torinese don't queue, and since it was one of the few places open on Sunday evenings, getting a table (or a seat at the bar) is quite an adventure. Not for the timid. But the food is good and pretty reasonable. Hey, if you don't like what you're having, you can find somewhere else in the place. They also have a formal sit down restaurant, which requires reservations, but it wasn't open on Sunday.

I don't know if Profumo Di Vino will be open on Sunday. Since we weren't in Alba over a weekend, I'm not sure I can help you there.

Mar 06, 2009
matabb in Italy

ALBA-eating and food shopping in and around the city

My wife and I were in Piedmont last September and loved it. It may be impossible to have a bad meal there. Don't worry about having difficulty finding renditions of local fare, even the Michelin restaurants in that area of Piedmont serve versions of the local fare (albeit with a twist or two).

In Alba, we ate at both Enoclub and La Liberia. Both were excellent. If you have to choose one, I would take La Liberia. It's just got a great vibe. We ate there in the middle of the week and everybody who walked in seemed to know everybody else in the place. When it was obvious that two non-Italian speakers were having difficulty with the menu, the chef came over and translated for us. He trained in England, so his English is excellent. He spent lots of time explaining to us, even though he had a kitchen to attend to and a full house to deal with (all of whom seemed to know him).

Cherasco is very charming. We stopped for Lunch there on our way to Barolo. We ate at La Torre, which is in the Slow Food Osteria guide (although we didn't know it at the time, we just ate at the first cafe we found.) You have to have at least one snail dish if you are in town. They were delicious. My wife's dish was topped with white truffle. They just slice them until you tell them to stop (of course, you pay for as much as you have them slice). I don't think she'll ever forget it. Just about perfect.

I would strongly recommend Prufumo Di Vino in Treiso, near Barbaresco. It's a small informal place in the main square of Treiso (Treiso only has one square), but its fantastic. We were told about it by a Barbaresco winemaker whose estate we were visiting. It's run a pair of expatriates from Baja California and Ireland. But the food is traditional Piemonte. And the pasta is sensational. The two guys who ran the place came to Treiso to work at La Ciau del Tornavento, the other restaurant in Treiso, the one with a Michelin star. We did not eat there, but it is the first place I will book when we return. Everyone we spoke to thought it was superb.

Finally, no matter what you are planning, you really have to get at least one (and hopefully more than one) appointment with some of the Piedmont vineyards. It's nothing like Napa or Sonoma, but most of the vineyards will receive guests for touring and tasting if you set it up in advance. In most of the places, especially the smaller ones, the winemaker will be your guide. Most of the places that import will have someone who speaks English. If your local winestore does not have any contacts with any of the Piedmont wineries, talk to one of their distributors; the distributors should definitely know someone who will receive you. The Piedmont wines are some of the best in the world, and there is nothing like drinking them at the cantina.

By the way, are you stopping in Turin? You really should, its underrated, and you won't find many Americans. If you do, you'll have to stop at Eataly for food shopping. But that's a whole other story.

You should have a great trip.

Mar 05, 2009
matabb in Italy