Initial impressions [Boston area restaurants]

We all eat. Some of us do so at restaurants. Often, we go to a new place and wonder if our first impressions were valid. It seems a good idea to have a thread that discusses our initial impressions of a place – so that others can confirm our impressions, or say “You’re full of crepe” (people, this is a family site).

Which brings me to Cuchi Cuchi, on Main Street in the general Central Square Area, Cambridge, MA, USA, Earth (in-joke, others ignore: D T-T, is your inquiring mind satisfied about location?).

It didn’t get respectful attention on Chowhound, and has (as far as my poor searches go), essentially no mention here. I can understand why – the shtick around it has always put me off, too. But we were to see the gender-exploring play, Cloud 9, at Central Square Theater, and a restaurant that claimed to fool around with that, and some faintly burlesque themes, seemed appropriate. We must after all eat at what we are about to see.

Let me get two things out of the way:

  1. The burlesque theme at CC is mild, muted, sweet and restrained. One muscular waitperson was in a loose pantsuit, with no shirt. Our waitperson seemed possibly stoned – how else to explain his/her penchant for dropping things – trays, our check, etc. – and to ask with great earnestness, when we asked for ice, what shape we wanted the ice to be. But s/he was, as I said, earnest, sweet, and well-meaning, and, really, in an American life dominated in the last three years by the opposite, I’ll take the sweetness of Cambridge, sickly though it sometimes is, any day.

My wife commented that we were in a Cambridge version of a 1920s burlesque joint from the show Babylon Berlin (if you’ve not seen it, do).

  1. Before you see BB, see cloud 9.

OK. I know you guys/gals/guys/gals are all about the food and not about gender-benders: It was astonishingly good. I say that with trepidation because there are several reasons why I might be wrong, but everything was astonishingly tasty, and the dishes well-paced.

We ordered vegetable empanadas, fried artichokes, chicken kiev, and “cuban cigars” (short ribs, in a long, cigar like crust).

First, their pacing was flawless: the artichokes came out first, the empanadas next, the chicken kiev after that, and the short-rib cigars last. A perfect tempo.

The artichokes (hearts slathered with blue cheese, then breaded-and-fried), were very good, although I thought the breading a bit heavy. They rested in a puddle of sauce that had cured, wrinkled, black olives and pomegranate seeds in it. The empanadas were quite wonderful – the crust crisp, and the vegetables inside finely chopped and diverse (are we getting the theme here?): cauliflower, mushrooms, onions, … too many to name. The accompany aioli was very pungent, but almost unnecessary, so tasty was this dish.

The chicken kiev, a little overly stuffed with mushrooms to my taste, was served halved, with herby butter pooled at the bottom. Really, what’s the point of chicken kiev if you’re not able to have the excitement of cutting into it and having very hot butter squirt out at you and hit you in a totally unexpected place? (I owe the loss of my left eye, my right nostril, both earlobes, and my left leg – don’t ask – to this dish. OK, OK, I kid.) But it was absolutely delicious, and the exterior all crisp skin. I’d go back tomorrow just for this.

By the time the short rib cigar arrived we were stuffed – we’re small eaters, what can I say? – but we still took enough puffs to extinguish it. The meat was tender, the crust crisp, the two slices of accompanying crisply pan-fried plantain perfect, as was the black-bean, mango salsa. Again, superior fine-chopping skills were at hand with the salsa. Fuchsia Dunlop makes much – correctly – of the importance of correct cutting/chopping in Chinese cuisine. The kitchen at Cuchi Cuchi has in it a very good hand with a knife – or they have a very good supplier of chopped stuff.

It’s possible we hit the place on an on day. We’ll be back soon to test if that was the case. Overall our dinner was on the heavy side – but then we picked dishes where frying was involved. They’ve ceviches, etc., on offer and they’d be worth trying.

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What’s the point of this? This what the whole board are about. You write up a review and other people can chime in. I don’t think this post is needed, Just change it to a review instead.

Why, yes thank you. :slight_smile: And I have been to Cuchi Cuchi so there’s that. My recollection of the food is too distant to be useful. We went once a long time ago and simply found other places to try.

Also prying me away from The Blue Room, when that was still around, was a thankless task.

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It is a review. Why you have you missed that? Are you having a bad reading day?

The question is how reviews are categorized. We have reviews listed under restaurants by name – when they are good enough to deserve it – or reviews listed by category, “usual suspects”, “restaurants we go back to”, etc. None of the existing categories seemed to fit the one I introduced – a restaurant one has eaten at once that seems unusually good (or bad), and that’s not mentioned much on food boards. It could be because the restaurant has been overlooked, or it could be because one’s initial impression is wrong. To me that seems worth discussing. Clearly, to you, it does not. Simple solution: do not read this thread any further. Go get lunch somewhere.

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Yes, we too liked the Blue Room – and there have always been other options in the area. We, as I said, had hesitations about Cuchi Cuchi, hence our surprise when the food turned out well worth eating. We’ll be back to try them out again.

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Also, this experience has definitely happened to us—a restaurant being on point with the same level of experience never to be had thereafter. Here’s hoping that you get to have an encore of that on night if you return to Cuchi Cuchi.

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Really fun post, fd. I’ll have to add Cuchi to our list!

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I used to work by Cuchi Cuchi and it was a popular hangout for us after work. I also remember a lot of tasty dishes there (they had a garlicky shrimp that was really good, and I didn’t love shrimp). I’ve never been back since I stopped working in that area. No particular reason other than the whole office moved. But I also (unfairly?) think of it as a drinks and light meal place, and I don’t drink. If someone wants to hangout after work, I’ll tag along. But I don’t go to these same places on my own or plan for eating meals there otherwise.

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You’re right that it’s a “light meal” place in that they don’t offer anything huge. But, now that we have, say, Little Donkey down the road whose menu also features small plates, not big, it’s worth considering Cuchi Cuchi.

We thought CC superior to LD as a dinner place on several grounds:
(1) The pacing was more precise and they understood the idea of moving from light dishes to heavy. At LS it’s all slapdash, and – personal preference – while slapdash is faintly, barely OK at brunch, it’s not at dinner.
(2) The sound level, while high, was lower than at LD.
(3) The prices were “reasonable” – the cost, with two negronis and a beer was $85. Were I paying, I’d have kept the total cost within two figures. But my wife, far, far nicer than I, felt sorry for our wait person – I had stepped out to feed the meter – and gave him 20 bucks. She imagined he’d spend it on don’t-drop-things therapy. I’m sure it will go to weed.

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Our second visit here was less successful. We now notice a bit of a theme – there are chopped mushrooms in very many dishes. We had perfectly cooked scallops on a bed of chopped mushrooms, “gobi manchurian” (which, really, would be more accurately described as cauliflower pakoras) with chopped mushrooms stuffed into the crevices of some florets (but not all), inedibly heavy and gluey yucca fries, and an unusual beef stroganoff. There was a noodle base in a meat sauce that suggested bolognese more than stroganoff with three tenderloin medallions perched atop. We were puzzled when they asked us how we wanted the beef cooked, but cautiously said medium rare. They emerged well done, but not to the point where they were too tough to eat.

The pacing is still precise (lighter dishes first, the stroganoff at the end), and they did not screw up my negroni this time.

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^ If they did, this would be a deal-breaker for sure. The rest of the experience doesn’t seem great, if I read you right. Would you go back at this point?

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I was wondering that myself. Probably not for a while, but we have a bit of a dining problem. We have subscriptions to the Central Square Theater and like the idea of eating dinner then gently strolling to the play. That reduces our options (among places that take reservations) to Cuchi Cuchi, Craigie, Viale, and Little Donkey. We like LD, but it is very loud even at early dinner. Craigie has gone tasting-menu, and that’s more food than we want before a play. So we may return to CC, sooner than we would under normal circumstances, or we’ll have to change our dine-and-stroll approach.

Edited to add: On purely food grounds we’d go to 5 spices, but they do not take reservations, and can be packed.

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Totally can relate to the “having an on night” comment up thread. I will use that!

Personally, in your stated area, I’d be gobbling up dan dan noodles and suan la chow show at Mary Chung’s (forgive the horrible misspelling) before a play.

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How did I not chime into this thread in real-time? Central Sq was my professional/personal stomping ground for a decade, starting in 2002. Cuchi-Cuchi was my office’s 2nd office, especially when we were toasting beloved colleagues’ departures. Food? Do they serve food?! :wink:

Pre-Central Theater, how about Pagu (never been)? Or Central Kitchen (frequented a lot eons ago when B lived around the corner…sitting at that tiny bar is such a good memory for me)? ETA: Wow, completely different feel to the website. I wonder if that’s the same for the actual place? And I used to also love Green Street Grill. Sigh.

And like @Parsnipity, I love Mary Chung. Maybe it doesn’t have the date night type of feel to which you are aspiring, but if that place ever went away, I would be inconsolable.

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Sorry, digga, but I know I read that Central Kitchen is closing and a pot dispensary is moving in. https://www.bostonglobe.com/2020/01/28/marijuana/central-kitchen-close-its-doors-make-room-marijuana-dispensary/

I got Mary Chung takeout for a friend recovering from surgery and snagged some for our house. It had been too long…it really hit the spot. It never changes.

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Oh no. I have nothing against folks who use, but it’s not my cup of tea and to see them displacing other more useful (to me) businesses is a bummer. It’s like when I see vaping shops - I cringe.

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I’ve never made it to Central, but I’m right there with you on the vaping shops, especially since I work with vulnerable teens.

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We’ve been to Pagu twice and loved it, but at weekend brunch. the squid ink bao with fried oysters and the spanish tortilla are amazing.

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and Mary Chung is lovely with children. We went in with our newly adopted 7 year old and they said it was fine for him to eat McDonald’s from across the street while we ate our favorite dan dan noodles, etc. They weren’t just fine, they were very welcoming and warm. I’ll never forget that since it was back in the days when we could never get out without him and he had (still has) a number of food issues from his days before and during foster care.

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When I see hospitality like this, the business wins my heart. This is one of the very kindest things a restaurant can do.

I saw something similar unfold at a local pho place—the young son wanted to eat McDonalds food he brought with him, not pho—and the staff did not even bat an eye. Lovely, yes.

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