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Hojoko, Tasting Counter, Red Lentil: Reviewed

Here's what the critics are saying.

Tasting Counter
Tasting Counter
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MC Slim JB of the Improper Bostonian stopped by Hojoko, the new Japanese-inspired tavern from Tim and Nancy Cushman of O Ya. The izakaya is "set to a deafening rock soundtrack, hallucinogenically overstuffed with rock and surf bric-a-brac and Japanese pop-culture kitsch," in which guests order up sushi, ramen, cocktails, and sake, among other options.

The elaborate cocktails, from Blue Hawaiians to sake bombs, complement the rowdy vibe of the restaurant, which carries the theme into its animal-shaped glassware and elaborate menu items. The menu from executive chef Hart Lowry is a "like-minded combination of wit and seriousness, creativity and tradition," according to Slim, who found the tuna poke fabulous, the hot dog ramen impressive, and the tuna burger a "complex wallop of flavors."

Slim noted the drinks and plates can add up quickly and "surprise diners used to less-refined Asian restaurants." Still, he said, the food at Hojoko is "carefully wrought in a kicky setting" and can be a real value.

The Boston Globe's Devra First made a visit to Tasting Counter to sample the long-perfected skills of chef Peter Ungár, who opened the Somerville restaurant with his wife in July after years of hosting elaborate private events in the same vein. First found the food at Tasting Counter something beyond a "generic brand of perfection."

There is one seating a night for the one planned menu, which remains a secret until each dish is served over the course of the two-hour, nine-course meal. The restaurant is inside Aeronaut Brewing Company, closed off from the brewery to give diners a personal experience with their meals.

First said the selection of welcoming bites was "purely delightful, and they set the tone for the meal," which prominently features fish, harkening to the time Ungár worked at Le Grand Véfour. "The pasta course is always tremendous," First said, describing a "foam-crowned tortellini with lobster and pine mushrooms in beef broth." The meal ends with dessert, naturally, and after careful pacing diners can expect to be "full yet comfortable."

First said the high price tag for dinner at Tasting Counter — $165 midweek or $180 on the weekend — is a good value. The restaurant pushes the boundaries of fine dining with a model where guests pay in advance and don't tip. Guests can expect an "interactive, instructive experience."

Finally, the Globe's Sheryl Julian visits Watertown's crowded Red Lentil Vegetarian & Vegan Restaurant, where chef and owner Pankaj Pradhan serves a range of cuisines that accommodate all manner of dietary concerns, from gluten and soy intolerance to nut allergies.

Guests choose from a mix of Pradhan's Middle Eastern, Spanish, Italian, and Mexican dishes. Julian found the pakora (deep-fried shredded vegetables) "spot-on and deliciously crisp." The Gobi Manchurian for $9, she said, "is one of the menu stars," with deep-fried cauliflower florets served with peppers and onions. Main courses are big enough to share, and though "much of the food looks beautiful," Julian said, it could use more seasoning. The restaurant also offers all-vegan desserts, including carrot cake, but the slices are not baked daily.

Red Lentil

600 Mount Auburn St, Watertown, MA 02472 (617) 972-9189 Visit Website

Tasting Counter

14 Tyler Street, , MA 02143 (617) 299-6362 Visit Website

Hojoko

1271 Boylston Street, , MA 02215 (617) 670-0507 Visit Website

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