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Best of the New: Food

Chocolate snobbery? In. Location snobbery? Out. And "local" is king of the dining buzzwords.

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January 27, 2008

COSMOPOLITAN EASTIE

A welcome change from East Boston's abundant Italian and Latin American eateries, 303 Cafe serves Euro-inspired caffeine fixes, breakfasts like crab cakes Benedict and Nutella French toast, and light lunches and dinners, including roasted salmon with cilantro salsa. The waffle fries come with homemade tzatziki for dipping, and don't leave without trying the cheesecake. Contributing to the hip feel are rotating art exhibits and spoken-word nights. 303 Cafe, 303 Sumner Street, East Boston, 617-569-3001, 303cafe.com

TRULY LOCAL

In foodie-friendly Great Barrington, Allium stands out for its steadfast commitment to local ingredients. When they tell you the egg on your frisee salad is from Blue Hill Farm and the kohlrabi with your braised Berkshire pork belly is from Indian Line Farm, it's because they want you to know, not because it's a good marketing gimmick. Allium, 42 Railroad Street, Great Barrington, 413-528-2118, alliumberkshires.com

IT'S ALL IN THE MIX

All Seasons Table in Malden serves traditional Chinese, Japanese, and other pan-Asian fare, including Peking duck lettuce wraps with plum sauce and, from the sushi bar, meticulous works of edible art. Live jazz, good martinis, and two large flat-screen TVs for watching Dice-K pitch make the spot an eclectic delight. All Seasons Table, 64 Pleasant Street, Malden, 781-397-8188, allseasonstablerestaurant.com

ARTISANAL EATS

Boston's burbs got their first real gastropub when Rebecca Roth and Seth Morrison, who worked together in the kitchen at the now-shuttered Perdix (she's front of the house now), and manager Sean McKeown opened The Biltmore in Newton Upper Falls. With its mahogany paneling and pressed-tin ceilings, the building's vintage style even hints at its storied original incarnation: a speakeasy. There's no moonshine made out back, but the kitchen does produce delicious house-cured meats and house-pickled veggies. The Biltmore, 1205 Chestnut Street, Newton, 617-527-2550, biltmorenewton.com

BANK ON IT

Charming, spacious Bloc 11 Cafe in Union Square, Somerville, is run by the owners of Davis Square's Diesel Cafe. Located in a former bank building, Bloc 11 manages to be cozy with seating in a vault, a safe full of board games, and a four-sided fireplace that warms a back room. Hungry laptop users (Wi-Fi access is available for a fee) can choose from extensive sandwich, salad, pastry, and hot-drink menus. Bloc 11 Cafe, 11 Bow Street, Somerville, 617-623-0000

TOP OF THE CHARLES

Located in the old Charles Street Jail, built in 1851 but now home to the posh Liberty Hotel, Clink is more sophisticated than the usual hotel restaurant, with up-to-date menu items such as ricotta dumplings in brown-butter sauce and wine poured in three tasting sizes. The historic jail details - brick walls and cell doors - are charming, but most captivating are the Charles River views. Clink, Liberty Hotel, 215 Charles Street, 617-224-4004, libertyhotel.com

COMFORT AND JOY

When you get that craving, but don't have time to whip up your own homemade mac and cheese, head to Coda Bar and Kitchen in the South End - the lively, wallet-friendly restaurant that replaced the unfortunately late Tim's Tavern. Dark wood, glittering candles, and great cocktails are just a prelude to what is quite possibly the best mac and cheese in town. Made with peas and pancetta, the dish is simple and unfussy, comforting and satisfying. (Highly recommended: a shake of Tabasco on top.) Coda Bar and Kitchen, 329 Columbus Avenue, Boston, 617-536-2632, codaboston.com

BON APPETIT

When you need a reminder of that holiday in Paris, head to Gaslight, Brasserie du Coin. The decor, the food - in fact, nearly everything - recalls the City of Light. With entree prices mostly under the $20 mark, wines starting at $4 per glass, and ample free parking, the South End brasserie could become your regular haunt. Gaslight, Brasserie du Coin, 560 Harrison Avenue, Boston, 617-422-0224, gaslight560.com

GO FISH

Sure, free delivery (within 2 miles) is nice, but taking advantage of that service means missing watching the sushi masters work the bar at Haru in Back Bay. Try the Kiss of Fire maki roll - salmon and tuna with jalapeno - for a kick. And don't overlook the warm black cod with miso appetizer - it stands on its own as a meal. Haru Boston, 55 Huntington Avenue, Boston, 617-536-0770, harusushi.com

YACHT LIFE

Cannes not on your vacation schedule? That's OK, since Stephane Santos and Stephanie Zuberbuehler, with business partner Pierre Honegger, have brought a taste of the south of France to Back Bay. La Voile is the authentic French brasserie that the neighborhood needed: There is no television in the bar area, and the food is simple and hearty. Don't even think of not trying the warming, rich fish soup or one of the classic desserts. La Voile, 261 Newbury Street, Boston, 617-587-4200, lavoileboston.net

FUN ON A PLATE

Because eating should be fun. Because every city needs a restaurant that's part '50s diner, part dim sum palace. Because smallish, affordable portions mean you get to try a lot of different things, especially if you share with friends. Because the sodas are made in-house and the hot and sour soup is made without cornstarch. Because the music's good. Why love the South End's Myers+Chang, opened by Christopher Myers (Radius, Great Bay, Via Matta) and Joanne Chang (Flour)? Because. Myers+Chang, 1145 Washington Street, Boston, 617-542-5200, myspace.com/myersandchang

FRESH DIRECT

Cantonese New Trend Eatery, right on an Allston main drag, avoids the gloppy sauces so often associated with Chinese cooking and instead serves up lots of crisp veggies and super-fresh spring rolls. The average student could dine for days on the enormous dinner portions. Eat in, take away, or call for delivery. New Trend Eatery, 103 Brighton Avenue, Allston, 617-254-8811

OH, YEAH

O Ya's nuanced sushi-fusion dishes like foie gras nigiri with balsamic-chocolate kabayaki sauce and raisin-cocoa pulp will delight and amaze adventurous diners not afraid of a big bill. (While you're spending big, go ahead and try that dish with the eight-year- old sake.) Nothing about O Ya, in the Leather District, is expected, but conversation-stopping menu items, cool decor, and gracious hospitality all contribute to a transformative food experience. O Ya, 9 East Street, Boston, 617-654-9900

LIKE NONNA MAKES IT

The sleek atmosphere of Sagra feels like a step up for Davis Square, but the food (and prices) at the Italian restaurant remain down to earth. You'll find pizzas, pastas, and grilled and cured meats on the homey menu; most of the fresh pastas and all of the sauces are made by hand by chef Robert DeSimone. Sagra, 400 Highland Avenue, Somerville, 617- 625-4200, sagrarestaurant.com

DIP IT

OK, so clubby Stix Restaurant & Lounge has a gimmick: It serves food on wooden skewers that are infused with flavor. But the gimmick's good - think lardons and hard-boiled quail's eggs tasting slightly of their bourbon skewers and served with maple syrup dipping sauce. Venturing off the skewer menu rewards, too, especially with the mini grilled cheese served alongside mushroom soup. Stix Restaurant & Lounge, 35 Stanhope Street, Boston, 617-456-7849, stixboston.com

HAVE THE GREENHOUSE SALAD

Burlington needed a fantastic dining destination, and Clark Frasier and Mark Gaier, the team behind Arrows and MC Perkins Cove in Ogunquit, Maine, delivered one with Summer Winter. While the restaurant's location - it's in a Marriott hotel - may leave food snobs scratching their heads, the food won't have that effect. With an emphasis on seasonal and local fare (some produce is grown in the on-site greenhouse), this is exactly the kind of elevated comfort food - roasted chicken with lemon and garlic; grilled tuna with pink-peppercorn butter; devil's-food cake - that diners dream of, especially those far from home. Summer Winter, Burlington Marriott, Burlington, 781-221-6643, summerwinterrestaurant.com

MIXED MESSAGES

You go for the sushi, but stay for the tequila. Indeed, that sounds like a weird combination, but the fusion at Sushi-Teq on the waterfront is a success: Tuna sashimi topped with mozzarella, tomato, and basil is brightened by a glass of aged agave nectar. And if you over-indulge? Just book a room upstairs. Sushi-Teq, InterContinental Boston, 510 Atlantic Avenue, Boston, 617-217-5150

FOODIE FRIENDLY

In a year when "local" has been a foodie buzzword, T.W. Food arrived right on time, focusing on sustainably farmed, humanely raised, minimally processed regional ingredients. That's a lot of buzzwords. But what makes the Huron Village restaurant truly buzz-worthy is chef Tim Wiechmann's way with those ingredients. He transforms them into often unexpected, always interesting dishes, from foie gras brulee to oatmeal "risotto" - food that is both rooted in tradition and forward-minded. T.W. Food, 377 Walden Street, Cambridge, 617-864-4745, twfoodrestaurant.com

POP ON OVER

There are many reasons to love Ula Cafe. The exposed-brick space is dynamite, with plenty of seating. It's located in a century-old brewery that's now home to a dozen businesses helping to rejuvenate a tough part of Jamaica Plain. But the best reason is the popovers. Order one - deliciously doughy and fresh from the oven - smear raspberry jam inside, and smile all day long. Ula Cafe, 284 Amory Street, Jamaica Plain, 617-524-7890, ulacafe.com

SIMPLY WONDERFUL

The tender beef short ribs and scrumptious rigatoni Bolognese that emerge from Jeff Fournier's kitchen at 51 LINCOLN in Newton Highlands would be enough to make you swoon. But then there's dessert: kumquat and pear pie. The service is both friendly and attentive without being overbearing. And Fournier's artistic influence even reaches the dining room walls, which showcase his abstract paintings. 51 Lincoln, 51 Lincoln Street, Newton, 617-965-3100, 51lincolnnewton.com

GARDEN SECRET

Remember when grabbing a bite near the Garden meant only pizza or pub fare? If you need confirmation that those days are long, long gone, head to FLAT IRON TAPAS BAR & LOUNGE. There, tasty small plates include the likes of serrano ham with cantaloupe, grilled octopus, Kobe beef sliders, and a dessert of cheesecake lollipops. Wash it all down with schmancy cocktails in the lounge and raise a glass to winning style. Flat Iron Tapas Bar & Lounge, 107 Merrimac Street, Boston, 617-778-2900, flatironboston.com

MUCHO GUSTO

Turns out chef Ken Oringer can do low-end just as well as he does high: The carne asada, fish tacos, and grilled corn on the cob at LA VERDAD will induce stronger cravings than any $40 entree from Clio. A ball's toss from Fenway Park, the restaurant plates up authentic Mexican to stay - in the laid-back dining room - or to go. La Verdad , 1 Lansdowne Street, Boston, 617-351-2580, laverdadtaqueria.com

SNACK SATISFACTION

Frozen yogurt that actually tastes like yogurt? What a smart idea. At BERRYLINE, two postdoctoral students (one Harvard, one MIT - so you know it's a really smart idea) perfected a recipe that puts other wannabe-ice creams to shame. Their tiny eatery near Harvard Square offers myriad fresh fruit toppings and other less healthful goodies, too. BerryLine, 1 Arrow Street, Cambridge, 617-868-3500, theberryline.com

AS FRESH AS IT GETS

Once you find tiny, no-frills OFF THE BOAT SEAFOOD (hint: It's in East Boston), you just might find yourself regularly speeding through the tunnel to feed your addiction. Lobster rolls and other standards are done well, with fresh fish at fair prices, but it's in the Italian dishes that the place really excels. Try the fusilli marchi, loaded with lobster, shrimp, and crab, and the zuppa Vincenzo, a bounty of clams, calamari, shrimp, scallops, and fish. Off the Boat Seafood, 26 Porter Street, East Boston, 617-561-8800, offtheboatseafood.com

GOURMET TO GO

Specialty food shopping keeps getting more, well, special.

BALLOTIN CHOCOLATES is a serious chocolate shop, one that delights neophytes and challenges connoisseurs with its artisan-made bonbons and a who's who of chocolate bars and cocoa from around the world. There's also a selection of award-winning chocolate cookbooks in the Newburyport store. Ballotin Chocolates, 16 Unicorn Street, Newburyport, 978-465-3800, ballotinchocolates.com

Since British tea seller WHITTARD OF CHELSEA set up its first stateside shop on Newbury Street, anyone seeking a superb cuppa can count on finding it among the 55 varieties of by-the-pound, loose, and packaged teas there. Whittard of Chelsea, 170 Newbury Street, Boston, 617-536-5200

It's not overpriced, it's not crammed and confusing, and it's not filled with the same boring bottles you see at every corner liquor store. WINESTONE, run by former Rialto restaurant wine guy Patrick Dubsky, is pretty much the opposite of all that. The shop has well-priced gems waiting to be discovered - and a knowledgeable staff to guide the process. Winestone, 1160 Boylston Street, Chestnut Hill, 617-264-0393

A truck selling local Sasquatch smoked fish, imported Irish bangers, and hand-picked produce showed up this summer parked in Gloucester on Route 127 just off Grant Circle. NED'S MOBILE GROCETERIA (open May to September) and its sister storefront, NED'S GROCETERIA, have brought culinary joy to locals and given everybody else a reason to visit Gloucester besides the beach. Ned's Groceteria, 265 Main Street, Gloucester, 978-283-4136, nedstruck.com

STAMPEDE!

Maybe 2008 will be a good year for vegetarians. Last year, restaurants catered to the carnivores, with a tidal wave of new steakhouses around Boston. Two notables served up an old-school sense of luxury with new-school tweaks.

Located in downtown's Nine Zero Hotel, KO PRIME, chef Ken Oringer's swank ode to meat, serves many cuts of beef with international touches and edgier-than-usual sides. Skirt steak is flavored with North African spices; Okinawa sweet potatoes make an appearance as a pale purple mash. The restaurant really excels at odd bits and offal: headcheese, sweetbreads, and delectable bone marrow. KO Prime, 90 Tremont Street, Boston, 617-772-0202

Located in the XV Beacon Hotel, MOOO, chef Jamie Mammano's swank ode to meat, serves many cuts of beef with amped-up sides - mushrooms with butter and brandy, fries with truffle oil and Parmesan. Where KO Prime pushes the steakhouse concept toward experimental, Mooo, on Beacon Hill, pulls it back in the direction of modern luxe. Mooo, 15 Beacon Street, Boston, 617-670-2515, mooorestaurant.com

ALLSTON UNUSUAL

One of the city's best eating neighborhoods, Allston has three new restaurants that take diners to culinary destinations less traveled.

Syed Shabbir used to work at Bombay Club in Cambridge; now he's serving halal Indian and Pakistani dishes in his own GRAIN AND SALT. You'll find the classics from that culinary tradition, as well as a nice selection of kebabs and ultra-fluffy nan. But the real object of interest is the Indian-Chinese food - basically the subcontinental version of chop suey. It tastes like Americanized Chinese food overlaid with a scrim of Indian spicing: intriguingly disorienting to the palate. Grain and Salt, 431 Cambridge Street, Allston, 617-254-3373, grainnsalt.com

You can get Thai food and sushi at SUVARNABHUMI KIRI, but what's really different is the section of the menu devoted to Cambodian specialties. From the samlor machu yuon, a sweet-sour soup, to the vegetable-curry dish samlor kako, everything tastes fresh and vibrant. Suvarnabhumi Kiri, 90-92 Harvard Avenue, Allston, 617-562-8888

Like many items on the menu at YOMA, tofu jaw, or Burmese tofu, homemade from chickpea flour, is a bit of a taste revelation: so creamy, so light. From there, move on to la phet thot (green tea leaf salad, a salty, crunchy plate of ingredients unfamiliar to most American palates; pictured), ohn note khot swe (a fragrant chicken coconut soup with noodles), and more. YoMa, 5 North Beacon Street, Allston, 617-783-1372, yomaboston.com

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