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!

Tasca Restaurant – Brighton, MA

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Nate and I are huge fans of the whole “sharing is caring” rule (especially when it comes to food sharing — arguably the best kind of sharing), so the concept of tapas is perfect for us. We recently decided to go to Tasca in Brighton, where we experienced Spanish cuisine at its finest.

We decided to get three items off the extensive menu (seriously extensive – there’s 35 varieties of tapas and ten full-sized dinner entrees), but everything looked so good that the decision was hard to come by. We toyed with the idea of getting the Brie a la Plancha (#29 on the menu), which comes with grilled brie and a tangy-sweet raisin chutney and a grilled garlicky baguette. We were also intrigued by the Confit de Pato (#19) — succulent roast duck leg served over braised red cabbage and apples — and the Costillas de ternera (#31) — braised short rib ragout with root vegetables and creamy horseradish on top. Tasca is the sort of place you have to keep visiting again and again so you can try everything that looks good (aka the whole menu).

Ultimately, this time around we went with the Solomillo (#20; a petit filet mignon served in a red wine sauce with mushrooms and a stack of potatoes au gratin); Salmon ahumado (#34; smoked salmon with red onion, capers, and dill crème fraîche with a side of crispy potato cake); and Fideos con mariscos (#32; Catalan-style roasted angel hair pasta with shrimp, calamari, mussels and littleneck clams baked in a garlic lobster broth).

The filet was perfectly cooked to order, tender and juicy and just the right amount for two people. The cheesy potatoes soaked up the au jus of the steak and were rich and creamy.

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The salmon ahumado was basically the Spanish answer to the traditional bagel and lox — the salmon was just the right amount of smoky, the potato cake was basically a huge hash brown (#heaven), and the creamy, smooth, slightly tangy dill crème fraîche tied all the flavors together in a perfect combination of savory, creamy, fishy goodness.  

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The highlight of the meal for me, however, was the Fideos con Mariscos. The portion was extremely generous for tapas, and the dish was chock-full of enough shrimp, calamari, mussels, and clams that Nate and I didn’t even have to fight over who got the bigger portion (although in all fairness I think I might have taken more than he did…sorry, Nate!).  The garlic lobster broth was creamy and flavorful and had undertones of an Alfredo sauce.  The sauce was neutral enough to bring out the flavor of the seafood but simultaneously flavorful enough to stand on its own — even bites with just the lobster-broth coated angel hair pasta were delicious.

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Pro tip: when the bill comes and your server asks you to fill out a comment card, make sure you not only give comments, but provide your email address as well.  I know, I know…spam emails are annoying. But ever since giving my email address to Tasca way back when I first tried it a few years ago, I have never eaten a meal there without some sort of coupon giving me a percentage off my meal. In fact, with the $10 coupon Nate and I used when we went this time around, we basically got two of the tapas we ordered on the house.

The restaurant is also very into promotional events. There are weekly sangria tastings, special holiday menus, and even live music flamenco dancing. Tapas range in price from $5 to $9 and the portions are larger than those found in most tapas restaurants in the city, so it’s definitely a good value. Plus, with exposed brick walls, candle-lit dining, and ample seating, Tasca is a great place for a date night or just a slightly fancy yet also totally affordable meal with friends. A trip to Tasca is basically the next best thing to a trip to Spain. Without having to bring your passport or getting searched by the TSA.

TL;DR: Tasca serves up authentic and delicious Spanish tapas at a reasonable price — with its romantic ambiance and easy accessibility via public transportation, it’s a great spot for dinner dates and more than worth the trip to Brighton!

Top of The Hub – Back Bay, Boston, MA

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I don’t consider myself a particularly fancy person, but sometimes it’s necessary to throw caution (and budget) to the wind and celebrate life’s little victories. Recently, Nate and I did just that in the heart of downtown Boston.

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We decided to channel our inner Tom Haverford and Donna Meagle and indulge in our very own version of Treat Yo’Self (for those of you who don’t watch Parks and Rec, you should really get on that). And we were not sorry at all. Dinner at the Top of the Hub was everything we hoped it would be and more.

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First, let’s set the scene: 360-degree views of the Boston skyline from 52 stories up (it was pouring that night and it was still one of the most spectacular views of the city I’ve ever seen); an exquisitely set table right by the window; and live jazz music (think Fred Astaire meets La La Land).  The restaurant advertises itself as Boston’s most romantic dining experience — completely true.

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We started with cocktails. I got the Oak Punch — oak-infused vodka with strawberry puree, orange juice, pineapple juice, and brown sugar. It was sweet, satisfying, and tasted like the summer. I had no idea that oak-infused vodka was a thing, but I could actually sense a slightly woody aftertaste with each sip, and it counteracted the sweetness of the fruit juices in a really satisfying way. Nate followed my lead and got and equally tropical drink. He opted for the Banana Boat – Bacardi oakheart rum, banana liqueur, cream, brown sugar, and pineapple juice.  It was deliciously creamy and refreshing…basically the beverage equivalent of a trip to the Caribbean (minus the cost of airfare).

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Sipping fancy cocktails while Frank Sinatra played in the background would have been enough for me, but we decided to go big or go home and I’m glad we did. The meal was probably one of the best I’ve ever had in Boston or in any other city. In an effort to not totally break the bank but still get a good taste of what the Top of the Hub had to offer, we decided to go halfsies on an appetizer and a meal (we were celebrating, but we’re not anarchists, you know?) We started with a plate of the Short Rib Gnocchi. The short rib was mouthwateringly tender, the gnocchi were fresh and homemade, and the portion was just the right amount to whet our appetites for the main event.

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We’re both meat eaters, so for dinner we went with the 14-ounce Center Cut NY Strip Steak. It was more than enough for two people.  Tender, juicy, cooked to perfection — it was a steak for people who really, really love steak. It came with a slightly salty, rich marrow butter on top which helped to enhance the flavor of the steak’s natural juices. I’m not usually a person who puts butter or sauce on steak, but the marrow butter truly made the meal. It also came with Truffle Au Gratin Potatoes (cheese and potatoes in a casserole…need I say more?) and grilled asparagus (because Oprah says there should always be something green on your plate).

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For dessert, Nate surprised me with a custom cake made by the restaurant’s pastry chef. Chocolate cake with vanilla buttercream frosting and my name written on it. Truly the cherry on top of a perfect night. If you’re celebrating a special occasion or simply want to have an amazing dining experience that’s totally worth every penny, there’s no better place in Boston.