/ +1 206 446 2425


Thursday, November 10, 2011


The Txikito gang has been doing some early Christmas shopping. Alex Raij and Eder Montero, the couple who made Chelsea a better place by opening both Txikito and El Quinto Pino, signed a lease on Monday for a new Brooklyn restaurant, La Vara, slated to open in early 2012.

Located in the spot recently vacated by the ill-fated Breuckelen restaurant at 268 Clinton St. - next to the lovely Ted & Honey Café - Raij says the cuisine will be “Spanish food seen through its Moorish and Jewish roots.”

The food will be a mix of small plates and shareable larger dishes.

“The basis will be home cooking, not the traditional ‘meat, starch, veg,’” says Raij.

Who’ll be running the line? “We will, for now,” she says.

Somewhere in there, Raij will also be having a baby.

“We did our last opening like that,” she jokes.

Why change now?

Follow me on Twitter: @joe_diner and on Facebook.

Twitter Facebook Delicious Digg | More

Friday, September 09, 2011


I met Hilary Nangle, a fellow Boston Globe freelancer, Maine specialist, skier extraordinaire, and all-around good egg, at a travel writer’s conference last year. Late this summer, I sent her a pair of desperate notes:

Hi! Heading to maine w family for the afternoon. Got any snack/clam shack recs between Kittery and Ogunquit? Thanks!

This is a sort of abuse of a perk of the trade on my part, particularly when you note my timing. Yet within an hour I had a response…

Bob’s Clam Hut, Route 1, Kittery, tops a lot of lists of the best fried clams. If you’re craving Jamaican fare, there’s a funky takeout spot on the inland side of Route 1, in Cape Neddick, north of York. Flo’s Steamed Dogs have a legacy of their own (written about in both Gourmet and Saveur). It’s also on Route 1 in Cape Neddick (ocean side, look for a reddish-brown roadside shack, open to 3 and not a minute later). Brown’s Ice Cream, Nubble Rd, York, is wonderful, and if you want an old timey experience, stop by the Goldenrod in York Beach (makes taffy, fudge, ice cream). No culinary traveler should miss Stonewall Kitchen just off 95 on Route 1 in York (heading north, exit just before toll). In Ogunquit, Bread and Roses bakery always has wonderful treats.

We try as much as we can - Bob’s is the bomb (see photo), the Jamaican joint was closed, Flo’s was fantastic (they serve Moxie!), and Bread and Roses’ coffee (Carpe Diem) does the trick in spades.

My word, have I not even written back to say thanks? I’m such a dog. One last question - turns out we’re coming up for a lobstah story Monday & Tuesday (post hurricane, I hope!) any Freeport-area places to stay?

Grin! Freeport, you can’t beat the Harraseeket Inn (, it’s close to everything—steps from Bean’s, outlets, shops, restaurants, and it has the best dining in Freeport (okay, new chef since I last went, so can’t guarantee that, but innkeepers are committed to excellence and have deep Maine roots.

Other good spots:
• White Cedar Inn, (Where we ended up staying - Try the pancakes.)
• James Place Inn,
Those are both downtown
Just south of town, Casco Bay Inn:
And if all you want is a cheap sleep, try these tourist

As for food, I prefer Day’s Lobster, on Route 1 on the Freeport/Yarmouth town line. Nothing fancy, but there are picnic tables on the back lawn overlooking a tidal estuary.

Other good spots in Freeport: Mediterranean Grill, Azure Cafe.

All this lady does is throw strikes! Follow Maine’s self-proclaimed Travel Maven on Facebook.

Thank you, Hilary!

Twitter Facebook Delicious Digg | More

Thursday, September 08, 2011


NYC - The boss is in town, looking to dine and wants to know where we should go. I almost panic. Where do you take the most-feared food critic in France? I call friends and comb over the list of places I’ve been until I remember the place I really want to try: M. Wells in Queens.

Something of a media darling, M. Wells is/was also a gastronomic UFO housed in a diner: they do what they wanted to, which is pretty admirable in my book. It received incredible raves and, since I’ve been there, one blazing, bizarre review whose subject matter I’m not touching with a ten-foot pole.

Since then, the restaurant has apparently been forced out of their Long Island City location by their landlord and, at this point, there are only rumors about it resurfacing.

When we arrive, François promises to share some of his Caesar salad with smoked herring but it disappears before I point my fork in his direction. I try ‘Bacalao Magasin’ a veritable bath of olive oil that poaches, heats or finishes carrots, shrimp, beans, peas and salt cod in a great terracotta bowl.

For our ‘Big Dish’ – menu choices here are divided into ‘big’ and ‘small’ – we try the ‘BibiM Wells,’ a seafood riff on the Korean dish, which is something of a bunt that could have been a home run with more thought given to the play of texture that make the original so good.

The night we’re there, I wish we were with a much larger group to try the big dishes, where much of the creativity appears to lie – BBQ short ribs, lamb saddle with za’atar, tahini and pomegranate molasses, chicken wonton pot-au-feu – but get a sense of the bigger game the chefs seem to be after with an escargot and bone marrow pasta dish with shallots and a red wine ‘purée’ – the mollusk cousin to octopus and bone marrow pasta. M. Wells’ snails are served right in the bone, two forms of slippery goodness bathing in the wine sauce, covered with crunchy, garlicky breadcrumbs.

What is (“What was”?) most interesting at M. Wells is the idea factory the place became. Francois and I get talking about it - in Paris, you’d wonder about the chef’s motives, what they want to accomplish and, often, what their next step will be. Here, creation seems to be the whole point – there is no next step.

Brouhaha aside (please) it’ll be interesting to see what happens next.

Twitter Facebook Delicious Digg | More

Monday, August 22, 2011


PALERMO - There are moments when I come back to this city and wonder if it isn’t the coolest place on Earth.

(This is before I’ve been here too long and the too-close buildings become too close, but till then, hoo boy.)

I cooled my heels after some field research for my WSJ gelato story, sat outside of Caffè Malavoglia, ordered a whiskey (they were out of Fernet), and slow-sipped until peckishness settled in and I realized that even on a Monday, I could roll down to the nighttime fest of the Ballarò market for a panelle sandwich.

Who would have thought that a chickpea fritter sandwich from a street vendor could be so good?

Here’s why: extra-fresh bread laden with sesame seeds, extra hot fritters, along with a shot of lemon and a spritz of salt to wake it up, all in an atmosphere that makes you feel alive.

Hoo baby. So good, I burned the roof of my mouth. Twice.
After that, as my good friend Francesco says, the shutters go down. Time for bed.

This is Joe Ray reporting from The Motherland.

Twitter Facebook Delicious Digg | More

Friday, August 12, 2011


On a recent trip to Richmond, B.C., the value of a good guide was reaffirmed when exploring Chinatown. (Anywhere, for that matter.) With thousands of options, how do you figure out where to go, let alone the two specialties on 100-item menu?

Craig Nelson figured out Manhattan’s Chinatown on his own. Not For Tourists guide editor by day, Nelson spent years worth of lunches trying every place he could walk to near their offices. Then he made his own app – Chinatown Chow Down. (Insert gong sound here).

We started with pork buns at Mei Li Wah Bakery – brown (baked) or white (steamed) – is about all you need to say at the counter. We scarfed them in the street - they’re packed with sweet, meaty flavor. Total cost for both? $1.60! Cheaper than a Snickers bar!!! Ha!

We had sit-down handmade noodles around the corner, fritters and a mustard green sandwich from a street-food vendor which we ate in the park under the West Side Highway. We capped the tour with my favorite – fresh sour plum juice at Yuen Yuen. It’s sweet, sour, funky and smoky. How did they make it smoky? No matter – just keep it coming. How much? $1.25! Fresh juice for less than a Coke! Where’s that gong?!?!

Twitter Facebook Delicious Digg | More

Thursday, May 26, 2011


“Look at those fries,” a friend said walking past Seattle’s Capitol Hill sandwich shop, Homegrown. Stuffed to the gills, we still considered a plate.

I wound up there for lunch a few days later, convinced we’d head to the neighboring Sitka & Spruce, but for reasons I didn’t understand, nothing on Sitka’s menu looked as interesting as Homegrown’s catfish po boy with slaw.

Homegrown calls itself a ‘sustainable sandwich shop’ which is about as interesting as sustainable wine - it’s only worth it if it’s good.

It’s worth it. We try a fun spin on grilled cheese made with cured ham and mozzarella, along with solid homemade chips and a beet salad, but the po boy, made crispy with the slaw, is the show stealer - a sandwich with momentum. So much momentum, we forget to order the fries.

After lunch, visit Homegrown’s top-notch neighbors: The Calf & Kid for cheese and sausage from Rain Shadow Meats. I’ll go back to try Sitka & Spruce, though I might smuggle in some Homegrown fries.


1531 Melrose Avenue
Seattle, WA
+1 (206) 682-0935

Count on $10-15 for lunch.

Follow me on Twitter: @joe_diner and on Facebook.

Twitter Facebook Delicious Digg | More

Tuesday, April 19, 2011


SEATTLE - “I love how this neighborhood smells like garlic,” said a friend as we walked from Stumptown coffee down into the International District.

Coffee and frying garlic - what a nice way to lead into dim sum.

We’d tried to get into Harbor City last time I was in town only to be discouraged by the line at the door on a Sunday morning. Today, our group of eight got there early and waited it out.

Moments after tea is poured and my nephew Eli is installed in his booster chair, the first cart arrives - hum bow (pork bun), salty long beans, broccoli rabe, shu mai, fried calamari just need to have their little bamboo steamer opened and showed to our crowd   to start a “Yes” chorus.

There’s something about dim sum that makes you forget that more will come if you wait. Whoever thought of the dim sum cart was a business genius: seat the hungry customer then immediately wave hot, fresh food under their nose. You may have a little mountain of dumplings in front of you, but would you like an order of sticky rice with meltingly good meat?

Hell, yes!

Count on $10-20

Harbor City Restaurant – MAP
707 S King St.
(206) 621-2228

Follow me on Twitter: @joe_diner and on Facebook.

Twitter Facebook Delicious Digg | More

Friday, April 08, 2011


Dear catastrophe waiter
Dear catastrophe waiter
I’m sorry that you seem have the weight of the world over you
I cherish your smile

– Lyrics (with a tiny gender substitution) by Belle and Sebastian

I’m not sure what phase of the meltdown I arrive in, but the sweet-as-honey waitress hadn’t started crying yet.

Walking into at Café Gadagne, a beautiful spot with a terraced patio designed to be a compliment to the newly-refurbished Musée whose name it bears, I’m glared at by the waiter, a walking black cloud whose pants hang a bit too far down the southern half of his rear end for a place this nice.

Turns out he glares at everyone, clanking plates, occasionally pretending everything’s ok, but his whirlpool of bad juju sucks the place down around him. A smart teacher would put this kid in the ‘time out’ corner. Instead, he bosses the hard-working waitress around in front of everybody until she implodes.

Too bad. The food would be good if you could get past his distraction. I would have enjoyed my pumpkin ‘cappuccino’ soup with roasted chestnuts – there was a nice hot/cold thing going on, but it’s lost in the chaos. Ditto for my steak tartare.

Appropriately chaotic jazz warbles out of the kitchen and at one point, the chef comes out, smiling and oblivious. This is where I realize the bigger failure: nobody’s in charge.

Who knows? I was there a few weeks ago and maybe he’s gone by now. We can all hope, but I’m not going back to find out.

Count on about 20 euros.

Café Gadagne – MAP
1 Place du Petit Collège
+33 4 78 62 62 34 60

Follow me on Twitter: @joe_diner and on Facebook.

Twitter Facebook Delicious Digg | More

Friday, March 11, 2011


I’ll begin with the closer; sometimes I talk about a meal having ‘momentum,’ something that gets better and better with every bite making you want more. Le Severo served a meal’s worth.

I’d wanted to come here since I first walked by years ago when I lived on place Denfert-Rochereau. The chalkboard wall full of good wines and the short menu had a wonderful ‘serious food’ air that tripped my radar.

The hard-working waiter speeds around the floor by himself. He also happens to be the owner, a former butcher and a man who knows how to age meat, which he does for 40 days in the space beneath the dining room.

Did I mention he can carry three wine bottles in one hand and though very busy, is unfailingly polite and patient with my table of nine?

On this night, we order appetizers, passing them around to share. When cep mushrooms, seared in generous quantities of butter make it to Mom, she takes one bite and commands, “Order another plate.”

There’s also a meatier-than-most blood sausage served without casing and cooked crispy on the outside, melting within. Mom immediately declares one of the best she’s ever eaten.

I mention this to the owner and he blushes.

After this, we pass to the serious meat. Just before taking our order, the owner declares that all meat will be cooked rare, fanning his arms out over the table. I mention that Mom prefers her meat on the done side and he blushes again, then caves to her wishes.

Dad and Jim get a côte de boeuf with intense marbling served blissfully rare and accompanied by fries that would make a Belgian proud. Jim gnaws on the bone, smiling the whole time and Dad’s got that “ooh, baby, baby” look on his face.

At the end of the night, the owner’s got time to come by and talk about his food – he’s wonderfully proud of it, rightfully so.

Momentum, indeed.

Count on 40-50€.

Le Severo – MAP
8 rue des Plantes
+33 (0)

Follow me on Twitter: @joe_diner and on Facebook.

Twitter Facebook Delicious Digg | More

Thursday, February 17, 2011


A bit out of sequence, but, this stuff isn’t getting any younger. Above, a shot from the scene at the ‘pop-up’ Fatty Johnson’s in the Village last night - barman/journalist/pal Toby Cecchini announced “sundry a selection of reviled cocktails from the 70s through the 90s” signing off on the invite saying “Join us
if you dare, and feel free to bring anyone you don’t particularly like.”

Jello shot and a Blue Hawaiian, anyone?

Fatty Johnson’s - MAP
50 Carmine Street
New York, NY 10014

Twitter Facebook Delicious Digg | More