Boston Review on Breakfast Spots

Since I only stayed for two nights in St. John’s, I never had much time to explore some of the “hotspots” the locals have been talking about. We failed to get a reservation at Atlantica Restaurant, “Canada’s Best New Restaurant” named by enRoute Magazine in 2007, but more than anything we just didn’t have enough time. The city that I grew up has definitely changed with more cultural and entertainment attractions to see. It will only mean one thing. I won’t be waiting too long for my next trip back.

So after leaving St. John’s, I was off to Boston for a week. Once again, I was there to visit family and of course to revisit some of my favorite dining spots, but also to find new ones.

Rise and Shine

I must admit I am not a breakfast person. Even with the long hours of managing a restaurant, I am one of those that frequently skip breakfast. Waking up in the morning to eat a toast or cereal isn’t for me. Place a coffee and a croissant or brioche in front of me, now that’s a different story. Occasionally I do enjoy a greasy spoon diner. However, a fresh cup of coffee is often all I need.

Japonaise Bakery & Café

Located in Brookline is a French – Japanese style bakery that I frequently visit. Known for its bread, Japonaise attracts people all throughout Boston. Unlike most bakeries, the hours of operation do not begin until 8:00AM. However, it is common to find a line of customers prior to opening, waiting to be the first to purchase a freshly baked almond or chocolate croissant. Since bread is what makes this bakery so popular, it is often a daily sellout. Customers are known to have traveled more than an hour one way just to buy their sandwich bread called Shokupan. Shoku meaning “food” or “to eat” translates to “eating bread,” which is used to make a variety of tea sandwiches. You can also choose to buy a loaf of Shokupan in white or whole wheat. So what is the secret? What makes the texture so rich? The recipe calls for lots of cream.

Japonaise is also well known for their sweets. One in particular that I have quite enjoyed is the Anpan which is a bun filled with sweet azuki bean paste. If you like the red bean paste filling, then you will like their doughnut even better which has a sugary coating on the outside. Other desserts include strawberry short cake and a variety of cheesecakes and tarts.

Food: The bakery is comparable to some of the best French bakeries I have visited. According to chef and author, Ming Tsai, the Japanese donut is the best dessert he has had. No doubt, the bread is special and should remain a family secret. Japonaise also offers the standard coffees, but don’t expect anything special. You are better off saving your money for a properly made cappuccino across the street at the new French bakery called Tatte.

Service: Operation and management need immediate attention. Interesting characters serve the crowd and are often spaced out (“high”). We ask for Earl Grey Tea only to be told they don’t have any and do not carry it. Funny, we see the boxes of Earl Grey tea displayed on their counter. Lack of training prevents smooth flow of service. Difficulty in making coffee creates long lines. The snail pace speed of working the cash is a sign of trouble. Store hours are limited.

Atmosphere: Both exterior and interior requires a whole new makeover from its current old worn down “mom and pop” looking storefront. Poor lighting creates a dark, dingy atmosphere. The outside patio seating is ruined by the careless design. A couple units down you can find Dunkin” Donuts which even provides a better atmosphere.

Price: Expensive pastries and baked goods. A loaf of white sandwich bread costs $8.00 and one almond croissant is $5.25. Average check for breakfast $12 including tax. Average check for a light lunch is $8.50.

Japonaise Bakery & Café 1020 Beacon Street, Boston MA 02446, 617-547-5531

Tatte Fine Cookie & Cakes

A new bakery café has opened in Brookline that just happens to be directly across from Japonaise. Tatte replaced the Savoy Bakery. Question remains whether Tatte can do any better and survive. Bets on when Tatte will close are already the talk among the Brookline neighborhood. A limited menu offering of strictly sweets is risky. Only time will tell whether there is a large enough market.

This was the first time I have been there and I thoroughly enjoy the atmosphere. The design is rustic and reminds you of being in an old country barn house. My first impression was positive and exciting to see such beautiful tarts, cookies and cakes. However, the prices are expensive. One cappuccino, one regular coffee and two chocolate brioches were $17. Pear tarts are $25-$30 while a large cheesecake is $50. It will be interesting to see whether Tatte can capture some of Japonaise customers. One thing I know for sure is there cappuccinos are far better. Maybe some of the early morning risers will take advantage of Tatte’s 7:00AM opening. I hear their Belgium hot chocolate is to die for. If Tatte remains open next summer, I will be there. I just won’t be buying any sweets. I will save that for Japonaise.

Tatte Fine Cookie & Cakes 1003 Beacon Street, Boston MA 02446, 617-232-2200

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Vacation and By The Beach Restaurant Review – St. John’s, Newfoundland

From a much needed R&R, my wife and I spent over a week away with friends and family. It has almost been 2 ½ years since my last visit to the East Coast, the place in which I still call home. Our short visit to St. John’s was well worth cashing in the 50,000 Aeroplan points. Within the two nights we were there, we enjoyed every minute of my mom’s home cooking. Of course there is never a trip that doesn’t include dining out. Before we knew it, three days had zoomed by and we were on the plane again to continue our trip in Boston.

Fish & Chips

While I have sampled many styles of fish n’ chips throughout my lifetime, there is nothing that compares to what is offered at home. One big difference that the locals will tell you is the quality of fish far exceeds what most fish n’ chips places will offer. Being surrounded by water, accessibility to fresh fish is tremendous.

A longtime favorite of mine since childhood has been Ches’s Fish & Chips which started in 1951 by Ches and his wife Betty. Today, the popular family restaurant has five locations and continues to grow. Although it still remains a family restaurant even with both Ches and Betty retired, things have changed.

According to several locals, the menu has expanded to burgers, salads and lasagna. The shift in the menu has resulted in a change to their quality of fish which some feel it has suffered. So this was the first time I ever returned home without eating at Ches’s Fish & Chips. The tradition was broken. Perhaps I should have had one last meal at Ches’s for good old times, but did I really want to have my last Ches’s experience to be a bad memory? I refused to leave the East Coast without having found a fish and chips replacement.

By-The-Beach Restaurant

I was in luck and my parents passed on the good news that there was a better fish n’ chips place located in St. Phillips, a small fishing community outside of St. John’s. It took about 15-20 minutes to drive to the restaurant called By-The-Beach Restaurant. Hence the name, the restaurant is next to the beach. The restaurant would be best described as a cottage or small house converted into a restaurant. There were about 20 seats along the outside deck and another 30-40 seats inside. The line of waiting customers spanned beyond the entrance way leaving other customers waiting eagerly along the outside steps.

The line was a clear indicator that the food or at least something about the restaurant must be worth the wait. The estimated time for the next table was 25-30 minutes. We decided to wait. My mother told us to wait outside while she would line up and place the order. This was a bit strange as I wasn’t sure what my mother was actually doing. What was different about this particular restaurant was the system of getting a table.

Getting a Table

So the first step of getting a table is placing your order. If you are going with a large group of people, I recommend having one designated person to place the entire order and paying first. You will quickly realize how tight the inside of the restaurant really is since little room is left for anyone to pass through. You don’t to need to worry about memorizing various orders since the menu is straightforward and focuses on fish and chips. Two pieces of fish and a plate of fries is sufficient for most locals and maybe even too much.

Warning #1: The portions are huge mostly due to the enormous amount of fries easily made for two, but for the happy locals it’s just the right amount. However, if you want to save some money and prevent wasting any food, one order of fish and chips will do between two people. You can always order extra pieces of fish on its own.

Of course, I only realized how large the portions were once I received the food. My mother thought since I was such as big eater I would have no difficulty in finishing it. It was more of struggle if you want to know. So once my mother placed the orders she was given a card number that acted as our table and order number. From that point on, it was a long exhausting wait that lasted for one hour before our number was called and we were finally seated. Strangely the system of ordering and actually getting a table is confusing. The whole process of waiting in line to place your order only allows you to enter another waiting line for the actual table. So it may take you up to 15 minutes to place your order and from that point it depends how busy the restaurant is to get a table. I couldn’t believe we actually waited for one hour until we were seated.

Warning #2: You may want to bring some mosquito repellent, a cap and look for shelter while you wait. Swarming mosquitoes will be on guard ready to attack.

Finally Seated

So you may wonder how they coordinate the food once you have been seated. We paid an hour ago. I found out everything is made-to-order. As much as this was good news to my ears, the wait was not. Fifteen minutes passed with no sign of food. At the least our onion rings should have been served. I was slowly growing impatient and began to critic every aspect of the restaurant on the changes I would make. Finally 30 minutes passed and the food arrived.

Warning #3: Make sure you don’t have any scheduled plans as you may have the longest lunch or dinner of all time. You may even want to bring a snack just in case.

The Verdict

Food: There is one thing that By-The-Beach definitely knows how to do right and that is to cook fish. In comparison to a traditional beer batter, By-The-Beach coats each piece of fresh cod in a thin light crispy flour batter. The melt in your mouth batter instantly reminded me of perfectly cooked Japanese tempura. I quickly stuffed myself with two pieces of fish and yet I was craving for more. There were plenty of fries but I wanted more fish. I then knew why people were willing to wait. Indeed By-The-Beach Restaurant offers one of the best fish and chips you can find.

Service: The service is lacking in several areas with clear problems in communication. A missing order of onion rings required three reminders from two different staff members. Service recovery was poor. No refund was given to the paid onion rings which were never delivered. A lack of regard to proper procedures create unnecessary wait times and confusion. Seating and orders can take up to 1 ½ hours.

Atmosphere: The small cottage like design is crowded. Tables and chairs are tightly clustered together creating a challenge for both staff and patrons to maneuver. Due to poor ventilation, the room can be hot and stuffy.

Price: Affordable, but slightly higher than other fish n’ chip restaurants in town. Average check per person $12 including tax and tip (includes non-alcoholic beverage).

By-The-Beach Restaurant is uniquely located near the beach which provides an excellent view of Conception Bay. You may spot the occasional Blue whale and iceberg or you can enjoy a beautiful sunset while dining. Besides a much needed improvement in service, the fish is exceptional and worth a try. You can count on my word, you will crave for more.

By-The-Beach Restaurant and Take Out, St. Phillips, NL, 709-895-8800 (not affiliated)

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I’m on Vacation for the Week..

I am on vacation this week for much needed R&R. While I’m away, I will be sampling food from as many restaurants as I possibly can and will report back. In the mean time, feel free to read over the “popular posts” on the right hand column.

In addition, here are some great recipe posts from other bloggers:

The Amateur Gourmet explains Tuesday Techniques: How To Make Jam.

Million Dollar Journey shows us how to cook a whole chicken.

Bake or Break teaches us how to make her favorite chocolate chip cookies. Damn they look good.

Sunday Nite Dinner exposes the secret behind preparing Chinese white cut chicken (Bái Qie Ji).

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