Wednesday night, my wife and I needed a quick dinner in the Western 'burbs, so we went to Skipjack's in Natick. We certainly did not have high expectations, but we eat in their Newton restaurant occasionally and have had some decent meals. We each started with sushi rolls (Skipjack's has recently introduced sushi), which we enjoyed and thought made for a nice appetizer. I then had the wasabi crusted salmon, which I have enjoyed in the Newton location, but enjoyed far less this time around. Based on this and my wife's swordfish, we concluded that the Natick Skipjack's is not up to par with the Newton one. (And, of course, Skipjack's is nothing special to begin with.)
Friday, I got out of a meeting downtown at 11:45 and headed straight over to Chacarero. I've been trying to moderate my food intake so went with the intention of ordering a small, but found when I got there I just couldn't do it. Got the large chicken with the works (tomatoes, green beans, muenster cheese, guacamole, salt, pepper and hot sauce) and extra hot sauce (which, at Chacarero does not mean just more of their standard hot sauce, but rather means an application of a second, much spicier, hot sauce). Words cannot do justice to how remarkably good this sandwich was. Perfectly grilled chicken. The wonderful bread on which everything is served. The readily identifiable flavor of every ingredient. All of which works together amazingly well. To sum up, I believe that this place as much as any other in the Boston area exemplifies what this board is all about: identifying unique, inexpensive, amazingly good foods that are worth going out of your way for.
By the way, by arriving at Chacarero at about 11:45 or 11:50, I was able to make it through both lines (the ordering line and the pickup line) in about 5-10 minutes. By the time I was done (around noon), the line already looked to be at least 20 minutes long (and growing), even though there were seven people working behind the counter. (Remember when there used to be just three!!?)
Friday night, my wife and I were looking for something decent without a reservation. We opted for Turner Fisheries, for which I scored 100 opentable.com points by making a quick on-line reservation before heading out the door. I know what some of you are thinking already: this bonehead wasted two prime eating opportunities this week, one at Skipjack's and one at Turner Fisheries. But we have had decent luck at Turner Fisheries and knew we could get in for a nice meal without a reservation (or in our case, a last-minute on-line reservation). I started with a grilled calamari appetizer served on a bed of polenta (sounds a little strange perhaps, but I thought it worked nicely), which I enjoyed very much. My wife had swordfish (again) and I had a cod that was pan roasted (I think) in brioche breadcrumbs. I ordered the cod on the recommendation of the waiter, notwithstanding my concern that I would end up with a heavily breaded piece of fish. To the contrary, it arrived just dusted with breadcrumbs and herbs. The fish was moist and delicious. All in, we were pleasantly surprised by our meal. I think it has taken some time since they reopened to get up to speed, but I think Turner Fisheries is now a good alternative. Note, however, that although we liked our waiter very much and the waitstaff has a positive attitude and tries hard, expect chain-hotel quality service, not fine restaurant quality service.
On to Saturday night. My wife and I took her aunt and uncle to Excelsior (which, by the way, is now on opentable.com, which makes the reservation process much easier). Because my wife's aunt has difficulty walking, we took the elevator, rather than the stairs, to the second floor dining room. We absolutely loved the way the elevator is integrated into the wine storage area, and in fact exiting the elevator, you walk right through the glass-enclosed wine racks. We found the dining room to be quite comfortable, and particularly liked the fact that the restaurant has not tried to squeeze tables into every last nook and cranny of the room. Rather, tables were well spaced, and the carpeted floor contributes to a nicely subdued dining room. The menu is very interesting and fairly extensive, making ordering somewhat difficult. I finally settled on the hamachi appetizer served with a scallop "ravioli" (it's not pasta; they slice the scallop in half and fill it with butternut squash) and the roast pork. My wife had a green salad (not on the menu, but they do offer a very nice mixed green salad) and the salmon (no, not swordfish this time), and her aunt and uncle shared the lobster pizza, while she ordered the duck and he the salmon.
The dinner got off on the wrong foot when my wife was served a dressed salad after she had asked for dressing on the side, and her aunt and uncle were served the lamb pizza (which looked magnificent!) after ordering the lobster pizza. (I don't know who to blame for the mixup. In general, we liked our waiter -- Phillps -- very much, but I guess at the end of the day it is his responsibility to see that the order is served correctly.) But the restaurant recovered nicely. They did not serve my appetizer, but rather took all the food away and brought back the correct orders about five minutes later. (The one thing they could have done better was to come to the table after taking away the appetizers to apologize and tell us they were going to remake them, but we did nonetheless appreciate that they did remake them and served all the appetizers together.) Once we were served the appetizers, we enjoyed them thoroughly, particularly the lobster pizza, which was even better than I remembered from Biba. The main courses were equally good, particularly the duck. And because my wife's aunt also has difficulty seeing, we asked that they take the duck back into the kitchen and cut it off the bone, which they graciously agreed to do and brought it back moments later nicely cut up and beautifully presented. We capped off the evening with two great desserts -- the caramel pots de creme and the chocolate sourdough cake with vanilla ice cream. We have a reservation to return in two weeks and are very much looking forward to it.