Archive | Article RSS feed for this section

Wings and Yummy Things

24 Feb

Restaurants arrive on red line as destinations for diners seeking Asian, French, small plates

 

Jae’s Cafe is in Somerville’s Davis Square. (Photo: Tom Meek)

Along the red line in each of our three northernmost squares, eateries with time-tested roots have popped up within the past month.

Jae’s Cafe is in Somerville’s Davis Square at what was the Korean restaurant Meju. If the name seems familiar, Jae’s was a popular pan-Asian restaurant franchise in Boston and Cambridge in the 1990s and early 2000s. It never officially went away – there’s still a Jae’s in Pittsfield, and owner Jae Chung owns Koreana in Central Square, one of the few places in town to get Korean barbecue at your table. The menu for Jae’s has traditionally been a blend of classic Thai (Pad Thai), Korean (Bibimbap) and sushi staples; on Elm Street locale, the focus is more on Korean. The rebranding comes as no surprise, though the timing is interesting, as Chung had become involved in the ownership of Meju last year after the eatery began to languish. Jae’s will face the same challenges as Meju: a heavy concentration of competition. There are seven other Asian restaurants in the area, including Sugidama Soba & Izakaya, Genki Ya Sushi and two ramen restaurants. It is, however, the only Korean venue.

243 Elm St., Davis Square.

Colette in Porter Square. (Photo: Colette via Facebook)

One T stop down, the French bistro Colette has finally opened in a long-vacant restaurant and lounge spaceon the ground level of the Porter Square Hotel. The eatery, which offers a French cafe-style breakfast as well as Francophile dinner offerings, is operated by Loic Le Garrec and Sandrine Rossi. The duo, natives of France, run sister restaurants over in Boston: Petit Robert Bistro on Columbus Avenue, and Frenchie in the South End. The dinner menu features classic French Onion Soup ($11), Wild Mushroom Vol au Vent (a mushroom-filled flaky pastry for $13), Nicoise Cannelloni Coq au Vin (pasta stuffed with chicken, mushrooms and bacon for $12), Steak Frites ($32) and, aptly, a grilled Porterhouse steak you can sink your teeth into for a eye-popping, but not off-the-charts, $78. The cut is arguably named after Zachariah B. Porter, who ran a hotel and steakhouse across Massachusetts Avenue in the late 19th century, while the restaurant in part is named after the 20th century French writer and performer Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette.

1924 Massachusetts Ave., Porter Square. Continue reading

Old Pop

24 Feb

Rule about soda vending machines in schools can bend for vintage item that just popped up

 

A vintage Pepsi machine is on display after being found at the Maria L. Baldwin School. (Photo: Tom Meek)

As winter set in last year, parent Christopher Lim made an unexpected discovery among the custodial tools and snow removal equipment at The Maria L. Baldwin School: a vintage Pepsi vending machine.

The inert machine is on display outside administrator offices, sparking awe from passers-by who marvel at the mechanical simplicity, time-tested craftsmanship and classic Pepsi scripture. The irony of its discovery and current station: soft drink vending machines aren’t allowed in Cambridge Public Schools.

At first, the machine was thought to date back to World War II, but close examination of an attached distributor plate shows a 1954 patent date – which doesn’t preclude it from being older, but makes the earlier estimate less likely.

The vintage machine bears a message that also feels out of date in a Cambridge elementary school. (Photo: Tom Meek)

The machine probably arrived at the Agassiz neighborhood school by the hand of a custodian who retired more than a decade ago. Joseph “Buddy” Signorelli, assistant principal John Roderick said, “liked to drive around in his pickup truck and pick things up. There’s an old oval glass table out there too.” (Attempts to reach Signorelli for comment were unsuccessful.) 

The storage locker where it was discovered, while part of the school’s main structure, is accessible only from the outside, as it houses seasonal equipment and snow melting agents – likely helping the Pepsi machine remain hidden for at least a decade. For safety reasons, Roderick said, the machine has been taped shut.

Being stashed in storage with snow removal equipment helped hide the machine for more than a decade. (Photo: Tom Meek)

Lim had thought to sell the machine to benefit Baldwin Blooms, an annual fundraiser run by parents and friends to raise money for school trips. As is, the machine could fetch a couple of hundred dollars, maybe even crest a grand – but refurbished and working, it could be worth as much as $10,000. As of now it still sits in the school hallway, a nod to the past and a curio. “How much did a soda cost back then?” a curious elementary schooler asked. “Probably a nickel,” an accompanying adult replied. “Wow,” the child said.

Perhaps the machine might be good for remedial math problems and simple economic principles – such as inflation and cost of living increases.

Oscar-palooza

24 Feb

Image result for blackkklansman

Looking back on a year of film reviews, here’s how I rank the Best Picture nominees critically. As far as tonight goes, it’s wide open, with “Roma,” “Green Book” and “A Star is Born” the favorites. If “Roma” wins it, it will be the first foreign language film to win Best Picture and is only one of five films nominated for both Best Foreign Language Film and Best Picture—“Z” (1969), “The Emigrants” (1972), “The Postman” (1995), “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” (2000) and “Amour” (2012).

  1. BlacKkKlansman
  2. Roma
  3. A Star Is Born
  4. The Favourite
  5. Black Panther
  6. Green Book
  7. Vice
  8. Bohemian Rhapsody

Image result for bohemian rhapsody

Crema Revived

15 Feb

Revival coffee shops, in Alewife and Davis, have that sweet hint of Crema Cafe origins

 

Liza Shirazi and Steve “Nookie” Postal have brought Revival coffee shops to Alewife and Davis Square. (Photo: Tom Meek)

Though Revival doesn’t have the same 02138 address of Crema Cafe, fans of the defunct Harvard Square coffee shop will enjoy spacious and attractive locations on CambridgePark Drive by the Alewife red line T station and a brand-spanking-new locale on Elm Street where the road funnels into Somerville’s Davis Square.

The folks behind Revival, Liza Shirazi and Steve “Nookie” Postal, met in 2012. Shirazi was a co-owner with Marley Brush, whose father Tom owns Flat Patties and Felipe’s Taqueria; in 2016, Postal was brought in to help run the popular eatery as Marley stepped away from the business. Then came the December 2017 sale of the historic Brattle Building where Crema was located, to North Carolina-based Asana Partners for a whopping $108 million. Shirazi and Postal, uncertain what the new lease rates would be, had already begun planning what would become the Revival Alewife location. Ultimately the rent hike forced Crema out; Asana is replacing it with New York-based coffee chain Bluestone Lane.

The Revival in Davis Square opened at the new year. (Photo: Tom Meek)

But the name “Revival” is coincidence, Shirazi said. “We didn’t know how Crema was going to go,” she said. “We came up with the name when thinking about space and community.”

The Alewife location is in the first level of an office building amid a spare and stark swath of generic corporate buildings. “It was about bringing culture and life back into a place,” Shirazi said. “Plus, coffee and food do provide energy.”

The Alewife Revival opened in June; its Elm Street sister opened just after the New Year. Neither is open as late as Crema – until 5 p.m. weekdays and 3 p.m. weekends in Alewife, and to 7 p.m. at Davis Square after a starter closing of 3 p.m. as the cafe settles in.

The interiors of the Revivals at Davis Square (top) and Alewife. (Photos: Tom Meek)

They share a menu, with breakfast served all day and a basic but creative lunch menu with a few nods to the old Harvard Square location – namely the Crema Grilled Chicken sandwich with avocado and cotija, a cheese and corn spread. There’s also an ample selection of salads, quiche, made-on-site pastries as well as a kimchi bowl and the pastrami-based “Fake News” sandwich.

The Alewife space, which Shirazi called “family friendly,” boasts a vast parking lot open to customers on weekends (during the week it’s used by tenants’ employees) and has direct access to the bike path extension from Alewife to Belmont. Shirazi commutes from Lexington, where she has a husband also in the food industry and a 2- and a 4-year-old. Postal is a longtime Porter Square resident who owns and runs the Commonwealth restaurant and market in Kendall Square.

The owners have been exploring food and beverage service options outside the traditional long-term leased storefront format: In addition to the Revivals, they run a food and coffee kiosk at One Post Office Square, in downtown Boston. At CambridgePark Drive there is another floor- level space that they plan to operate as a community beer hall called Mothership.

Banking on Banks

15 Feb

Another bank branch is under construction, East Boston Savings filling former wine shop

 

The former wine shop at 1739 Massachusetts Ave. will become an East Boston Savings Bank branch. (Photo: Google)

Coming shortly to 1739 Massachusetts Ave., formerly the University Wine Shop, is a – wait for it – bank. According to Dan Bloom of Tactical Realty Group, which leased the property, an East Boston Savings Bank branch will open its doors as soon as a remodel is complete.

The loose quarter-mile stretch of Massachusetts Avenue from Linnaean Street to the Porter Square Galleria already has five banks. East Boston Savings Bank will be the sixth.

East Boston Savings Bank, based in Peabody, has more than 40 locations, including one on the other side of Porter Square in North Cambridge at 2172 Massachusetts Ave.

University Wine Shop, seen in July 2017, has moved to 1737 Massachusetts Ave. (Photo: Marc Levy)

The space, owned by a trust managed by Myer Dana and Sons with the neighboring 1741 Massachusetts Ave., had been vacant for more than a year since rents were raised on the previous tenants. The liquor store and Nomad, a jewelry, furniture and gift shop, decided to vacate in August 2017 after decades-long tenancies because of the rent increase – doubling what other businesses along the strip were paying, wine shop owner Paul DeRuzzo told the Cambridge Chronicle. The former Nomad space remains empty and for rent.

University Wine Shop and Nomad relocated yards away, to 1737 and 1771 Massachusetts Ave., respectively.

The notion of a bank popping up when a local business gets bounced due to high rent is nothing new in Cambridge; a Citizens Bank is under construction in Porter Square, where it’s replacing a Potbelly Sandwich Shop, though with seven banks in around 900,000 square feet of retail space, Harvard Square may be the epitome of bank proliferation in Cambridge. Will there be more? You can bank on it. 

Korean Food Returns to Poter Square

27 Jan

 

The ok dol bibimbap with salmon, served in a sizzling hot stone bowl is a classic at Chocho’s in Porter Square. (Photo: Tom Meek)

ChoCho’s, the Korean eatery among a half-dozen Asian choices at 1815 Massachusetts Ave., reopened last month after being closed since a May electrical fire. After much remodeling and mitigation, and despite 16 years in Porter Square, the restaurant has struggled with staffing and regrowing its clientele.

In correspondence with co-owner Eunmi Cho and her son Walter, the Chos said they were greatly relieved to have their regulars back, but the costs of rebuilding and insurance process has taken its toll. Eunmi and her husband Sang also run Yotopia, the neighboring shop with bubble tea, self serve fro-yo and other treats, which stayed open during the seven months ChoCho’s was closed.

The renovated space has been enlarged some, and the menu slimmed down, but savory classics  remain, such as the ok dol bibimbap served in a sizzling hot stone bowl (rice, veggies and a choice of protein – bulgogi, chicken or salmon), the signature soondubu tofu soup that comes with banchans (little snack plates such as kimchi and seaweed salad) and marinated short ribs (kalbi) from the grill. They’ve added a popular bulgogi taco.

ChoCho’s Korean eatery has been in Porter Square for 16 years, with a seven-month gap recovering from a fire. (Photo: Tom Meek)

ChoCho’s is one of the few Korean eateries in Cambridge, even among the neighboring food court-style offerings. Coincidentally, on the day ChoCho’s caught fire, there was also a fire at Koreana, owned by Eunmi’s brother Jae Chung (who ran the Jae’s chain of restaurants in the 1990s); it reopened almost immediately, though.

The holiday timing, when students are away, may have contributed to a slow reboot at ChoCho’s. That said, Yume Ga Arukara Udon (from the owners of Yume Wo Katare, five minutes’ walk up Massachusetts Avenue) has been drawing long lines of udon seekers across the hall since its rave from Bon Appetit. ChoCho’s has udon too, as well as healthy menu offerings that could please people signing up at Planet Fitness downstairs, and whole the cold may keep some away, the stone bowl bibimbap is a perfectly delicious solution for it, with crispy cooked rice and sweet  and spicy gochujang (chili) sauce. But you can’t top the chill-eradicating delight of a boiling bowl of soondubu tofu soup (in vegetable, seafood, bulgogi and kimchi versions) that you drop a raw egg into and let cook. It comes in varying degrees of spice – best to go up if you can; it’s a great cold chaser and nose-clearing medley of flavors. 

“We are excited to be back up and running,” Eunmi said via an email. “It’s as if nothing happened, and I hope future customers who have never eaten at ChoCho’s come enjoy what we have to offer.”

Dope Comes to Town

27 Jan

 

Experts who gathered Jan. 17 to talk about the arrival of recreational marijuana included state Sen. Pat Jehlen, city planner Jeff Roberts, police Sgt. Lou Cherubino and David Lakeman of the state Cannabis Control Commission. Moderator Jeff Byrnes is at right. (Photo: Tom Meek)

A recreational marijuana dispensary is likely to open in Cambridge as early as this spring, officials said at a meeting last week in Porter Square where residents learned about the requirements to open one, and how laws about use would be enforced.

Three medical marijuana dispensaries are open and three more have been approved for opening by the Planning Board. But zoning for recreational marijuana shops hasn’t taken effect – a proposed law was ordained Dec. 17 by the City Council for discussion by its Ordinance Committee and by the Planning Board, but neither body has announced meeting dates. (Dennis Carlone, who leads the Ordinance Committee with councillor Craig Kelley, said he hoped the conversation would happen in February, but it was preferable for the Planning Board to meet first.)

There was no clear rise in crime or motor vehicle accidents in states with legal recreational use of marijuana, officials said, looking at preliminary data from Colorado, which legalized recreational marijuana in 2012 with Washington. Some data suggest that legalization of recreational marijuana correlates with a decrease in opioid use, a yearslong urban epidemic.

The Jan. 17 event, billed as “Legal Pot: The Status and Possible Effects on All of Us” was organized by the Porter Square Neighbors Association. Panelists were David Lakeman, director of government affairs for the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission; state Sen. Pat Jehlen, chairwoman of the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Marijuana Policy; Jeff Roberts, director of zoning and development for the City of Cambridge; and Sgt. Lou Cherubino, of the Cambridge Police Department. Jeff Byrnes, a Somerville member of the association, moderated.

There was concern from the opening of the first recreational marijuana dispensary, Cultivate in the Central Massachusetts town of Leicester, which tied up traffic Nov. 20 and caused community anxiety, making front page news. But as one of only two marijuana retailers on the East Coast at the time, it drew customers from as far away as New Jersey, Leicester Town Administrator David Genereux was quoted as saying in the Worcester Business Journal. (The two dozen residents at the meeting were told incorrectly additional traffic was generated by a Walmart Supercenter opening at the same time.)

Good for business

Since late November, Massachusetts has seen recreational marijuana sales begin in at least two more locations – NETA in Northampton and Northeast Alternatives in Fall River – suggesting there would be less traffic impact along with a decrease in novelty and rarity. Easthampton, Salem and Wareham also had approvals for sales to begin.

Lakeman outlined ways in which retail pot would be good for business, including a requirement that all marijuana sold in Massachusetts must be produced here as well. Many of the production facilities, which require ample space and real estate, are reactivating old, shutdown industrial facilities north and west of Route 128.

Elaborate application processes include a host community agreement, with a tax of 3 percent or greater paid to offset potential traffic, education and enforcement impact, and there are social equity and economic empowerment components meant to repay damage done to people of color by the war on drugs, Lakeman and Jehlen said.

Rules and restrictions

Roberts outlined marijuana zoning rules saying facilities cannot be within 1,800 feet of each other – although there is already a zoning amendment request that an exception be made in East Cambridge – and that facilities be at least 300 feet from schools and other public recreational facilities where children gather. The state recommendation is 500 feet.

Not all residents were pleased by the lesser distance, and Jehlen said her big concern for youth was the rise of vaping and the targeting of youth as users. Other big complaints, panelists said of states with recreational marijuana use, have been the smell.

Consuming recreational marijuana in public, while decriminalized, is still an offense and can bring fines, Cherubino said. Possession of more than 10 ounces of non-medicinal marijuana is a criminal offense.