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I Miss Boston’s Aji Sushi Bar!

10 Apr

Before leaving Boston, hubby and I had been coming here somewhat regularly. I haven’t been able to find a sushi place quite like it here in my new home (Chicago), so I’ve been thinking back to our old haunt – Aji Sushi Bar in Newton, just outside Boston.  The first time we came, the place was completely empty… was that a bad sign? Then we realized that it was Super Bowl Sunday. I guess we were the only people in town who didn’t follow football.  

Aji Sushi

We shocked the staff with the sheer amount of sushi we ordered…and devoured. Everything was great – good quality fish, reasonably priced. Yum. Aji Sushi quickly became our go-to sushi spot. 

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The last time we went, the place was packed! We managed to grab the last two-seater table available. This time, the waitress didn’t flinch at the long list of sushi rolls we ordered. We sipped our green tea as we waited for our food. I looked over at the couple at the table next to ours. You can always tell when a couple is still in the awkward, early stages of dating. She orders one maki roll, and perhaps a miso soup. Maybe she wants to look like a dainty eater. He orders two rolls and perhaps the seaweed salad. Come on, guys. Don’t tell me you’re not still hungry after what really amounts to a snack. Aji Sushi is fantastic – so go ahead and order another maki roll!

A few minutes later, our waitress returned to ask if we would like to move to a larger table that had just become available, because our current table would not be able to accommodate our entire order. Yes, please! My guy and I quickly relocated to the table meant for four. We glanced at the other couples. Amateurs.

Depending on how busy the place is, the presentation of the sushi can be quite artistic:

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When the restaurant is packed however, the beautiful flowers become a preschooler’s scribble. But the sushi still tastes great.

One time, our order was arranged on a big sushi boat!

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Yes, maybe the sushi chefs have a fondness for tempura bits..But this mango roll is one of my favourites:

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Boy do we miss this place. For those of you in the Newton, Massachusetts area, consider yourselves lucky to have this spot around!

Info: Aji Sushi Bar, 340 Walnut St, Newton, MA 02460 USA

Aji Sushi Bar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Form vs. Function at Royal, Watertown

13 Mar

Last weekend was the long awaited soft opening of Royal in Watertown. (The restaurant had been slated to open 2 months ago but hit a few snags.) When we found out that Royal had opened, my husband and I hurried over there to experience the New American/French cuisine for ourselves.

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The restaurant itself nails the loungey vibe and vintage-meets rustic look, with gold-framed mirrors adorning deep red walls and blackboards hanging from the ceiling near the entrance . 

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Royal is trying to be a lot of things – a dining room but also a coffee shop, given this setup for sugar and milk, near a rack of to-go coffee cups.DSC02078

The coffee was terrific both in taste and in price – a bottomless cup for $1 with purchase of an entree. It came in nice large mugs, but milk and sugar were delivered in small espresso cups. It was impossible to pour milk into my coffee without spilling much of it on the rather dusty tablecloth.

Royal Watertown soft openingIt’s clear that form trumped function in Royal’s choice of dinnerware.  Our water glasses were large squarish things that seemed more suited to being table centerpieces – something you might put a floating candle in. Though the concave edges cradled my lips as I sipped, the container itself was awkward to hold.

On the other hand, the food is delicious and creative, and artistically presented. Here’s the amazing house boursin and wild mushroom omelette with a chive hollandaise, potatoes, heirloom tomato salad, and arugula.  DSC02089

Still, aesthetics comes first. All entrees, like my ham and Gruyere crepe below, came beautifully arranged on a rectangular “platter”. I use quotation marks because I’m not quite sure what to call it. It was a heavy black thing with rough and slightly sharp edges, and a textured surface. The platters did show off the food as works of art – like paintings, but they were awkward for the servers to carry.

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I was actually having trouble finishing my meal – partially because it was filling, but also because I was getting worn out from the exertion required to cut off each bite – the butter knife I had was not sharp enough to cut through the crispy crepe and the uneven surface of the platter didn’t help. That was a little too much exercise for me at brunch time. My husband joked that it was as if we were eating gourmet food off of a sidewalk.

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The Royal pancakes had a lot going on – too much for my husband’s taste – he wouldn’t get them again. But I thought that the combination of salty of the crispy pork belly and the sweet candied walnuts and syrup actually worked. Royal pancakes

Right now, Royal doesn’t look like much on the outside. But the inside holds a lot of promise. There are still some kinks to be worked out – the placement of the tables could be improved for example, and the dinnerware tries too hard to be trendy. However, the food is definitely creative and tasty. Royal is definitely a much-welcome addition to Watertown!DSC02095

Info: Royal, 45 Lexington Street, Watertown, MA 02472 USA
Royal on Urbanspoon

Tale of Two Boston Bakeries

28 Feb

Here are two bakeries on opposite sides of the Charles River, both offering delicious goodies!

Paris Baguette is inside H Mart in Central Square, so it’s no surprise that there are Asian influences.  It’s like Hong Kong meets Paris – you’ll find red bean-filled donuts alongside baguettes, as well as some truly American concoctions like cream cheese donuts and croissant donuts.

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As it turns out, Paris Baguette is part of an large Korean conglomerate and is expanding its American presence. I’m not a fan of chains, but I can’t deny that these treats satisfied my sweet tooth.

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Info: Paris Baguette, 581 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02139 USA

SwissBakers has two locations, one in Allston and one in Reading. I visited the Allston location on Western Avenue near Harvard Business School. It’s a modern, IKEA-like space with big windows. There’s plenty of seating both inside and out on the patio (when it’s warm enough). Another big bonus: a parking lot!

Here’s the box full of Euro-treats I got: almond, chocolate and spinach croissants, a raspberry Berliner, a chocolate chip bun, and a pear and cheese tart. The tart has a shortbread crust and is topped with thinly sliced pears. Somehow, its flavour reminds me of Chinese egg tarts (which are also very yummy).

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Inside a raspberry Berliner:

Swissbakers: BerlinerThe Berliner is slightly crisp on the outside with granulated and powdered sugar, but light and springy inside, with raspberry filling. I like that it’s not too sweet.

 Cheese and spinach croissant, flaky and stuffed with spinach!DSC01915

Both these bakeries deserve return visits!

Info: Swissbakers, 168 Western Avenue, Boston, MA 02134 USA

Swissbäkers on Urbanspoon

 

Trendy and Yummy: Cook, Newton

8 Feb

Newtonville finally has a spot worthy of gastronomes, and it’s called Cook. It’s no wonder this place is packed on weekends, even when it’s bitterly cold outside. It can sometimes take a while to be greeted by a host when you first walk through the door, and then wait times for a table easily exceed half an hour.  But it’s all worth it. After my husband and I first visited Cook, we came back for a second meal within a week!

While waiting for a table, we’ll usually grab drinks at the bar – I love the unique habanero blood orange margarita (which I ask for on the milder side because I’m weak sauce when it comes to spice). Cook’s beer and cider list has many of our favorites – Jack’s Abby’s Hoponius Union, Kentucky Bourbon Ale, and Downeast cider, to name a few.

We always kick off our dinner with a couple shrimp tacos – the best I’ve had in the Boston area. The lightly breaded shrimp are delicate and fresh, with avocado, red onion, and crema on a soft tortilla.

Cook, Newton - shrimp taco

The fried calamari is a large portion, with fried pickle slices and mild peppers. Again, lightly breaded. It’s a solid dish, though it doesn’t particularly stand out against the versions at other good restaurants.Cook - calamari

One appetizer that does really stand out is the French onion soup, where melt-in-your-mouth beef accompanies the Gruyere and bread.

Hubby always orders the Bolognese for his main. Hand cut tagliatelle is tossed with veal, pork, beef, and marscapone. We can’t order Bolognese anywhere else now, because it can’t come close to the version at Cook!

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Every night there is a list of specials. I’ve had haddock with hearty heirloom carrots, a chorizo flatbread with goat cheese and cute fingerling potato chips, as well as this lamb sandwich on pitas that are fluffy on the inside but crispy on the outside. Yum!

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One popular dish which I forgot to nab a photo of is the NFC – three gigantic pieces of delicious fried chicken with a flaky biscuit, fluffy mashed potatoes, and awesome coleslaw. During a recent visit to Cook, 3 out of 4 patrons at the next table all ordered the NFC!

My husband and I usually don’t order dessert at Cook (because we’re stuffed after the appies and mains!) but on one occasion we got the brownie sundae – a big brownie square topped with vanilla ice cream, whipped cream, crunchy chocolate pearls, and a cherry. Definitely large enough to share, though you might not want to.

Servers and bartenders are always attentive each time we’ve dined at Cook .The decor is unpretentious and the atmosphere is warm and lively. My only gripe is that the bench seats at Cook are a bit low and soft, making me feel a bit like a child when I first sit down. All in all, Cook is one of my favourite restaurants in Newton – that ‘s why I keep going back!

Info: Cook, 825 Washington Street, Newton, MA 02460 USA

Cook Restaurant on Urbanspoon

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