Chez Vachon (Manchester, NH)

Manchester, NH is a funky little town. New Hampshire’s Queen City, it has a lot of character in some of its neighborhoods. Downtown is located in what used to be the mill district (indeed, most of the Millyard is still there, being converted into various offices, industrial lofts, and the like), and there are even a few ethnic neighborhoods. One of these is the West Side, where two of the larger neighborhoods (Notre Dame and Rimmon Heights) are actually Quebecois in heritage. The area had some tough years, with “urban renewal” between the 1960s and 1980s actually razing two decent neighborhoods and turning them into dismal strip malls, but the area has generally rebounded, diversified a bit, and, well, even gentrified a bit. But in addition to the notable large French Catholic Churches, the neighborhood still has a lot of Quebecois heritage, especially in the food scene. There’s probably no better place for this than Chez Vachon.

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Nostos (Vienna, VA)

Lest one think from the previous reviews that the Tysons Corner area is entirely mall-related dining, rest assured, there are a few gems hiding in among the malls and box stores. Nestled a few blocks away from Tysons Corner Center in the first floor of an office building is the surprisingly pleasant Nostos, an upscale Greek restaurant. Since I had a free evening, this was also a good opportunity to get together with some of my DC area friends from TCF, so a group of 8 of us descended up Nostos.

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Barrel & Bushel (Tysons Corner, VA)

A second day hanging around Tysons Corner Center in Northern Virginia sent me out in search of a good breakfast. After a walking loop of the area, I settled upon a spot I had spied the previous evening; across from Earl’s Kitchen + Bar is Barrel & Bushel, the in-hotel restaurant of the Hyatt Regency Tysons Corner. Instead of being the bustling, over-crowded joint that it appears to be from the start of happy hour through closing, at breakfast time it’s actually a fairly pleasant restaurant that is primarily catering to hotel guests. But as a walk-in, I was promptly greeted and settled into a nice window-side table with a nice giant pot of French press coffee.

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Earls Kitchen (Tysons Corner, VA)

The interesting thing about business travel is that sometimes it takes me to some truly neat places. Sometimes it takes me to, well, offbeat locations that have their charms. And sometimes it takes you to… malls. That was the case with a Navy client, who periodically requires me to come to a briefing in… Tysons Corner, Virginia. Which is basically several upscale shopping malls all in close proximity. Which instead of my usual, quirky destinations, often means several days of… chain food. But that said, sometimes I do encounter a chain I like. You can read my old reviews of Shake Shack from back in the days when Shake Shack only had a few locations, and for the most part I think their product actually holds up. And there are other chains I still particularly enjoy, like Wagamama. So a trip to the mall isn’t always bad. And in this case, I found a smaller chain that I actually rather enjoyed: Earls Kitchen.

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Main Street Gyro (Nashua, NH)

As a frequent volunteer for FIRST Robotics, I often find myself having to spend the occasional weekend as a guest judge staying in towns that I’m normally close enough to that I’d just visit them during the day, but due to the early hour that Robotics kicks off, it’s nice staying close by. This also gives me an opportunity to check out some of the local towns in a bit more culinary detail. This year, I was spending a lot of time in Windham, so I ended up getting a room in Nashua. I’ve enjoyed a few places around Nashua before, like Martha’s Exchange or Vietnam Noodle House, but this time, I was craving a gyro. Many other places I’ve lived, gyro joints were a dime a dozen, but in New Hampshire for some reason, they are somewhat rare (although Manchester has a few, like the very good Gyro Spot). But I had noticed that since my last visit, Nashua had added Main St Gyro, so I had to give it a try.

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275 Main (Warren, VT)

Over the years, Carol and I have had some pretty good luck with raffles, so when we were attending last year’s SipTemberfest at Mad River Glen, we couldn’t resist buying tickets to the Mad River Path Association’s raffle. And indeed, a bit later when they started drawing tickets, we soon found ourselves winning a free night at the Pitcher Inn in Warren, VT. The Pitcher Inn is basically the ne plus ultra of Vermont country inns, so, a few months later, we found ourselves taking a nice mid-week vacation (the free night wasn’t good on weekends) and having a very pleasant stay at the Pitcher in their “Mallard Room”. But that also gave us an opportunity to check out their rather nice restaurant, 275 Main.

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Downhome (Montpelier, VT)

I have a soft spot for Montpelier, one of the United States’ most quiet state capitals. It’s a pleasant town, with a lot of little stores, and a decent arts scene. And, most importantly, for a modest city of its size, it actually has an impressive assortment of restaurants, ranging from classic diner (Coffee Corner, to funky Asian-inspired (Kismet), to pizza (Positive Pie II), just for starts. And in this environment, new eateries are appearing all the time, and most of them have staying power. So, when a new place shows up in Montpelier, I’m usually interested in checking it out, so a trip up to Warren VT turned involved a chance to stop by and check out a relative newcomer: Downhome.

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Giant Burger (San Leandro, CA)

I’ll have to say, there’s something I rather like about the particular style that California burgers have. It’s a bit of a particular style: a fairly thin and well-crisped burger patty, served up with generous layers of lettuce, onion, and tomato (I’ve been told that this is a throwback to the days when fresh tomatoes and lettuce weren’t a standard item in grocery stores), usually on a toasted bun. And, somewhat peculiar to the style (see my reviews of

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Ramen Parlor (San Mateo, CA)

After finishing up dinner at Kokko, all of the gnoshing on yakitori left us still a little hungry, and we decided that some ramen was in order. Luckily, San Mateo and the adjacent communities have no shortage of ramen joints; over a dozen of them in San Mateo alone. In fact, three of them are their own little empire, owned by Kazunori Kobayashi, a Japanese Chef who first started Santa Ramen, serving classic ramen. Then he opened Ramen Dojo, focusing on spicy, stamina-building ramen. And then he open Ramen Parlor as an option to serve up some alternative ramen with different ingredients, particularly seafood. Overall, I was probably most interested in Ramen Dojo, but that wasn’t in the cards: Ramen Dojo wasn’t open that night. So we wandered over to Ramen Parlor to check it out.

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Kokko (San Mateo, CA)

On my last trip to San Mateo, I met up with my former coworker Larry and his wife Yoko who took me out to for Yakitori. I’ve always loved the concept of Yakitori. Literally meaning “grilled chicken”, the concept started as street food (with fresh skewers of grilled chicken served up with a sauce), but, especially in the US, “yakitori” has grown to include a rather large variety of grilled meats and vegetables, usually served in a sit-down restaurant with a variety of Japanese sides. San Mateo has several well-regarded Yakitori places, and my hosts decided to take me out to try Kokko.

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