Jin’s Fine Asian Cuisine and Sushi Bar — Coolidge Corner, Brookline

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If there’s one thing in this world that I love, it’s sushi. In fact, I could eat sushi three meals a day and never get sick of it. It’s an obsession, really.  Luckily for me, Boston has no shortage of sushi restaurants — large and small, upscale and basic, funky and traditional — and my goal in life is to try them all.

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Recently, Nate and I decided to visit Jin’s Fine Asian Cuisine and Sushi Bar, a relatively new Asian fusion restaurant in Coolidge Corner that boasts a giant menu of both Chinese favorites and, more importantly (at least in my opinion), dozens of different kinds of Maki, Nigiri, and everything in between.  

The sushi menu featured traditional rolls that any sushi restaurant usually serves — there were a few veggie options for people who don’t love the idea of raw fish, as well as standard maki featuring different combos of salmon, shrimp, crab stick, or eel with avocado or cucumber.  The highlight, however, was the specialty maki menu, featuring interesting and intricate ingredient combos (like the Sweet Lobster Maki — sweet potato tempura topped with lobster, mango, avocado, flying fish roe, and mayo — or the Spicy Baked Scallop maki — served with crab stick, mushroom, flying fish roe, and mayo).  There were also tons of different options for sushi platters and combos, making Jin’s not only a nice date night spot, but also a great option for larger groups.

Nate and I decided to split three different kinds of rolls:  Philadelphia Maki, which came with smoked salmon, cream cheese, cucumber, and scallion; Rainbow Maki, which is a traditional California maki topped with slices of tuna, salmon, squid, and avocado and then garnished with multi-color flying fish roe; and Volcano Maki, which came with eel, shrimp, avocado, and cucumber rolled together and topped with spicy tuna mixed with flying fish roe and crunchy tempura flakes.  

The Philadelphia roll was exactly as expected — the combo of the smoky salmon and the cream cheese with the starchy rice tasted like the Japanese version of a bagel and lox.  The Volcano maki had a slight kick to it, but not enough to really qualify as “spicy” — the avocado and cucumber helped to counteract the spiciness of the tuna, and the tempura flakes gave each bite a nice crunch. The Rainbow maki was easily my favorite — immensely fresh and flavorful, the tuna, salmon, and squid complemented the sweetness of the crab stick. And the green, red, yellow, and black flying fish roe was not only aesthetically pleasing, but also gave the roll a delightfully pleasant texture that elevated the flavor of each bite. (Also flying fish roe is basically Japanese caviar — pinkies up, everyone).  

Portions were on par with most sushi restaurants — each order came with six to eight pieces, so three rolls were enough for two people to split without breaking the bank (although some of the maki options on the menu get very expensive depending on what you choose).  We left satisfied with all of our menu choices (if not wishing that there was such a thing as dessert sushi — someone invent that, already!!) and wanting to return for another visit to try more off the menu.

TL;DR:  Jin’s Fine Asian Cuisine and Sushi Bar is a great option if you’re looking for fresh and flavorful sushi in a casually elegant setting.

Bottega Fiorentina — Coolidge Corner, Brookline

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When it comes to Italian food, Boston has no shortage of delicious options — from casual slices of pizza to fine dining to cannoli, the North End alone offers a taste of nearly every region of Italy. But, you don’t always have to make the trip to the North End to get authentic, delicious, and homemade Italian food.

Nate and I recently made our way to Coolidge Corner to try Bottega Fiorentina, an intimate and cozy Tuscan restaurant with a small but diverse menu full of antipasto plates, salads, sandwiches, and handmade pasta in a myriad of sauces both traditional (i.e. Alfredo, pomodoro, bolognese, etc.) and unconventional (i.e. the Boscaiola, a tomato sauce with prosciutto, mushrooms, pine nuts, and red pepper; or the Paradiso, a cream sauce with zucchini, mozzarella, and garlic).  The menu is perhaps best distinguished by its extensive list of daily specials, all of which are made to order, are offered only once per week, and sound so good that I seriously would consider eating at Bottega Fiorentina every day for a week just so I could try them all.

After perusing the menu and trying to decide what we wanted to order, Nate settled on the Prosciutto di Parma sandwich — a generous amount of paper-thin prosciutto topped with fresh mozzarella rounds, tomatoes, basil, and olive oil.The sandwich came on an Italian sub roll that was the perfect ratio of crispy on the outside, soft and chewy on the inside.  And, the saltiness of the prosciutto combined with the smoothness of the mozzarella made for an excellent meat lovers’ take on the traditional caprese sandwich.

I went with a pasta special — we went on a Friday, which meant that they were serving their homemade pesto sauce. So, I got an order of spinach gnocchi topped with the pesto (that’s what people mean when they say they want to go green, right?). The order was small, but each individual dumpling was packed to the brim with a deliciously creamy spinach filling. The pesto — made with basil, pine nuts, olive oil, and cheese — was creamy and thick, coating each gnocchi and adding a tangy punch to every bite. The whole dish was topped with freshly shaved parmesan cheese and served with a side of crusty Italian bread. It was a small portion, but the heartiness of the spinach gnocchi combined with the cheesy, creamy texture of the pesto left me full and satisfied (if not wishing I had a little more left on my plate).

In addition to the dine-in and take-out options, Bottega Fiorentina also sells imported Italian grocery specialties, including pasta, cookies, chocolate, and different varieties of coffee and espresso. Combine that with the unpretentiously casual dining area (complete with a communal wooden picnic table, tricked out with a large umbrella and white string lights) and you’ll feel more like you’re dining al fresco in a cafe in Florence than inside a storefront in Brookline.

TL;DR: One of Coolidge Corner’s culinary gems, Bottega Fiorentina offers delicious, homestyle Italian food without the hassle of North End traffic and crowds.

Doretta Tavern & Raw Bar — Back Bay

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Samantha and I wanted to change things up this time and go to a Greek restaurant. There aren’t too many Greek restaurants in Boston, but we settled on Doretta Taverna & Raw Bar in the Back Bay.

The atmosphere is a reason in itself to visit Doretta Taverna & Raw Bar. The restaurant is filled with contemporary art and colorful decor. It’s certainly stylish, but not in a flashy way, but in a more simplistic way. The space inside is big – there are tables and booths that surround a big bar located in the center of the restaurant.

Doretta is like many restaurants around the back bay or downtown area – it doesn’t pretend to be this lesser, more casual restaurant. That means you’ll get smaller portions that cost more, but the quality of dishes are top notch.

The dinner menu is split into raw, mezze (smaller plates), and larger plates. I had never had grilled octopus, so we started with an order of that. Again, a small portion (and even smaller since Samantha split it), but so. Damn. good. The order came in a bowl and in that bowl, along with grilled octopus, came with capers, onions, and parsley.Doretta TavernAfter splitting a mezze, we also ordered a larger plate to split. While the branzino and lamb shoulder both sounded great, we ultimately went with something a little more affordable, that sounded just as great – the lamb burger. We were not disappointed. The lamb burger was topped with whipped feta, spicy cucumber, and tzatziki sauce. The burger came with a side of awesome homemade potato chips which we also thoroughly enjoyed. We also found a foodie hack and dipped chips in the tzatziki sauce that fell out of the burger and onto our plate, and that was a truly delightful experience for my taste buds.Doretta TavernIf you’re looking to change it up from the typical bar and grille, Doretta fits the bill as an elegant restaurant downtown with fresh, authentic Greek food – a very solid place for a date night!

Craigie On Main – Central Square, Cambridge, MA

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Just a five-minute walk from Central Square T-stop, Craigie on Main is an upscale, French-inspired restaurant that features innovative dishes that push the limits in terms of bold ingredients that somehow seem to compliment perfectly together.

One thing that was evident right away was the outstanding service from the entire staff. From the moment we walked in, the staff was nothing but friendly and accommodating. Throughout the night, we literally never lifted a finger to pour water out of the carafe on our table.

As mentioned, Craigie on Main is an upscale French-inspired restaurant, and the decor certainly reflects that. Where we were seated, there had to have been 8 different types of mirrors with antique-style frames. This, in addition to the dimmed lighting, created an intimate aura, making Craigie on Main a prime date spot. The spot even featured an open kitchen!

The dinner menu offers plenty of new dishes that you’ll have to go out on a limb to try. I admit, we didn’t know some of the ingredients listed on the menu, but in asking our waiter, he was able to explain the ingredients and what we could expect in terms of taste for each dish we quizzed him on. Our appetizer, for instance, was squid ink chitarra pasta, topped with manilla clams, roasted tomatoes, pork belly, uni butter. While the squid ink gives off a strong aroma, it worked in harmony with all the other ingredients, particularly the clams. It had a garlic-lemon undertone.Next was the main course. We decided on the Pennsylvania Dutch country chicken. Let me tell you about this entree. The chicken was fall-off-the-bone tender. It’s unclear what it was braised with, but it was delicious. Along with the chicken, were green beans, fennel, and raisins, with a very tasty mole verde sauce that had a mild kick to it.

To cap off our order, we ordered the milk chocolate cremeux. The only way to describe this was that taste was the only sense that existed in that moment, and all other senses ceased to exist – at least until we finished eating. The combo of milk chocolate, feuilletine, and walnut ice cream was just unbelievable and left me drooling for more.

We were very pleased with our experience at Craigie on Main, and would highly recommend going for a date or special occasion.

TL DR: With outstanding service, Craigie on Main in Central Square is a top notch upscale gourmet restaurant – but it’s about quality, not quantity here.

Panza – North End, Boston

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There’s nothing better than Italian food and, luckily enough, Boston is home to some of the best Italian restaurants this side of the Atlantic. We recently took a trip to Boston’s historic North End with our friends (and visitors from Washington, DC) Nicole and Jasmine in tow for some authentic Italian food at Panza.

Panza is located right in the middle of the hustle and bustle of Hanover Street and its small storefront makes it easy to walk right by it.  That, however, would be a big mistake since Panza — a cozy, relaxed, and homey space with mismatched plates on the wall and an open kitchen — has a menu full of classic (and reasonably priced!) Italian dishes that will satisfy pasta lovers, meat lovers, and seafood lovers of all varieties.

I went with the Butternut Squash Tortelloni — oversized, handmade dumplings filled to the brim with a slightly sweet and delectably savory roasted squash purée and topped with a rich brown butter sage sauce. The tortelloni had just the right ratio of pasta to filling and the sage butter sauce — which was flavorful without being too heavy — had an undertone of cinnamon that complemented the savory creaminess of the squash stuffing.Nate got the Potato Gnocchi Bolognese — small potato-filled dumplings in a classic beef and pork ragu. The gnocchi were flavorful and light (despite the fact that the combo of pasta and potato can sometimes make for a rather large post-meal food baby, these gnocchi had just the right amount of starchy goodness) and the meat sauce enhanced the flavor of the pasta even further.

Nicole and Jasmine both gravitated toward the poultry portion of the menu and went for the Chicken Saltimbocca and the Chicken Parmesan, respectively. The Saltimbocca came with salty prosciutto, creamy mozzarella cheese, and roasted veggies, all topped with a light and flavorful white wine sage sauce.  The Chicken Parmesan was exactly as expected — the chicken was slightly crisped and smothered in gooey cheese and delicious homemade red sauce.Both dishes came with a small bowl of pasta that was not wholly necessary considering the large portions, but was nonetheless greatly appreciated because, let’s face it, who doesn’t love pasta?

We left totally full but still completely in the mood for dessert, so we stopped for cannoli at Bova’s (which, pro tip, has amazing cannoli but never has the same long line as the more touristy Mike’s Pastry or Modern Pastry). We shared a cappuccino, chocolate chip, and classic plain cannoli — all of which were perfectly crispy on the outside and deliciously creamy on the inside.All in all, a perfect Boston night in one of the city’s most uniquely fun neighborhoods.

TL:DR:  Panza is the perfect place for a traditional Italian meal without the high prices usually found in most North End restaurants. Be sure to make a reservation to avoid the long lines!

Putterham Grille – Chestnut Hill, Newton, MA

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If you’ve been craving Greek food, you’ll be impressed by the food and service at Putterham Grille in Chestnut Hill. Putterham has authentic Greek cuisine for either counter-serve take-out or dine-in. In my opinion, Putterham Grille is a really underrated spot that I presume flies under the radar because it’s in Newton and not Boston. But it surely worth the drive if you can get out to Newton – or if you live in Newton, lucky you! You have a new restaurant you’ll want to go to.Samantha had been once before, and she seemed to enjoy it, so we decided to go taste test it.. and to write about it! When we arrived at the restaurant, it was pretty crowded, but we were seated right away. The sit-down part of the restaurant is very nice, boasting a calm vibe. The dinner menu featured a rather large amount of items to choose from including a nice mix of entrees and appetizers that sounded unique and authentic to Greek culture.We opted for appetizers to share and sample instead of order entrees. One was the Teriyaki Glazed Chicken Tenders served with a sesame ginger crème on the side and mandarin oranges. The tenders were so good – they were juicy and the teriyaki sauce that was glazed over them was sweet and perfectly complemented the sesame ginger crème and mandarin oranges. You can also order the chicken tenders as a meal, and after tasting them, we kind of wished we did that. Oh well, hindsight’s 20/20.The other appetizer we split were stuffed mushrooms. They were just as good as the tenders, and bonus points because it looked artsy AF when they were served to us. There were five generously-sized stuffed mushrooms drizzled in a balsamic glaze, which was also artfully dripped on the plate. In the middle of the circle of stuffed mushrooms were greens and shredded carrots, which added to the appeal of the plate. The mushrooms tasted just as delightful as they looked. They were savory and satisfying and had a nice consistency.

TL;DR: Putterham Grille boasts a great menu with a wide selection of unique Greek dishes for anyone to enjoy. The beautiful interior and relaxed vibe make it great date spot if you can get out of the city!

Article 24 – Brighton, MA

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Nate and I recently found ourselves hungry and in Brighton, so we decided to stop in at Article 24, one of Brighton’s newest and coolest restaurants.

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The restaurant is worth checking out for the ambience alone — exposed brick walls covered in trendy pop art by local artists, songs you’ve never heard of but would like to hear again playing from the speakers, multi-colored ceramic plates that go together specifically because they don’t match each other. In short, Article 24 is trendy with a bit of a hipster vibe, but in an unpretentious and approachable way.  

The menu can be described in the same way:  it’s full of classic pub food, sandwiches, pizzas, tacos, and other familiar dishes that all have a decidedly modern twist.

We decided to start with a bar snack and got an order of Pigs-in-a-blanket. These weren’t your average frozen cocktail franks, though. Article 24’s take on the classic hors d’oeuvre consisted of a perfectly grilled, all-beef hot dog wrapped in a flaky, buttery phyllo dough and drizzled with a satisfyingly spicy dijon mustard.

Pigs in a blanket at Article 24

With five “pigs” on the plate, they were perfect for sharing (or for shame-eating an entire plate on your own…no judgment here).

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Then came the entrees. I went with the Papas Tacos — two overstuffed soft-shell tacos filled with crispy home fries, corn salsa, and a generous portion of some of the best guacamole I’ve had anywhere in Boston. The tacos were fresh, flavorful, and filling (but not overly so — it was a perfect portion for lunch). To top it all off, they were accompanied by a small ear of Mexican Street Corn, AKA my favorite thing in the entire world, which was grilled and slathered with cheese and a light, tangy cream sauce.

Papas Tacos at Article 24

Nate got the Tuna Tartare Sandwich, which came topped with spicy green beans, whipped avocado, and fried oysters on grilled wheat bread. It sounds like one of those how-do-those-ingredients-even-go-together type of dishes, but Nate described it as the most unique sandwich he had ever tasted (which is one of the reasons he picked it in the first place). The fried oysters gave the sandwich a dynamic, interesting flavor that combined with the spicy green beans to complement the tuna in an unexpected, yet wholly satisfying way. He kicked the entire sandwich up a notch by adding Sriracha sauce, which brought the dish to another level (and made it so I couldn’t have a bite…thanks, Nate). The sandwich was served with choice of potato — traditional fries, sweet potato fries, tater tots, or waffle fries — or, if you’re totally boring, mixed greens. Nate went with the sweet potato fries, which were the perfect amount of crispy, salty, and savory.

Tuna Tartare at Article 24

We left full, contented, and excited to go again and try more of what Article 24 has to offer.

TL;DR: With nightly events — like karaoke, bar trivia, live music, and weekend brunches accompanied by in-house DJs — and delicious food, Article 24 is a welcome addition to Allston-Brighton’s growing landscape of restaurants and bars and definitely worth a visit.