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Thoughts on the Pioneer Valley

Note: Tusk N Rattle is now "Ollie's Down Under Bar & Grill", which is quite good. If interested in trying Ollie's, we have a chowdown planned there for Jan 17, 2009. See .

Also, if you want to check out any number of Pioneer Valley restaurants with a bunch of people who care about good food (so you can report back here to all the other folks looking for reviews), check out

ChowDown at Ollie's Down Under in Shelburne Falls, January 17, 2010

The Western Massachusetts EatUp! group ( is heading to Shelburne Falls on a wintry Sunday eve to converge on Ollie's Bar & Grill. Proprietor Margaret Fitzpatrick is preparing a fixed price menu ($35 including tax and tip; not including beverages) just for this event. Check out our site to RSVP and join us on this and future adventures!

When: Sunday, January 17, 2010
Where: Ollie's Down Under Bar & Grill, 10 Bridge Street Shelburne Falls [Ollie's Chowdown Under?!
]What/Who/Why: Good food, good fun, and good friends!

My scouting mission to the restaurant included a tasting of the curried coconut mussels (which I've been craving ever since) and a fabulously creative martini from their list of them. The restaurant is below street level (hence the "down under" in the name. No, it's not Australian fare), so keep a keen eye out for the sign denoting their entrance (near the bridge). The restaurant is cozy and casual.

Bring your friends to this Valley gem then tell us what you think here.

Hope to see you there!

Western Massachusetts Eat Up: Culinary Caravan

That's too bad. I've been back to DiPaolo's since the noted event and had an outstanding experience each time. Impeccable service, casually elegant surroundings; interesting menu. Their risotto (tried three different kinds in my visits) was the most well prepared I've ever had--perfect or darn near. It is somewhat expensive for the Pioneer Valley, and I too am fed up with mediocre food at high prices, but I would definitely pay to go back to this one! If you're interested in exploring other options in the Valley perhaps more to your liking you may want to join our the Western Massachusetts EatUp! "culinary caravan" at I'm going to post a "ChowDown" posting after this and give all the pertinent details to our next one at Ollie's Down Under in Shelburne Falls. Cheers.

Venus Restaurant in Easthampton, MA

Ate there last night and found it to be extremely good.

Interestingly, I had the lamb and the scallop ceviche like previous poster gfs1937. I found the ceviche excellent, tender and delicate, it melted in my mouth leaving a pleasing trail of red-pepper-infused heat behind. I believe the limpness in the scallops (mentioned by gfs1937 ) relates to the fact that they are cooked by citrus juices (the basis of ceviche), not by heat.

Also tried the shrimp and gnocchi apps. The gnocchi was out of this world with flavor. The shrimp struck me as more standard fare, but had a nice smokey aftertaste.

My lamb entree was cooked medium, to the chef's preference, and was delicious and tender. The side of quinoa was surprisingly good and the chickpea salad fresh and tasty.

I had the opportunity to try a bite of the halibut and skirt steak from generous friends. The steak was so different from the lamb, but no less good. Cooked medium rare, it was tender and flavorful. The halibut was flaky and mild, over a gorgeous pea puree.

This is a place definitely worth re-visiting. But it is small, so plan ahead. Because the dining room was packed, we ate in the Cellar bar, which can get a bit noisy (resulting in the waitress mishearing two of our orders--a bit of a problem). They've been busy enough to run out of Grey Goose vodka, which was a bit disappointing. But the ambience is great; they did a great job with decor. Sophisticated, but comfortable.

Western Massachusetts Eat Up: Culinary Caravan

Had a terrific time at Side Street Cafe in Florence, Mass, last Thursday for our first event. Met a bunch of new folks.

The server, Jen, was great, accommodating our "separate checks" request and keeping cool in the thick of it.

The chefs honored our inaugural event with a complimentary slate of each of the menu's desserts so we could try them all (not sure I can remember them all, but they included carrot cake, key lime pie, a chocolate cake-y bomb, banana toffee cheesecake). They were all delicious. I was particularly impressed with the moistness of the carrot cake.

Catering Chef Ginny graciously welcomed the group. Owner Patrick, who wasn't in attendance, followed up with us by responding to our interview questions, which we posted on the MeetUp site (link above), which will give you some insight into the restaurant.

We almost universally ordered off the $20/3-course menu, a great value with myriad choices. I had the Puebla Chicken (mole chicken with a side of mango-jicama salsa). Perfectly spicy, tempered with the cool and slightly sweet salsa. Started things off with the goat cheese and honey appetizer (see pic). You may be able to tell I love sweet-savory combos.

This is a small place, literally on a "Side Street," but, as Chef Ginny said, "A gem can be found anywhere." I recommend this one.

Next: we'll be visiting Ristorante DiPaolo in Turners Falls, Massachusetts. Stay tuned.

Cafe del Rey?

It's been awhile since I've been there, but it used to be great.

Jun 27, 2009
AtetotheBar in Los Angeles Area

Western Massachusetts Eat Up: Culinary Caravan

If you love good food, good conversation, and good fun, please join us for a culinary caravan that monthly will explore the best restaurants of western Massachusetts and beyond (using some of the great recommendations here on Chowhound to determine our locations).

To get notices of our events, sign up at: .

Our first "eat up" event will be Thursday, June 25, 7pm, at Side Street Cafe in Florence, Massachusetts.

You can contact the organizers for these events on Twitter at @AteToTheBar (that's me) and @jessicawaters. You can also search for the event using the hashtags #EatUp and #westernma.

There's a tiny fee ($5) to reserve space (which is limited) and ensure our chosen restaurants aren't left "holding the salad." You'll get it back at the event--to go towards gratuities (sans $1 for administrative costs--such as maintaining the MeetUp site).

Support our fine local eateries and meet new people, all at the same time! We very much look forward to meeting and eating with you.

--AteToTheBar (aka Chris)

Good Mexican Food?

I'm very pleased with La Casita Azteca. I haven't seen sopapillas on a menu since I lived in Texas. Unfortunately, they did not have them both times I visited. However, the dishes I did try were flavorful and well-prepared and presented. I can't remember what I had on my first visit, but I've since had the Tinga Poblana (shredded pork sautéed with garlic, onion, chipotle, and tomato and served with rice and beans), which was quite tasty.

The owner is extremely nice and I actually like the way they've fixed up the little structure they're in, although they could do a lot more with the courtyard area. It is Oaxacan cuisine, not Tex-Mex.

Big Mamou

I have to say I too am quite surprised by the reviews. I've never had a bad meal at Big Mamou's Springfield location. Just tried their new Williamsburg location this week and it was truly fabulous (go to my web site for my review: Feb 7, 2008 post).

And, yes, I've been to Louisiana.

Maybe try again? I wish you a better experience if you do.


A recent photo from Monsieur Vuong, which I visited in April 2007:

Several of my Berlin food experiences are documented on my blog. If you're interested, please check out,

May 22, 2007
AtetotheBar in Europe

Beer as a mixer?

In Berlin, there is a local favorite known as Berliner Weiss, which consists of hefeweizen (wheat beer) mixed with flavored syrups ("mit schuss"). Very refreshing, very tasty, and very pretty (usually red or green).

May 22, 2007
AtetotheBar in Beer

thrifting confessions

Nothin' wrong with thrift shopping in my book! I've made a zillion finds, including a beautiful crystal decanter with five cordial glasses (the missing sixth being the reason for its donation to the thrift store, I presume). Not to mention all the retro stuff that's to be had--like the stainless bread boxes. I have to restrain myself from buying multiples of those....

May 22, 2007
AtetotheBar in Cookware

Thai food on the Westside

Never had a bad meal at Chan Dara.

May 03, 2007
AtetotheBar in Los Angeles Area

El Pollo Loco

Compared to the other fast food options out there, I lament leaving So Cal and Pollo Loco behind. Love the tang to their chicken...and their tortillas. But, still, it's fast food....

Mar 12, 2007
AtetotheBar in Chains

what foods do you miss most when you leave LA?

Sigh. I moved from L.A. a while ago and the food favorites I miss most are:

Senor Fish's Fish Tacos
El Pollo Loco
Outdoor Grill (Washington Place, Los Angeles)
Good Mexican food
Buster's (South Pas)
caffeine free Diet Dr. Pepper (hard to get in Northeast markets)
Korean BBQ
Yahaira's (Pasadena)

Feb 14, 2007
AtetotheBar in Los Angeles Area

mid-wilshire location for birthday dinner

Yeah, that's a great option. I forgot about Luna.

Feb 12, 2007
AtetotheBar in Los Angeles Area

mid-wilshire location for birthday dinner

When I lived in the mid-Wilshire area, I fell in love with both Sonora Cafe and Campanile, but neither are particularly budget friendly (sigh--a tough treat) and Sonora is definitely not for vegetarians.

How about La Brea Bakery which offers simpler fare, like paninis and salads, with their award-winning artisanal breads? They are kid-friendly and open in the evenings for cafe-like fare.

Feb 12, 2007
AtetotheBar in Los Angeles Area

Japanese unusual food

Go to one of the small sushi bars in the Tsukiji fish market (generally an early morning visit, since that's when the fish market is active). They serve a wide variety of ultra-fresh seafoods you will not necessarily see elsewhere.

Feb 12, 2007
AtetotheBar in Japan

Have a Donut in West Springfield, Mass

I know both Exit 13A and 13B well. They both exist, unless I've been hallucinating every time I drive 91 (which isn't out of the realm of possibility :).

The Donut Dip is before you hit Balise Honda (on the same side) and before the nunnery if you're coming from the direction of I-91.

Recommendations for Restaurants in Miami

I find I like most foods when well prepared. And I'm adventurous enough to try many things.

Thanks everyone for your recommendations. I managed to find a place to stay (through an acquaintance) on the east side of the Venetian Way bridge--very nice with water view. I can't wait to get back and try out more restaurants, since my approach ended up relatively haphazard and I found myself at different venues.

I ended up my first night at La Carreta in Little Havana--authentic Cuban as far as I could tell and quite tasty, particularly the ham croquettes. This was the first time I had yuca and I loved it!

The next night I went to Gloria Estefan's club, Bongos (behind the American Airlines stadium). The buffet there was also Cuban and quite flavorful, though I thought La Carreta better. The flan was the densest and creamiest I have ever had (and I've had a lot). Like butter!

I had a fine vegetarian panini at the Riverfront Cafe in the Intercontinental hotel. They also had very tasty fries. A bit pricey, like all hotels.

I also ended up at Tony Chan's Water Club one evening, trying the shrimp and cashews, a lamb (!) dish, and several other protein-based entrees (tofu, beef, pork). Each dish rivaled the best Chinese food I ever ate in Los Angeles' Chinatown or elsewhere.

And I topped everything off by eating in real neighborhood place--Antigua Guatemala--near the airport. Very humble surroundings, but quite good food, including another dish I have never eaten--pacaya (edible palm flowers). I also had one of their jugos naturales--I recommend the passionfruit (maracuy√° ). This was the most reasonably priced meal of the trip.

Thanks again, hounds!

Feb 12, 2007
AtetotheBar in Florida

so sick of Boston bashing...

And just outside of Boston, there's Lavazza coffee at the rest stops! Who else can boast THAT?

Recommendations for Restaurants in Miami

Thanks. Any recommendations for South Beach? How about Cuban generally? I'm on my way Thursday...!

Feb 05, 2007
AtetotheBar in Florida

so sick of Boston bashing...

The entire North End! Viva Italia!

Best Cakes and Pastries in LA

I always ordered custom cakes from Caprice Fine French Pastries at 3213 Pico Boulevard Santa Monica, California 90405. (310) 453-1932 fax (310) 453-3553. The chef never disappointed me. I discuss it a bit under my 12/21 post "Stollen Baby" at, which has a link, if you're interested.

Feb 05, 2007
AtetotheBar in Los Angeles Area

Anthon Berg Marzipan in Los Angeles

I've been meaning to thank you for this suggestion. I love Cost Plus' food and wine selection! Forgot all about it. So, thanks.

Feb 03, 2007
AtetotheBar in Los Angeles Area

Culpeppers Bakery & Cafe, Worcester

Hi everyone. I was wondering if there's any local buzz about Culpeppers Bakery and Cafe at 500 Cambridge Street, College Square, Worcester? I stopped in briefly on a business trip and was impressed with their huge bakery selection. The apricot Danish I had was tasty. Comments on their baked goods and luncheon food selections? I get back to Worcester occasionally and would like to know what, specifically, to try. Thanks.

Recommendations for Restaurants in Miami

I'm taking a trip to Miami in February and will be staying near the Hyatt Regency (400 SE 2d Street). I'd love some chowhound recommendations for good food within walking distance or easy cab distance. Thanks.

Jan 19, 2007
AtetotheBar in Florida

Anthon Berg Marzipan in Los Angeles

Any idea where one can find Anthon Berg Marzipan in the greater L.A. area? I have particular intersin in finding their Apricot-in-Brandy marzipan confection and/or their Cherries-in-Brandy. Astoundingly good.

Jan 14, 2007
AtetotheBar in Los Angeles Area

What's the Best Frozen Pizza?

Mystic is absolutely the best, hands down!

Jan 03, 2007
AtetotheBar in General Topics

My favorite fish taco; whats' yours?

Maybe try the South Pasadena one too and let us know how they compare. Parking's not bad there and I'm pretty sure they weren't a "C" last time I was there (October). The fish tacos were an "A."

Dec 30, 2006
AtetotheBar in Los Angeles Area