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Fairsted Kitchen, Cha Yen Thai Cookery, and River Bar, Reviewed

Here's what the critics are saying this week.

A fire pit outside at River Bar
A fire pit outside at River Bar
Katie Chudy for Eater

"The snacks and drinks make this a go-to place for a night at the bar," writes Corby Kummer in a Boston Magazine review of Fairsted Kitchen in Brookline's Washington Square. "As for the rest of Foster and Bowman’s concept—well, that’s not quite so easy to figure out." The decor "seems at odds" with the food, which is "hard to place," thanks to "traces of post-back-to-the-earth, multicultural Moosewood, with some of Yotam Ottolenghi's trendy Mediterranean flavors mixed in," plus a French base.

But the confusion doesn't necessarily detract from the restaurant's success, as there's much to enjoy. "Whatever it was, it was good," writes Kummer of the "vaguely 'Turkish' meatballs." There was a "lovely" sweetbread dish — "a sweetbread conversion moment for the squeamish" — and there was the grilled wagyu zabuton, "probably the best beef dish" Kummer ate in 2014.

While not everything worked entirely, "all of it will make you decide to come back a second time, and probably more," declares Kummer. And a bonus: "What Fairsted lacks in expertise and precision it makes up for in friendliness — this is a place that really wants you to like."

Meanwhile in Watertown, MC Slim JB gleefully steps away from The Improper's usual reporting on "glamorous restaurants where elaborate food and swank cocktails are served to pretty people in beautiful rooms" in order to get all food nerdy about a place "special enough" to go "beyond those downtown neighborhoods that garner most of the food coverage in Boston." Where to? The "thimble-sized" Cha Yen Thai Cookery.

The curry puff "kicks the sorry ass of every dull, factory-made Thai turnover you've ever had." The noodle dishes "transcend ordinariness with striking details." Soups showcase "intricate, distinctive flavors rising above pedestrian formula."

MC has nothing but praise for the "skill and inventiveness on display in the flavors and lovely platings," which, he notes, "would not feel out of place in a Back Bay bistro." Recommended dishes include galangal soup with shrimp, mushroom larb, and grilled calamari.

And over in Somerville's Assembly Row, Devra First files a Globe review on River Bar, "perhaps the unlikeliest spot in this unlikely lifestyle-opolis." A long wait on the outside patio (thankfully with heat lamps) is bearable thanks to "excellent mulled wine and rye toddies." But the wait drags on longer than expected; "the melee sometimes overwhelms the sweet, sassy staff," First notes.

The menu features "the flavors of the world, remixed deliriously, often with an unabashed embrace of fat." There's the burger, for example, topped with "a thick spread" of mayo as well as bacon spring rolls (right on the burger). "River Bar might just be trying to kill you." While she finds the burger's excess "glorious" on one visit, it "crosses the line" another night, with "geysers of grease" spurting from those spring rolls. "With every bite, the arteries groan."

"River Bar serves some serious stoner food, but its dishes could often use a hit of acid, too," she writes. Overall, it's "a compendium of clever ideas," of which "some" work out. "The food at this likable spot is so crazy it just might work. When it does, it is a pleasure." She ultimately grants it one-and-a-half stars out of four, between "fair" and "good."

Fairsted Kitchen

Beacon St, Brookline, MA (617) 396-8752

River Bar

661 Assembly Row, , MA 02145 (617) 616-5561 Visit Website

Cha Yen Thai Cookery

613 Mount Auburn Street, , MA 02472 (617) 393-0031 Visit Website