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Restaurant critic Devra First took your questions

August 20, 2008
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Are you curious about dining out in the Boston area? What's affordable? What's new that's not to be missed? Devra First, the Globe's restaurant critic, took your dining-related questions and comments on Aug. 20 at noon. Miss the chat? Catch up here.

The transcript follows.

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Devra_First: Good afternoon. Eaten anywhere good recently? I've been hitting the seafood shacks, maybe a little too hard. Pass the Tums... Anyway, send your questions on in.
psaffa01: Devra, have you gone to Blue Ginger since its expansion? I'm interested in the Ming Bings.
Devra_First: I have. I recently reviewed it. The link is here if you're curious to read it: http://www.boston.com/lifestyle/food/articles/2008/08/06/blue_ginger_at_10_balances_old_and_new/
Devra_First: I really enjoyed the Ming's Bings, as well as the lounge menu in general. It seemed fresher than the standard dining room menu. Has anyone else eaten at the Blue Ginger lounge?
JediFonger__Guest_: What which of the Chinatown restaurants serves healthy food?
Devra_First: Well, there's Buddha's Delight, which serves vegetarian food. It's on Beach Street. Not all healthy, but it takes the fatty pork items out of the equation. I haven't been in ages so don't know how it is. It used to be OK. You can order steamed items in many Chinese restaurants. Also, Xinh Xinh is Vietnamese; many of its pho and salads are fairly healthy and light.
Derek__Guest_: Devra: do you have the inside track on when the new Texas BBQ joint is supposed to open in Brookline's Washington Square? thanks.
Devra_First: The most recent thing I've heard is next month. I just e-mailed them hoping to get a more exact date. Lots of interest in this place. They should be mobbed! I'm also quite interested in T.Rex, a takeout Mexican place opening in Brookline, from Jim Fahey of the Forest Cafe.
partyboston__Guest_: Hi Devra - Do you think the value of Restaurant Week is worth all the hype?
Devra_First: Ultimately, I do. I think Restaurant Week offers good values for diners who get an opportunity to eat at restaurants they otherwise might not. For people who'd rather not eat RW menus, participating restaurants are fairly easily avoided during that time. (Though as Restaurant Week turns into Restaurant Fortnight, it gets harder.) What do you all think about Restaurant Week? Have you taken advantage of it? What's been good or not so good?
chow__Guest_: Hi Devra, have you tried any good Brazilian restaurants in Boston? Thanks for any good recommendations.
Devra_First: You might try Muqueca in Cambridge.
JediFonger__Guest_: What do you think of user review sites for eateries like yelp.com?
Devra_First: Like any online reviews, they can be useful. You just have to take them with a grain of salt and a dash of perspective. Same with Citysearch or Tripadvisor or Chowhound. People have such different opinions, often deeply felt, about food.
Devra_First: If you get to know different reviewers likes, dislikes, and (to the extent you can) personalities, it's helpful; you can figure out who you generally agree and disagree with.
Devra_First: The reports of Yelpers threatening restaurants with bad reviews in an attempt to get special treatment are alarming, but I suspect this behavior is quite rare. Do you use Yelp? Post on it? Find it helpful?
mikey__Guest_: Thought the Blue Ginger review was generous - we made it out there recently for the first time and began the evening thinking "why hasn't Ming Tsai opened a resto in Boston?" - we had the answer by the end of the meal: because it would fail.
Devra_First: Interesting. I think Blue Ginger might be the most divisive restaurant in the Boston area. I got howling emails calling me all kinds of names and suggesting I review Burger Kings because Blue Ginger is so amazing. I got howling emails calling me all kinds of names and suggesting I review Burger Kings because Blue Ginger is so terrible. I think this is one of those places that is great sometimes and not great others, and it really depends when you hit it.
Hungry__Guest_: Hi Devra. How do you decide what restaurants to review at what time?
Devra_First: First, we give restaurants about two months to get their footing. After that, we try to mix it up according to what restaurants people seem most interested in and are talking about, as well as according to type of food, location, and price point. I would try to avoid reviewing, say, two high-end French restaurants in the Back Bay in the same month.
Devra_First: And every once in a while, for my own sanity as well as readers, I try to mix it up with a roundup or a restaurant you might not expect to see in the Dining Out space.
Lv2Cook__Guest_: Re: Restaurant Week - all I keep reading is that they are rushing you through the meal - in and out within an hour (understandable at times if they're trying to make a profit during RW and are serving mains that cost a lot). So while people *might* like the food, they're ticked off at the incredibly poor service they're getting. And won't go back. Doesn't sound like a win-win for the restaurant.
Devra_First: I think that certainly can happen. But it depends on the place, the night, etc. A regular Saturday night at a restaurant can feel like that too. Has anyone experienced this, or the opposite, during RW?
David__Guest_: Please recommend a place for a festive dinner for 17 people. I was thinking of Eastern Standard. There will be guests who may prefer beer with dinner as much as wine.
Devra_First: How about Eastern Standard! I think that's a great choice.
Devra_First: I always have fun there. Love the cocktails.
cibo__Guest_: I think it's good for the economy, and gives people a reason to dine out mid week.
allstonian__Guest_: I just got home from a road trip in ME & VT. The lack of Boston-area restaurants specializing in Central European food has come up before, and I just wanted to recommend A Taste of Europe in Topsham, ME (just north of Brunswick) which offers very good German food that ISN'T just sausage platters, sauerbraten, and Wiener schnitzel.
Devra_First: Great recommendation! I was thinking of that conversation we had because I said I wished for a beer garden. Shortly thereafter I ate at Townsend's in Hyde Park and they said they were going to have a beer garden in the back. I got quite excited, but it turned out to be a very lovely patio. They do, however, have a fantastic beer list!
BostonBob3__Guest_: Hi there, Devra First. I've really grown to like your reviews. Perhaps because I think you're growing better and better at them. (Sorry, I'm a bit of a food/life snob). Anyway, I quite enjoy how you credit certain blogs, and socia sites for turning you on to new or interesting places (not that I'd know anything about, of, Chowhound for instance). Many food critics poo-poo such sites, but you seems to embrace them. What's your reasoning?
Devra_First: Hey there, BB3. That's good to hear -- there's always room for improvement! And nothing wrong with being a bit of a food/life snob occasionally. In terms of crediting sites, I think it's only fair to do so, particularly if I get an idea or information from them.
Devra_First: It's common courtesy to do so online, and as the worlds of print and online overlap more and more, the ethics of one will affect the other. I wouldn't want to pilfer or plagiarize!
Devra_First: I also think food criticism's role is changing with the rise of these sites, and I think that's a good thing. A food critic's perspective can be valuable, but the perspective of your fellow eaters, who pay for the food themselves and don't eat out night after night after night (or at least not always), can be just as valuable.
Devra_First: Also, when I write something that overlaps with something written online, I hope my crediting where credit is due will save me from accusations of pilfering where I haven't pilfered but there's just a natural overlap of ideas.
Devra_First: Not sure that made the most sense. I need coffee!
Fitz__Guest_: What would you recommend for a cool after-work scene, with good food and drinks downtown?
Devra_First: Have you tried Persephone in Fort Point?
Dan__Guest_: I'm coming to Boston for Labor Day weekend from NYC.... we're a bit of the foodies from the East Village and downtown, most recently enjoyed PRUNE on Sunday. Want to plan ahead for some good Boston dining discoveries. Any suggestions? Thanks very much.
Devra_First: I'd try Hungry Mother in Cambridge. It also has that small feel -- though not as small as Prune! -- and some very delicious food, Southern-meets-French. Any particular neighborhoods or types of food you're interested in?
Foodie02474__Guest_: Hi Devra, What Italian restaurant in the North End (or ???) is good, but isn't going to cost an arm or leg?
rifoodsmuggler__Guest_: where is some real good places to get some good italian pasta dishes in boston?
Devra_First: I'll answer these simultaneously. Vinoteca di Monica is less expensive (though not inexpensive!) than some of the high-end places and has excellent pasta. You also might try Trattoria di Monica, which is good but not as good, but more reasonably priced.
Devra_First: Pomodoro can also be very good, though I haven't been in eons. And I have very romantic memories of waiting on line outside in a snowstorm and someone bringing us out a bowl of steaming calamari in tomato sauce to eat to keep us warm while we waited.
Hungry__Guest_: Its been a number of years since I participated in "Chicken and Salmon Week", but I would have to agree that it largely depends on place you go. Some places, perhaps some of the newer restaurants, are thrilled to have new people in the door, and tend to bump up the tab by offering yummy (and expensive) drinks, which I invariably buy into. Others really run it like a factory and appear to participate more because it is "expected" than as a wonderful PR opportunity. I have not returned to any restaurant that treats it that way, as there are many other wonderful places to dine in and out of the city.
Devra_First: Ha! Chicken and Salmon Week! Yes, this is my impression as well.
lyndey__Guest_: Now that the Garden of Eden has gone, can you suggest some other "comfort food" restaurants? the weather is going to get chilly again soon and I'm going to miss the GOE's coq au vin.
Devra_First: Ah, yes, to be replaced by Stephanie's on Tremont. I'm curious to see whether the Stephanie's formula works in the South End. Think it will? At any rate, get thee to Shawmut and the Franklin Cafe for their turkey meatloaf with figs. They start serving it when it gets chilly. Great comfort food, great place.
Devra_First: If you'd rather head the other direction from Tremont, try Coda on Columbus. Similar idea to the Franklin.
mikey__Guest_: Recommendations in Dorchester?
Devra_First: Any particular kind of food? I love the Vietnamese places in Fields Corner (try Seven Courses of Fish at Anh Hong). Also, not quite Dot but South Boston, there's Cafe Polonia for amazing Polish food. To the previous poster who wanted comfort food: You can't do much better than Polonia. Borscht and potato pancakes, mm hmm.
foodfreak__Guest_: Is Via Matta worth the visit?
Devra_First: Yes, I think so. I like it for lunch on the patio. Haven't been for dinner in some time; I should get back there soon.
Devra_First: Any recent visits to report on?
DorchesterNewbie__Guest_: has anyone tried the restaurant week menu at dbar in dorchester
Devra_First: I haven't, but there's another very good Dorchester recommendation for you, mikey.
allstonian__Guest_: Speaking of beer gardens, I pass Deep Ellum almost daily on my bus to work, and have noticed that they've got what looks like a lovely little patio in back. I still haven't gotten over to check it out, but they also have an excellent beer list, as well as great cocktails.
Devra_First: Sounds great. I always want to delve into their beer list but can't get past the great cocktails. Anyone know how the food is these days?
lyndey__Guest_: I'm always surprised as to who reads and posts on those sites as well. I know some major food snobs who check them out regularly
Uma__Guest_: Where in/near Boston would the best place to have a lobster roll while sitting out on the water? Thanks!
Devra_First: First off, I'd give James Hook a call. 617-423-5501. They're getting back in business after the fire -- there was some sort of temporary building there last I checked, and they may be serving lobster rolls again.
Devra_First: Also, if you feel like a drive to Newburyport, Bob Lobster has good rolls. Rockport's Lobster Pool might also be a good bet up that way.
Devra_First: For slightly more urban water, Tony's on Wollaston Beach in Quincy is a fun stop for sunset.
mikey__Guest_: we call restaurant week "Hanger Steak Week"
Devra_First: Every week is hanger steak week.
Hungry__Guest_: Another good name for RW! I like that too!
mikey__Guest_: thanks - love dbar.
lyndey__Guest_: I'm not so much for Stephanie's. It does seem to work for the Newbury St. Crowd, though. Thanks for the other suggestions.
Foodie_2__Guest_: What do people think about Radius?
Devra_First: I haven't been since Patrick Connolly left. Any experiences to report on since then? Sounded like they were going to make do for a while as they searched for the right person.
mikey__Guest_: can i just say that the South End Progressive dinner idea was STOLEN! from us??? (we know it wasn't you) http://bostonchef.blogspot.com/2007/04/bostons-south-end-restaurants.html
Devra_First: I think this is one of those occasions where more than one person has the same great idea. I know lots of people who do progressive eating in the South End, and progressive dinners have been around for a long time. Can we just say great minds think alike? Here's the link to the story Mikey's referring to: http://www.boston.com/ae/food/restaurants/articles/2008/08/20/progressive_idea_leads_to_south_end_dinner_crawl/
Lv2Cook__Guest_: To Lyndey - those that post on Chowhound, IMO, are much more into food - wherever good food can be found. They're not "foodies" looking for the next happening place, but if that place happens to have good food, all the better. But it's all about the food - whether it's a sandwich or bahn mi or a drop dead great steak or lobster.
foodie__Guest_: Radius another Michael Schlow spot very good
Foodie_2__Guest_: I've been twice and always have been majorly disappointed.
Devra_First: What disappointed?
Uma__Guest_: thank you (lobster roll seeker) !!
th3d__Guest_: have any suggestions in and around Boston?
th3d__Guest_: on the lines of "Shabu Zen...or Annapurna..etc"
th3d__Guest_: we are always looking for fresh cooked veggie foods....
Devra_First: Me too. Have you tried Pho Yuen Dong in Quincy? Good Vietnamese. Comes to mind because of the amazing bowl of rare steak pho I had there recently. I know, I know, that's not veggies. But there are veggie things.
Devra_First: Have you tried Grezzo? It's vegan. And not cooked, because it's raw food.
Devra_First: And this is a totally different oeuvre, but for some reason Rendezvous in Central Square comes to mind. They do nice things with veggies.
Devra_First: Any other veggie suggestions?
Foodie_2__Guest_: The service is good, but the food itself doesn't do anything for me.. I went last wk for restaurant wk. and all the dishes were things I could whip up at home in under an hour.. except for the dessert. I had a much more pleasant experience at Grotto.
Devra_First: That's disappointing. Maybe one of those bad RW places we've been discussing. You must be a good cook! Speaking of Grotto, anyone been to the Marliave yet? New place from the same folks, just had a soft opening.
mikey__Guest_: eh i was just joking about it being "stolen".... hope that came across!
Devra_First: Heh. I gotcha.
cibo__Guest_: You have probably been asked this a hundred times, what are your top 3 choices for dining in the North End? I keep trying places, and most are mediocre. Thanks!
Devra_First: What places have you tried? I like Prezza and Taranta. Neither cheap. Haven't been to Marco in a while, but liked it when I went.
Foodie_2__Guest_: most asian type restaurants usually have a fairly large veggie selection
Devra_First: Craigie Street does amazing things with vegetables. Often involving butter though.
mikey__Guest_: vegetarian - any good tapas place! find good tapas and you'll find great veggie plates.
Devra_First: I love the corn, peppers, and eggplant at Toro.
lyndey__Guest_: Myers & Chang has a lot of veggie options. I was there last night and enjoyed it overall.
Devra_First: Sometimes that edamame and celery slaw plus a bowl of dan dan noodles just hits the spot.
Foodie_2__Guest_: The eggplant appetizer at Ginza is quite good too. "Nasu Dengaku"
Lv2Cook__Guest_: vegetarian - Oleana
Devra_First: Tasting menu rules. Hamersley's is also good. Another to try for veggie, though not tasting menu: Cafe Baraka in Cambridge.
wesr__Guest_: Hi Devra, let's hear your pick for best BBQ and best burgers.
Devra_First: BBQ: Blue Ribbon. Burgers: Someone's back yard. Anyone else want to weigh in?
Devra_First: Oops. we're out of time. Weigh in on your favorite BBQ and burgers and I'll post comments next time. Sorry I didn't get to some people's questions. Thanks for a lively chat!

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