Yellowtail at the Bellagio

YES, YOU READ THAT RIGHT! I was (somehow) permitted to show my face at the glitzy Bellagio casino/hotel–right in the middle of the Las Vegas strip. Who let me in there? Last week was BU’s spring break, and I was lucky enough to visit Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, and of course: Las Vegas. Being a “Vegas Virgin” I had no idea what to expect… and it hit me hard. There were an absurd amount of things to see and do (and eat) but Yellowtail definitely tops that list.

I traveled with medium sized group who were all, in a word… “thrifty.” (Even though they all spent hundreds gambling… what the heck?) Now I’m no high roller, but if I’m going to spend money it’s going to damn well be on food. I was originally worried… VERY worried… that the classiest joint I’d be dining at was Denny’s (that being said, we DID eat there 3 times). My roommates, however, were also staying at a separate hotel on the strip, and they like to do it up big, no Denny’s for them. Did I mention that it was my birthday?

Anyway, after several days of hole-in-the-wall burrito shops, Burger King, and complementary cheese and crackers, my roommates whisked me away to a birthday dinner at Yellowtail. Yellowtail is an EXTREMELY upscale Japanese restaurant that needs no introduction (unless you haven’t heard of it before) and is frequented by billionaires and celebrities alike, and rightfully so.

We ate like fricken royalty. We started out with a bottle of champagne, then some edamame. THEN–my personal favorite despite the fact that I’m slightly allergic to it–ROCK SHRIMP. It was fried but it was delicate, with spicy mayo and some other flavorful sauce cascading down the sides. I wish I had taken a photo, but this isn’t the kind of place people would use flash.

A few other appetizers flew around: salads, dumplings, sashimi… and EVERYTHING was the best of its kind I’d ever had. We also had some seriously beautiful cocktails… this photo doesn’t do it justice but I ordered some sort of cucumber martini that came with a fancy tomato garnish.

cucumber martini... or something

cucumber martini… or something

After appetizers and drinks, our sushi rolls came. Mine was RIDICULOUS. It seemed normal, you know, spicy crab with avocado and cucumber… but they added POP ROCKS to it. There were pop rocks in the rice, pop rocks inside the roll, and pop rocks on the plate. You could literally hear it sizzling from the pop rocks while the waiter set it down on the table. And it was damn good, too.

We were in a bit of a rush after that so we didn’t get desert (obvi–girl on the go’s gotta make it to the club on time) but I’m sure it would have been equally glorious. Of all the restaurants I’ve ever been to, Yellowtail is definitely top 5.

post meal, feelin fat

post meal, feelin fat

Brown Sugar Cafe

One of the first eateries you come across when you exit BU’s West campus is Brown Sugar Cafe, a Thai restaurant with a homey feel and  a ridiculously large menu. The original Brown Sugar Cafe opened in Cambridge in 1996 and added a second location on Commonwealth Ave in 1999. It was one of the first places I visited when I started at BU, and since then I’ve been back many, many times. Their pad thai is quite possibly the best I’ve EVER had, and I’ve eaten a lot of pad thai.

Brown Sugar advertises by putting their take-out menus into local people’s mailboxes, but that’s the extent to which they spread the word. Their website is classy and well maintained, but again is not advertised to excess. Obviously, with the minimal advertising and marketing, some other factor keeps the patrons coming. Any time you try to eat there after 4pm, no matter what day of the week it is, there is almost always a 20 minute wait for a table. It’s a hot-spot with a following, and Brown Sugar more than keeps its customers happy.

Obviously, one of their advantages is the food. It really is the best Thai food I’ve had anywhere. People say you know a foreign restaurant is good if you see foreign people eating there, and that is always the case. People are always amazed at how delicious their  food is.

Another reason patrons return is for the superb customer service. The waitstaff is always super attentive and the food arrives at your table quickly. But the crown jewel of Brown Sugar’s customer service are their famous (or infamous) birthday celebrations, which can be quite entertaining, depending on the occasion. If you are not expecting the hullabaloo that occurs when a patron has a birthday, you are certainly in for a surprise.

All of the sudden, without warning, the restaurant becomes pitch black and the lazer light show begins. Disco balls are lowered from the ceiling as laser patterns flash across the walls. Over a loudspeaker, someone sings “Happy Birthday” in broken English to loud techno music as the lucky person with the birthday is bombarded with flashlights carried by the wait staff. A dessert is then delivered to their table, and the show is over as soon as it began. The lasers stop, the disco balls disappear, and the lights turn back on. Business as usual is resumed as if nothing ever happened. On busy evenings, this tends to happen every ten minutes or so.

As I said, if you are not expecting this event it can come as quite a shock (especially if you are epileptic!) Brown Sugar should not be recommended to those expecting a romantic evening out, unless they have a good sense of humor. Personally, I enjoy surprising my friends, whether or not it is their “actual” birthday.

Naked Pizza

When you grab mail out of your mailbox, it is unlikely that you are looking forward to weeding through the five-or-so takeout menus and coupons for local restaurants that were shoved in there when you weren’t looking. In an average week, I would say that I find at least 8 take out menus in my mailbox. I usually just recycle them immediately (those damn restaurants wasting all that paper!) but occasionally, if something catches my eye it may end up in a pile on the counter or even stuck on the fridge. This was most definitely the case when I came across a menu for Naked Pizza, a takeout/delivery only restaurant that offers “delicious, honest pizza with no freaky chemicals, based on the latest nutritional science.”

The menu itself caught my eye because of its colorful, clean look– seldom seen among menus for pizza places which are usually covered with giant pictures of food and massive test. Naked Pizza’s menu is delightfully simple and does not have any pictures of food, shocking for any take-out menu. It’s easy to read and, dare I say… fun to look at. It allows you to visually “build” your pizza from scratch, starting “naked” and “getting dressed up” with various “flora” and “fauna” instead of “meat” and “veggies,” how scientific! Isn’t that cute?

I was so mesmerized by the menu that I had to try this restaurant and see how the food actually tasted–clearly the marketing was spot on. Since I have an irrational fear of calling in take-out, I decided to use the website, which I was also extremely impressed by. It, like the menu, is simple, clean and easy to use. (Not to mention cheap!)

After doing a quick Google search, I discovered that Naked Pizza has totally exploded onto the scene in a matter of months, going from a single location in New Orleans to 450 stores in just over a year. This, to me, is totally mind blowing, especially since “Pizza Places” seem to be going out of style. I read up on their mission, which is admirable. Apparently, they only use fresh ingredients, whole grains and even probiotics to promote digestive health? What other pizza place does that?

When my food arrived (in less than 30 minutes, I might add) I was, again, impressed with Naked Pizza. They clearly have their marketing together as well as their quality. YUM!

Raising Cane’s

When I moved into West Campus before beginning my freshman year at BU, I remember hearing of a new restaurant chain opening at the site of an old McDonalds that, much to my dismay, had closed in the weeks prior to move-in day. This restaurant was rumored to serve nothing but fried chicken strips, which struck me as odd. What if you weren’t in the mood for chicken?

Despite the weirdness of the menu, people were definitely intrigued by this restaurant, myself included. It was getting quite a bit of hype around its grand opening! For the first three-or-so weeks of its existence, Raising Cane’s almost always had a line flowing right out the door, and rightfully so. The presence of Cane’s around campus was impossible to miss- there were always flyers for free chicken strips and student discounts or prizes. The best part was, like Domino’s, you could put all of your purchases on your BUID, which was a deal-breaker for folks like me with limited funds!

Since I first entered the establishment 2+ years ago, I noticed the overall cleanliness and aesthetically pleasing appearance of the restaurant, not to mention the delicious smell emanating from the kitchen. Between Cane’s and Domino’s I thought I had hit the jackpot. Then I tried the food.

I recall the first bite being relatively pleasant, but everything went downhill from there. Let’s just say the food made myself and many others VERY, VERY sick. This was my first and last adventure into that restaurant, which is sad because it had such potential.

In the weeks that followed, Cane’s became a ghost town as it still remains today. Only newcomers dare to venture in and try the single menu item that could potentially leave them paralyzed with stomach pain for hours afterwards.

From my perspective, the PR/Ad people who worked for Cane’s tried their best to give this restaurant a presence at BU. It was extremely effective at first when lines bursted out the door, but then once people tried the food, the hype obviously died down. Cane’s still continues to maintain its user-friendly and attractive website, along with a well managed company Twitter… but even social media outlets couldn’t save Cane’s from its dangerous cuisine.

R.I.P. Raising Cane’s… we hardly knew ye.

 

Zaftigs

“Let us be your Jewish Mother” is written along the top of Zaftig’s website, and I think that pretty much sums it up. One of the first restaurants I ventured to outside of West Campus my freshman year, Zaftigs boasts “traditional Jewish-Style offerings of corned beef, pastrami, potato pancakes and chicken soup in addition to over 200 creative and diverse menu items prepared in a scratch kitchen.” Trust me, as a non-Jew, I understand that this seems a little daunting at first. My Jewish friend persuaded me with the option of getting a corned-beef reuben (only the best sandwich ever) and I happily agreed to go with her.

When you walk in it has that cozy, small-diner feel although it is relatively large in size. It wasn’t until I saw the menu that I  got excited, however. They serve breakfast all day, which is always a bonus for me as a breakfast lover. And they didn’t just have traditional Jewish offerings (although those are SO GOOD) they have just about everything you could possibly imagine- there are over 200 items on the menu. It’s like a deli and a breakfast place combined.

Last spring, two of my friends and I planned to meet there for lunch. We were seated and ordered, just like any other day. We chatted and laughed and had a great time while waiting for our food- apparently not realizing how long it had taken to arrive at our table. When it did arrive, we happily began digging in and enjoying our orders. Apparently we hadn’t even noticed that the service had taken 30 minutes, which in my opinion isn’t too long. The manager, who had delivered it, began apologizing profusely about how it is unacceptable their service to be so slow. She informed us that it would be ON THE HOUSE because we had to wait so long.

Mind you, that particular day we were feeling mighty hungry. Each of us must have ordered at least $15 worth of food. I was shocked that a relatively small business would go through all of that trouble to keep a group of of happy customers even happier. We were all completely shocked, and tried to refuse the free meal, which ended up totaling over $40. The manager repeatedly insisted that it was on the house, and we could repay her by coming in often. We happily obliged, and continue to do so! We now make a point to visit Zaftigs at least once a month to enjoy their delicious food. To date, this was by far the best customer service I’d ever experienced from any restaurant, and other local eateries could learn a thing or two from Zaftigs.

Roxy’s Grilled Cheese

This past spring, one of my roommates bounded into my room (during a nap, I might add) to excitedly tell me about a food truck located in Cleveland Circle that exclusively served “gourmet” grilled cheese sandwiches. It was called Roxy’s Grilled Cheese. Obviously, she had picked the right audience… I’m a total sucker for comfort food, especially grilled cheese. I was shocked that as a local, I was completely unaware of this tasty commodity. Later that day all 6 of my other roommates piled into my tiny car to search for said food truck.

After spending upwards of an hour driving around Cleveland Circle, we were starving and defeated. Where was Roxy’s? A quick Google search had the answer: (in hindsight, we probably should have referenced that beforehand…) Roxy’s Grilled Cheese Truck was driving across the country participating in a food truck contest that would be appearing as a reality show on the Food Network! Who knew?

somebody’s hungry for a grilled cheese…

Roxy’s won third place overall out of seven food trucks, and earned the respect of many because of their good sportsmanship throughout the competition. Since The Great Food Truck Race aired on the Food Network, food trucks have been popping up all over Boston, much to the excitement of food enthusiasts such as myself. Roxy’s was ingenious in its marketing scheme. What’s the one thing you need to do to get business? Advertise! What’s the best way to advertise? Get on TV!

Having lived in the Greater Boston Area my entire life, I had only seen food trucks on the west coast in areas like Southern California and Hawaii, and they had only served “portable” foods like hotdogs or fish tacos. Grilled cheese was the last thing I would expect to be served from a truck, but Roxy’s definitely proved that it’s possible.

After the show stopped filming, Roxy’s began appearing in various locations all over Boston; not just in Cleveland Circle. Obviously, I was quite excited when I spotted them around BU’s West Campus.

Not only did Roxy’s make good use of advertising through television, they are also pro’s at social media. They have a company twitter,

Gabe waiting for Roxy’s to open

@RoxysGrilledChz, where they post their locations, which makes them quite easy to stalk… erm, follow around Boston if you’re in the mood for a grilled cheese (which is all the time, don’t lie).

One day last week, my pal Gabe Herrera and I decided it was finally time to see what all the fus was about- it had be long enough! We checked their schedule and planned to find them at BU West the next afternoon. Of course, we arrived 30 minutes early and were first in line… in a thunderstorm. Roxy’s may have only been 10 minutes late, but that didn’t stop Gabe from tweeting at them.

Despite the harsh weather, there were many other hardcore Roxy’s fans right there with us in the rain. One girl told me, “I’ve had Roxy’s every day for the past week. I’ve literally followed them all round Boston.” I guess that’s something to be proud of… right?

As the line continued growing down the sidewalk, I wondered how such a tiny franchise could build itself, from the ground up, into such a trendy establishment. Was it the media attention that followed their appearance on the Food Network? Was it their strong grasp on social media that makes them so accessible? Was it actually… the food?

It was then that I received my first ever Roxy’s Grilled Cheese, and determined that it is, in fact, a perfect combination of the three. My food was out-of-this-world good, and I’m a tough critic. I couldn’t believe a sandwich of that caliber could be produced in a truck. Needless to say, I went back the next day.

Domino’s Pizza

As a student living in the busy city of Boston, I understand how little you can get for your dollar. Living in the city is extremely expensive and everybody wants the best bang-for-their-buck, so to speak. For those living in dorms, there isn’t much within arms reach short of a dining hall or convenience store who’s options are always limited.

When I was a freshman, I arrived at school with very little money (which is probably a good thing) which left me very few options for dining. After becoming tired of the dining hall within a week, I discovered that Domino’s Pizza delivered right do the dorms. It was cheap, easy, and fast. But that’s not the reason I ordered Domino’s every other day, oh no.  I could charge as much as I wanted to my Terrier Card, and those charges ultimately disappeared into my tuition to be paid off later (key word = LATER).

I thought I’d struck gold. Unlimited pizza, sandwiches, pasta? Delivered to my dorm? For free? (For now?) Why not!

Domino’s is an absolute genius for doing this. I can honestly say that the hundreds of dollars I spent (and continue to spend…) on Dominos Pizza would have stayed in my pocket had I not been able to use my Terrier Card. Domino’s is aware of their customer demographic and caters to them specifically, and the Terrier Card isn’t the only marketing strategy they use to its full potential.

Dominos also makes great use of their company Twitter. Of course, they found me and requested to follow me. By the laws of Twitter etiquette, I followed them back. They constantly update their Twitter with daily deals and such, and I also noticed that they follow many of my friends. One thing that really struck me was that they took the time to reply to a tweet despite the fact that they have many followers.

Although Domino’s and I continue have to a love-hate relationship, I can’t deny that they are geniuses.