Sunday, October 30, 2011

Sandwich Heaven in Boston


Sam Lagrassa's
44 Province St. 
Boston, MA 02108

The west coast may have weather on its side, but the east coast definitely has sandwiches in its favor. Just as plastic surgeons dominate in LA, east coast cities have an equally good number of great delis.  So when we made the trek across country, I knew we would have the opportunity to have some excellent sandwiches on our journey. One stop I had planned out was Sam Lagrassa's.

Sam Lagrassa's has been around since 1968, and in that time they have gained quite a reputation as a great sandwich shop. They have changed names numerous times, but have had their current name since the mid 90's. I heard of them on-line, and also on Diners, Drive In's and Dives. I have had some good experiences with restaurants that have been on this show, and some real disappointments with others. I was really hoping this would be a great experience.

We got to Sam's at the odd time of 2 pm on a Thursday. Lucky for us we made it an hour before they closed, and as a bonus we missed the lunch rush, so there was plenty of seating. I can imagine this place getting packed for the lunch time. Ordering is done at the counter, kind of assembly line style. After getting through the line, this is what we came up with.


Starting us off was Katie's choice, the Jumbo Reuben. This is your classic Reuben sandwich with, Russian dressing, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut, and corned beef, all on a pumpernickel. Katie felt the corned beef was great, and the condiments on this sandwich complimented the meat well. The meat was velvety smooth, and was definitely the star of this sandwich. She also liked the bread, because it was good tasting and held the sandwich together well. Very solid sandwich here.


When I was watching Diner's, Drive Ins and Dives, I saw them make this sandwich, and I knew I had to have one. The Chipotle Pastrami sandwich combined Cole slaw, pastrami, chipotle mustard, and Swiss cheese. Like the corned beef in the Reuben, the meat here was front and center. Spiced well, and sliced thin it really was great pastrami. I did not get as much flavor from the chipotle mustard as I would have liked, but it did not detract from my enjoyment of this sandwich too much. The Italian bread was very sturdy, and fresh, while the Cole slaw added a great texture to the sandwich. One of the best sandwiches I have had in a long while.


So, Guy Fieri did not steer me wrong this time. Sam Lagrassa's was every bit as good as it appeared on the show. The prices were not out of control crazy either. True, the sandwiches will run you $10 to $11, but they are on the big size, and the quality ingredients really make this a decent value. The restaurant was clean, and well run. They got the sandwiches out in a timely manner. If I lived in the area I would be very excited to explore their menu more. They have some great sounding sandwiches. Glad we made the trip across country, now I only wish Sam would open a franchise on the west coast.

Out of five cobblestones, (because some streets in this Beacon Hill area are paved with cobblestones), five being best to zero being worst, Sam Lagrassa's gets 3.5 cobblestones.

For more information on Sam Lagrassa's, click here:http://www.samlagrassas.com/index.php

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Thursday, October 27, 2011

Bakery + Sticky Buns = Deliciousness?


Flour Bakery + Cafe
190 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02139

When we are visiting a city, I do a lot of research on where to eat. I look up places on Yelp, Urbanspoon, and lots of web sites. I also always want to eat at places that have been on TV. That is how we came to find this place, Flour Bakery + Cafe.

Flour Bakery has been featured on the shows, The Best Thing I Ever Ate, and Throwdown with Bobby Flay. In both shows they were touted for their Sticky Buns. In fact, in Throwdown, the sticky buns at Flour actually beat Bobby Flay's sticky buns. Owner/Pastry Chef Joanne Chang opened her first bakery in South Boston in 2000, and has since then added two more locations.

We arrived at the Cambridge location, just after nine on a Thursday morning . The cafe was full of people leisurely eating all assortments of baked goods and drinking coffee. The cafe definitely has a sleek and modern feel to it. This location is located right next to MIT, and the staff fit into the surroundings because they were all young, and college age. After approaching the large bakery case, it was a no-brainer what we would be ordering, so we sat down with our two sticky buns.



My first impressions of the Sticky Buns were that they looked good, but on TV they were drenched in the caramel sauce. These had a decent amount on them, but were not over the top like I had seen. These also could have been served warmer. These were lukewarm at best, and I wanted to try it so bad, I did not want to have them reheat it. The sticky bun was not overly sweet, had plenty of pecans and the bread was not as heavy as I was expecting. They were soft and delicious. Even without all of the caramel sauce on top, and the temperature issue, this was one of the best sticky buns we have had.

Glad we had seen this bakery on TV, but wish we had more time to explore more of the baked goods and sandwiches here. That is the problem when traveling, you only have such a limited time to find the best places to eat, and you only have one shot to order the right thing. Glad we got it right here.

Out of five beavers, (because Flour Bakery is located next to MIT, and their mascot is a beaver, also known as nature's engineers), five being best to zero being worst, Flour Bakery + Cafe gets 3 beavers.

For more information on Flour Bakery + Cafe, click here: http://www.flourbakery.com/index.php

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Taking a Trip to Bartley's Burger Cottage


Mr. Bartley's Burger Cottage
1246 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138

I finally made it to Harvard! Okay, I am definitely not Ivy League material, but I just felt smarter even being around the 375 year old school. The air around Harvard just exudes intelligence. So I knew I would make the right choice when it came to food around here. That is why I picked Mr. Bartley's Burger Cottage.

Mr. B's has been around for 51 years. Their goal when they opened their doors was to serve the perfect burger to Harvard students. Soon after opening they gained attention from the national and local press, and celebrities picked up on the great burgers here. Jackie Onassis, Bob Dylan, Katie Couric, and Adam Sandler have all swung by to eat here. Even now customers wait outside to grab a seat at this Cambridge Institution, so we wanted to see what all the fuss was about.

We got to Mr. Bartley's at about 8 on a Wednesday night. The place was jammed pack, but we grabbed a seat at the counter. Of course being across the street from the college, this place had a very young feel to it, at a very rushed pace. The young servers were running around, picking up drink orders, ice cream orders, and of course plates of hamburgers. Sitting art the counter we had a front row seat to all of this organized chaos. Let's see how our burgers came out.


We will start with my Viagra Burger. This burger was erected with blue cheese dressing, bacon, lettuce, and tomato. I really enjoyed this burger, but there could have been more dressing on this for my taste. Also, all of the bacon was clumped together, so it was not spread evenly throughout the burger. The meat was definitely the star of the show here. They use chuck, and it does make a flavorful burger. I opted to get the onion rings instead of the fries. I like a thicker cut of onion ring than these. They are a very simple onion ring, nothing I was wowed by.


Katie probably made her parents shutter when she ordered the Democrat Burger. This Reuben type burger came with grilled sauerkraut, Russian dressing, and Swiss cheese. Katie could not be more pleased with her burger. Eating this made her wonder why this is not on the menu at other burger places around the country. The bite that I had was very good. The condiments worked very well with the meat. It really was like eating a Reuben sandwich. We both liked the fries here better than the rings. The fries were salted and fried crisp.

Mr. Bartley's was all it was cracked up to be. I may have gotten the wrong burger, but there are so many more to choose from, that I am sure I could have no trouble finding one that I liked better. The restaurant itself was very cramped, and you will be eating very close to people that you do not know, but that is part of the charm of this place. The service was great. All of the servers were very focused and got the food out quick. Even as we were leaving close to nine o'clock, people were still coming in the door. I guess being this close to Harvard not only made me smarter, but made them smart enough to eat here too.

Out of five Crimson, (the nickname of the 41 sports teams of Harvard), five being best to zero being worst, Mr. Bartley's Burger Cottage gets 3.5 Crimson.

For more information on Mr. Bartley's Burger Cottage, click here: http://mrbartley.com/mrbartleys-home.html

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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Stopping By Boston's Legendary Regina's


Pizzeria Regina
11.5 Thacher St.
Boston, MA 02113

After walking the Freedom Trail all day, we decided to treat ourselves to an early dinner. There was not really much doubt where we would be eating. I had wanted to try Pizzeria Regina ever since I saw them win a pizza battle on Food Network's, Food Feuds. On that show they beat Santarpio's Pizza. So needless to say I was very excited to give them a try.

Walking into Regina's was like stepping back in time. This is definitely an old school pizza joint. I half expected the Fonz, Laverne or Shirley to come around the corner at any minute. We hit Regina's at a good time. I have heard the stories of hour long waits, but we were eating at an odd time, 4 PM on a Wednesday, so we were sat right away.

Regina's has been around a long time. 85 years to be exact. Now on its third generation of owners, the Polcari family, they are still going strong. They now have 21 locations spread out across New England. Some of these locations are quick service establishments located in malls, some are full service Italian sit down restaurants, appropriately named Polcari's. We, however came to the original restaurant in the North End. After looking at the menu, this is what we came up with.


Katie went a little unconventional with her choice of pie, the Formagio Bianco. This white pizza combined four cheeses, mozzarella, pecorino Romano, ricotta, and Parmesan, along with a garlic sauce. Katie loved this pizza for a lot of reasons. She liked how the cheeses complimented the basil. She also was very fond of the thin crust here. The pizza was a little too mild for my taste, but we both agreed that the garlic sauce was good, but not too rich.


Not exactly the most flattering picture of the pizza from Regina's, but I really was rushed because I was so excited to try a slice. I should have waited though, because this pizza was served piping hot, and I almost burned all of my taste buds off. Luckily I had a few left over to taste the pizza. The crust here is really good. It held the toppings well, and let the cheese and toppings be the star of the show. I guess the brick oven is the way to cook pizza. The cheese was good and flavorful. The toppings were good, but not the best I have had. Combined though, this could be one of my top pizzas I have had in awhile.

I really enjoyed my time at Pizzeria Regina. The service was a little gruff, but mellowed while we were here. Even though the restaurant was old school, it really seemed clean and well run. Prices were not too bad for the pizzas we got. Glad we hit them at an off time, so we did not have to wait an hour or two to eat. The pizza gave us enough energy to finish off the Freedom Trail.

Out of five silversmith's, (because Paul Revere, was a famous silversmith, and from the North End of Boston where Regina's is located), five being best to zero being worst, Pizzeria Regina gets 3.5 silversmiths.

For more information on Pizzeria Regina, click here: http://www.pizzeriaregina.com/

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Sunday, October 23, 2011

Detouring Off the Freedom Trail to Mike's Pastry


Mike's Pastry
300 Hanover St. 
Boston, MA 02113

What better way to spend our very first full day in Boston, than walking the Freedom Trail and making a quick stop at Mike's Pastry. Before we left for Boston, everyone told me that I had to stop at the venerable pastry shop in the North End. I heard over and over, "best cannoli in the US". With all this praise, it definitely had a lot to live up to.

We got to Mike's at about 3 on a Wednesday afternoon, and the place had a constant stream of customers throughout our stay. The long lines that I expected never materialized, we ordered and had our cannoli's within three minutes of walking in the place. The bakery case was a little overwhelming, because I wanted to try almost everything. But, I knew we would be eating again soon, so I limited myself to the thing I came here for, a cannoli.


Katie wanted the signature item at Mike's, and went with a Hazelnut Cannoli. She called this the best cannoli she has ever had. The hazelnut flavor was a little subdued, but present. The flaky outer shell had a great texture, and could be cut with our plastic forks.


The Chocolate Chip Cannoli was my choice. I will admit to not being a cannoli connoisseur, but this was really good. The filling was smooth, while the crispy outer shell added texture and a nice crunch. The chocolate chips were a good addition to help vary the taste of the filing. I agree with Katie, this is the best cannoli I have ever had, although I have not had too many.

Mike's Pastry was all it was said to be. I did want to try one of their Boston cream pies, but they were not selling them by the slice that afternoon. I did not learn about Mike's rival, (Modern Pastry),  in the cannoli wars until I got back from our trip, but I will have to give them a try on our next trip. Also, on our next trip I will have to save more room for other treats at this upscale east coast bakery.

Out of five bricks, (because this place was steps from the Freedom Trail, which is paved with red bricks), five being best to zero being worst, Mike's Pastry gets 3 bricks.

For more information on Mike's Pastry, click here: http://www.mikespastry.com/index.html

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Thursday, October 20, 2011

Warning, Icy Conditions Ahead!


Christina's Homemade Ice Cream
1255 Cambridge St. 
Cambridge, MA 02139

Sometimes you just get lucky. Like when you are running out of gas, and there just happens to be a gas station where you can fill up. Or maybe you are late for class, and when you get there you find out that the class was canceled anyways. Finding Christina's Ice Cream was just like these examples. After eating at the All Star Sandwich Bar next door, we really needed something to cool down our taste buds, and lucky for us we were steered right to Christina's.  

Christina's has been around since 1983. We arrived at 9 on a Tuesday night, and were met by a line that almost reached the door. Thankfully this gave us enough time to decide on what flavors we were going to get. The list of flavors was almost as long as the line. They feature fifty flavors at a time. Take that Baskin-Robbins! Flavors range from the mundane Chocolate and Vanilla, to the crazy, Avocado, Lavender, or Liquorice. Not wanting to get that crazy, this is what we got when it was our turn in line.


Katie tried the Malted Chocolate and the Butter Almond. She called the malted chocolate, "delicious and very creamy". The butter almond was not as rich as she expected, and she was also happy they did not over load the ice cream with almonds. The ice cream should really be the star of the show, and the extra bits supporting players. That was the case here. 


I did not get really crazy with my picks either. Peanut Butter Chocolate and Carrot Cake. My favorite flavor of ice cream is peanut butter and chocolate, and this one was good, but it was missing something, hunks of peanut butter. I definitely got the peanut butter flavor, but it was too subtle for me. The carrot cake ice cream on the other hand was fantastic. Both Katie and I felt this was the best of the bunch. The flavor was dead on, all it needed was some cream cheese icing and it would have been exactly like a carrot cake. Good stuff.

Christina's is a good ice cream spot. They rotate flavors in and out, so you could never get bored. The line, even though it was long, went really quick. The guys working behind the counter got to everyone real fast. While eating our ice cream here, we noticed that they have a local artist wall. I imagine this place getting packed in the summer, especially since they only have four tables. It was lucky we stumbled upon this place, but we felt even luckier after eating here. 

Out of five squares, (because the city of Cambridge has lots of intersections called squares, and not because the people there are boring), five being best to zero being worst, Christina's Homemade Ice Cream gets 3 squares.  

For more information on Christina's, click here: http://www.christinasicecream.com/index.htm

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All Star Striking Out Looking or a Home Run?


All Star Sandwich Bar
1245 Cambridge St.
Cambridge, MA 02139

We finally made it to Boston! After our six hour flight, lugging our bags on the T, and settling into our hotel, we did not want to go far for our first meal. Luckily, we were staying in Cambridge, and a restaurant that was on my list happened to be within walking distance of our hotel. So we set down our bags, and walked a short fifteen minutes to All Star Sandwich Bar.

All Star Sandwich Bar has been operating since 2006, and if you are looking for a wrap here, keep on walking. They proudly state that they are a wrap free restaurant. I knew I was in the right place after seeing that. Opened by two brothers, All Star strives to bring you back to your childhood by creating great comfort food sandwiches.

We arrived at eight on a Tuesday night. The restaurant has bright colored walls, featuring local art for sale. The vibe here is definitely collegiate hip. The staff were all young, and the indie music over the speakers was a variety of everything. A constant stream of customers filtered in throughout our stay, so I had a feeling the sandwiches would be good. Let's find out if that was the case.


A suggestion from our waiter started us off with the Deluxe Mac and Cheese. This came out steaming hot. Not really sure why this was called deluxe mac and cheese. It had too mellow of a taste for me. It would have been better if they added some bacon here. Not a bad dish, but not anything I would get again. I did enjoy the bread crumbs that topped this.


The mac and cheese put my taste buds to sleep, but the Rings of Fire woke them up in a hurry. This mountain of onion rings were served with All Star's own creation, the Inner Beauty Hot Sauce. This stuff was scorching and addictive. The rings themselves were fried crisp, and I liked that they were not over sized rings. It made these very manageable. We got a side of blue cheese to dip these in, just to cut the heat down a bit.


I was a little surprised by Katie's choice for sandwich, the Beef on Weck. This Buffalo, New York based sandwich consists of house made roast beef, extra hot horseradish, and au jus, all served on a Kimmelweck bun. The bun is salted and has caraway seeds on top. Very unusual bun, but it works here. The sandwich itself is very simple, but all of the ingredients together made this a solid sandwich. Katie liked the juiciness of the meat, but found the horseradish a bit overpowering in some bites.


Coming into All Star I knew what I was going to get. The other sandwiches on the menu almost tempted me to switch, but I did not stray from the Atomic Meatloaf Meltdown. Grilled meatloaf, red onion jam, jack cheese and the Inner Beauty hot sauce made up this killer sandwich. This sandwich was a flavor explosion. The sauce was hot in spots, but also mellowed a little because of the cheese and meatloaf. The meatloaf was very moist, almost to the point of becoming liquid. The bread is also worth noting here. It really held the sandwich together, without being to hard.

I would say that the brothers that opened this sandwich shop have met their objective of creating great comfort food sandwiches. The service was very good, and the prices were very fair. All sandwiches are in the $7 to $9 range, well worth the price. The variety of sandwiches would keep me coming back for more if I lived in this area. The Cubano, Texas Reuben, and Monte Cristo all looked so good on the menu, I might have to fly back to Boston for a sandwich.

Out of five rockets, (because Roger Clemens was an all star for the Red Sox five times, and his nickname was the Rocket), five being best to zero being worst, All Star Sandwich Bar gets 3.5 rockets.

For more information on All Star Sandwich Bar, click here:http://www.allstarsandwichbar.com/index.html

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Football Frenzy #7 Barney's Beanery


Barney's Beanery
99 East Colorado Blvd.
Pasadena, CA 91105

I know football season has been going on for awhile now, but we have not really gone anywhere new to watch the games. We have been lazy on Sundays, going to friends houses to watch, or maybe the real reason we have not done a football post this year yet is because my team has already thrown in the towel, and it is really painful to watch how bad they are. This particular Sunday we could not be lazy though. We were up in Pasadena for an event, so we took this opportunity to try one of the local favorites in the area to watch football, Barney's Beanery.

Barney's is older than dirt. The restaurant has been around since 1920, making this a local legend. It opened as a restaurant on historic Route 66, serving road weary travelers. Since that time Barney's has had a very colorful history. Janis Joplin had her last drink here, before her death, Jim Morrison got kicked out of the bar after urinating on it, and Quentin Tarantino wrote much of the movie, Pulp Fiction in one of his favorite booths.

Barney's Beanery now has five locations, all in LA county. I had never been to a Barney's before. The Pasadena location has a festive vibe to it, even early on this particular Sunday. Colored lights are all over, license plates hang everywhere, and the walls look like they could double for a garage sale with all of the stuff hanging on them. The best part of the decor though, were the TVs that were on every table. These could be tuned to any game that you wanted to watch, you could also flip channels as often as you would like. One of the best setups we have come across for watching football, but what about the food?


Starting off the eating festivities is Katie's choice, the French Toast with bacon and eggs. This breakfast platter  did little to win Katie's heart. She called this breakfast plate, "average, and nothing special". The French toast was a little too soggy for her, and the bacon was on the fatty side.


I went south of the border for my breakfast selection, the Machaca and Eggs. Three eggs mixed with shredded beef, onions, peppers, and cilantro, then topped with cheese sounds like a winning combination, but this plate was bland. Even the refried beans were pretty plain tasting. This dish was helped by hot sauce, but not enough to make it more than mediocre.


After our breakfast, we also ordered the Sweet and Spicy Asian Style Chicken Wings. These were served with a cucumber salad. The sauce had a good flavor, but the wings were lacking in the meat department. The price for these wings were a little on the high side. We got about ten wings, and that put the price per wing at just over a dollar a wing, not such a great deal.

I liked the atmosphere at Barney's Beanery way better than the food. The menu here is overwhelmingly big, so we might not have gotten the right things off of it. I should have skipped the breakfast, and maybe gone for their famous chili, or a burger. Barney's was not very boisterous for football, maybe that was because everyone had their own TVs at their own table. The place filled up rather quickly, so make sure you get here early enough to get a seat. The service was attentive, which can sometimes be a challenge during the three hour game. True to form my team lost while I was watching the game here, but I will not hold that against Barney's.

Out of five dinosaurs, (because who really can not hear the name Barney, and not think of that big purple guy?), five being best to zero being worst, Barney's Beanery gets 2 dinosaurs.

For more information on Barney's click here: http://barneysbeanery.com/index.php

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Friday, October 14, 2011

A Secret Spot in Orange


Mascarpone's
1448 E. Katella Ave.
Orange, CA 92867

Mascarpone's has been on my list of places to try for so long, I can not even remember how it got to be there. I am sure it was an email from a reader, or a recommendation I received from someone while we were out. Good thing I had written it down, because I would have never known this place was here. I have driven by it about a hundred times, and almost drove past it even when I was looking for it.

For 23 years, Mascarpone's has been the secret, in the know, Italian spot for locals in Orange. Located in plain site on busy Katella Avenue, they often get over looked because they do not have a flashy sign, parking is located off the street, (in the back of the restaurant), and they have almost no web presence. Luckily, we were not to be deterred from finding this place, and we arrived at about six on a Saturday night.

The first thing I noticed after entering Mascarpone's were the drapes that adorned the ceiling. Not sure the meaning of these, but they did seem odd. We did not have a reservation, but were sat immediately. The restaurant is very dark, and an older crowd inhabits this place. They have two separate dining rooms, with kitschy nick knacks adorning some of the walls. The menu is pretty straight forward Italian. Let's take a look at some of what was on that menu.


First off was the complimentary bread basket that was placed on our table. I always enjoy when a restaurant adds a little something special to the bread basket, and here the special addition was that they served garlic bread instead of just regular bread. This bread was served steaming hot, and had a little crunch to it. The garlic was very noticeable here. We went through two baskets of this bread.


I am not usually a big fan of Bruschetta, but most of the reviews I had read highly suggested this as the appetizer to get here. The reviews were correct. This had a great taste, and was not overloaded with tons of tomatoes. The onions and garlic were the stars here, and I also enjoyed the Gorgonzola on top of this. One of the best bruschetta's we have had.


The entrees here all came with soup or salad. All four of us chose the salad. This was a pretty good dinner salad. The lettuce was fresh, but what really set this salad apart was the blue cheese dressing. Very creamy, and  they must have added extra blue cheese to the dressing. The flavor was spot on. My Mom had the Italian and also stated that it was good as well.


Let's start with my Dad's meal, the Scampi Carmelo. This shrimp dish was served with steamed veggies and fusilli pasta. My Pops said that the vegetables were cooked well, and the pasta was done to his liking. He also added that the shrimp bursted with flavor. To put it simply, he was very happy with his choice of meal this night.


Katie shocked us all when she shied away from a shrimp dish here, and ordered this Fusilli dish and added chicken. This dish combined tomatoes, white wine, and mozzarella. Katie called this dish, "delicious". The chicken was very tender, and the sauce was very flavorful.


I have been on a veal kick lately, okay not really a kick, but this is the second time in a row I have ordered it in an Italian restaurant. Here I got the Vitello Saltimbocca. The veal here was little over done, but the sauce was good, and I liked the addition of the capers here. I would also have to agree with my Dad that the vegetables were cooked well, and really fresh. A pretty good plate of food here.


Last but not least was my Mom's dinner, the Spicy Arrabiata with spicy sausage added. My Mom really liked this dish. The sausage gave the plate a little kick, and the she felt the pasta was cooked well. I really liked the sauce on this, it was not too acidic, and had a nice mellow flavor. I ate the leftover of this a few days later, and it was still very good.


Above is a picture of my Mom and one of the guys at Mascarpone's, (sorry I forgot to write down his name). Anyways, I think this picture shows the warm and friendly atmosphere at Mascarpone's. We had never been to this restaurant before, and all four of us left feeling like we had a good meal cooked by friends. The food was real fresh, and came out piping hot. The service was a little spotty though. There were some long delays getting our entrees and settling the check. The prices were pretty good, and the portion sizes were decent. Well worth the journey to find this hidden gem.

Out of five tiramisu's, (because the main ingredient of that dessert is mascarpone, and I hear that they have a pretty good one here), five being best to zero being worst, Mascarpone's gets 3.5 tiramisu's.

Mascarpone's does not have a web site, but you can find information about them here: http://www.yelp.com/biz/mascarpones-orange

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