Eating in Boston: An Update

With two dear friends from Switzerland in for 10 days, it was a welcome opportunity to explore the city and see it afresh and through their eyes.

This led to a lovely lunch at Haley House, in Dudley Square, Roxbury, where the gals feasted on salads and I had a perfectly textured and spiced black bean soup.

Each day, F &S, aka Fiona and Stephanie, indulged themselves at Hi-Rise where high ratings were given to blueberry scones and the breads.  They would stop by Cardullo’s for wine and cheese, mixing it up one afternoon at Wine & Cheese Cask in Somerville.

We enjoyed the dogs at Sully’s in Southie: The place is epic and as synonymous with Boston as Pat’s is to Philly.  They urged us later to go to the North End: Caffe dello Sport, $2 coffees and ringside seats.

We didn’t eat out much, not for dinner, what with fresh fish available from Sakanaya, which I grilled, and killer grass-fed Archer beef, from Maine, available at Savenor’s.

When we did go, it was to Craigie on Main & then to Darryl’s.   Hard to be objective about C on M as I’m writing the book, but you can’t argue with taste: The burger, which I’d not had before was pretty spectacular.  The pasta, the fish, the pork.  All just plain wonderful.  At Darryl’s?  We’re talking live jazz and fried chicken and waffles and a sassy, tatted waitress.  I wish there were 10 more of each of these restaurants in the city.

The One That Got Away

Big news in today’s NYT, Biz section, ‘natch, when it comes to food.  That fish on your plate or in the store?  Maybe it’s not what the label says.

In fact, according to a report released this week by the independent, non-profit Oceana, something like 80% of smoked cod sold in Ireland, for example, isn’t cod.  That grouper?  Probably catfish from ‘Nam.

Why this matters: Prices high for fancy fish, for one thing; unfair to folks selling the real thing; taste.

From the article: “Yellowtail stands in for mahi-mahi. Nile perch is labeled as shark, and tilapia may be the Meryl Streep of seafood, capable of playing almost any role.”

And this: “With rates of fraud in some species found to run as high as 70 percent, the report concluded, the United States needs to ‘increase the frequency and scope’ of its inspections.”

Here’s the link: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/27/science/earth/27fish.html?_r=1&ref=business.

On the Final Day

On the final day of eating ourselves silly, we joined up with F&F (friends and family @ Bar Boulud.  Here’s a place that puts to shame all the French wannabees and demonstrates just how difficult and wonderful the real thing is when done properly.  A bowl of garlic soup followed by a pate, en croute, of morels and foie gras accompanied by a glass of Riesling.  Could life be better?

That evening?  Michael White’s relatively new place, Osteria Morini.  Sifton had given the restaurant a mixed, but respectful reception.  I’d cancelled and rebooked several times prior, sort of like scheduling a colonoscopy, sort of not, but this time we actually made it in.  A chill room, great service, and delicious fried artichoke hearts, skewers of quail and vegetables, and a brilliant, restrained, smart rendition of house-made spaghetti with a Bolognese sauce.  The hearts were pureed artichoke and then fried rather than the whole leaves one finds in Rome.  Great idea, great restaurant.  OK, so it’s not as much to my liking as Locanda Verde, but it is a notch above Lupa and you know that’s saying a lot!

Dining in Manhattan

Sated, but on a mission, it was time at last to try Ma Peche.  Chang’s outpost off of Fifth, in the 50’s, is in a hidden location, below the street and the small signage makes it hard to find.  You descend and find yourself in a cavernous room in hues of gold and brown and with perfect lighting.  Also perfect is the $25 prix fixe lunch of three courses.  We’re taking a bunny and duck pate followed by rice noodles with a lamb Bolognese and then a big cookie.  Where can you find such great food?  And at a great price!

En route to a play, we stopped at Rockefeller Center for a coffee at Bouchon, which opened 48 hours prior.  Occupying the former Dean & Deluca, this bakery/cafe, owned by Thomas Keller, is for sure spectacular.  An oasis in a sea of shops and offices.

That evening, meeting up with a friend, we found ourselves at The Dutch.  This is a fascinating, explosive restaurant on Sullivan Street that opened two weeks ago where chef Andrew Carmellini, who also mans Locanda Verde, is cooking up American classics.  Big rooms, many covers, chill staff, noise and flavor.  “White boy’s” ribs were a terrific starter followed by thinly sliced hiramasa that sang with flavor and a main course of rabbit pot pie.  This is a restaurant that showcases the USA: Its traditions and depth of flavors.

The NY Report: Day One

As an emigre from the greater Metropolitan area, having been raised in PLFD, a town of 50K just outside of Newark, home once to Mack trucks and J.P. Stevens and, hence, a magnet for supposed jobs for folks from NC who, finding themselves barred from gainful employment, were victimized by the PO-lice , I have always had a hankering for whatever brings me back to times that seemed more heartfelt than now.  Now the senses are made dull by fear and experience, denial and transcendence, the flood of the past and the all too certain future.  Back then, home was race riots in ’67 and mom, from East NY, Brooklyn, and dad, kind of Brooklyn and Manhattan, the ferocity of daily life evident in the smallest gesture.

So, anyhoo, as mom would say, let’s talk about three days of dining in NYC.

First up was Locanda Verde.  Is it getting even better or am I just in a good mood since I sold my book?  Both probably.  The first lunch courses of snap peas and in-house cotechino were really delicious. Simple seasonal flavors in the first and deep bites and wonderful textures in the second.  Dude cooked up his version of eggplant parm for my main course.  Served with little chick peas in a tiny dish. Wonderful, long seeded roll.  Thinly sliced eggplant with the breadcrumbs on the veg, but not the purple perimeter.

Dinner was Esca, of course.  I say of course because I love this restaurant.  Soulful, intelligent food served by low-key wait staff that is really pleasant.  We’re talking two flights of spoonfuls of raw, seasonal fish followed by shad roe and pickled vegetables.

Dining Out, Dining In

After six days in New Orleans, it was a relief to return to Boston where the desire to eat out is mitigated by the fact that there are so few places of interest.  In contrast, the markets in Boston for food are exemplary.  So when you combine the dull and lackluster restaurants with the first-rate markets, what do you get? Great home cooking at about 1/10th the price of eating out.

We’re talking a maximum of $4 per person.

I’ve stopped shopping at Whole Foods except for emergencies and dry pasta: Manicaretti.  The prices have gone up, the quality stays the same.

New Deal has amazing products: Soft shell crabs the size of frisbees for $4.99 and small pieces of wonderful hiramasa, toro, sword, grouper, etc. that you can saute and then complement with bazillions of vegetables.

Russo’s has terrific vegetables from around the globe: India, China, Japan, Vietnam, North Africa, Italy.  Plus: Seasonal stuff like fava and asparagus.  If you’re lucky, you can find morels, matsutake, and blood oj from Sicily.

Super 88: Chinese greens on the cheap.  Amazing varieties and far better than broccoli, cauliflower, and other western veg.

Tropical Foods has great Caribbean tubers, fruits, and vegetables.

Meat at TJ‘s is good as long as you stick to the $3.99 dark, ground Empire turkey.  Otherwise, we’re talking birds from Shaw’s in the Kosher section or beef and pork from Savenor’s.

Now back to “The Warmth of Other Suns.”

Mothers & New Orleans

On the final morning in New Orleans, wouldn’t you know it, the sky was overcast, my favorite appearance, perfect writing weather, but still wouldn’t it have been nice to see the sun’s rays on the Mississippi?  Of course it would.

Strolling by the river, back to the French Quarter, and then back to the business part of town, just past Canal.  There, on a corner, is Mother’s: A bricked establishment with a long room and glassed counters where some of the world’s best sandwiches are prepared.

President Obama, on TV, was basking in a post-killing of Bin Laden.  Behind the counter, one of the workers said, “That be my husband!”  Which I felt was a fascinating, tender statement that made me so happy I could feel it in my body.

After ordering the Mother’s special sandwich,  which was ham, roast beef, and “debris” (roast beef bits), kibitzing ensued with the cashier after I told the sweet, young thing that I’d seen Wyclef on Friday.  “Aw, man,” she said, “I wanted to see him, too, but I never go to jazz fest ’cause there’s too many people.  But maybe I’ll go see Lauryn Hill next weekend!”

The sandwich?  We’re talking The Perfect Airplane Picnic.

Sunday, Hungry, Sunday

Sleeping in, missed the full spectacle of the sunrise beyond the river, I shook off sleep @ 8 AM and headed to the Sheraton gym.

Three miles and I was ready for a Po Boy @ Johnny’s.  Basically, a sub or a grinder only bigger.  An array of choices and it was not until I was at the counter that I switched to Plan B: No BLT, but a veal parm.  And why not?  Why not?  It was so good and the room was so pleasant.  I shall return!

Walking it off, only eight hours remained until we reached Upperline, which is run by JoAnn Clevenger.  In a dwelling like a home in a residential neighborhood.  Great martinis, lovely service, and turtle soup and sweetbreads that each had deep flavors.  Happy, happy, happy.

Treme & Upscale Dining

By Saturday morning, more than sated, it was a challenge to continue the debauch.  Duty called, nonetheless, and making our way past the FQ (French Quarter), we walked past the locked gates of the Louis Armstrong Park and the closed and barricaded Mahalia Jackson Arts Center, and into the Treme.

Reminded me of my hometown and Detroit and D.C.: Shotgun cottages, empty streets, shuttered biznesses.

We made our way to Willie Mae’s Scotch House.  Certainly the best fried chicken around.  Lovely staff, too: “I’ve been to exotic places like Washington, D.C.,” said our waitress, in her twenties, “and I ate at Ben’s chili bowl, but there is no place like home.”

That night, mixing it up: Emeril’s.  Salmon cheesecake, oven baked fish, and shared dessert.  I had worried that the Fall River boy was all hype, but I am here to tell you that Emeril is the real thing. Wonderful food with deep flavors and great textures and photo-op presentations.  Bam!

Day Three: Gluttony in New Orleans

Following a run, a sunrise, and commiseration with Sheraton hotel staff re the loss to the Lakers, I wandered The French Quarter.  What makes it French, I dunno, but it has a charm due to the narrow streets, the dissolute, the lost souls, and the low, quirky architecture.

Lunch was at Herbsaint.  Personally?  Personally, I think this must be the best restaurant in the city and for sure, for sure one of thew best in the country.  Up there with Zuni and one notch below Esca. First of all, staff is chill and well-informed.  The room is happy and sleek without pretension.  The food: Just amazing.  Chef Link conjures up a fine menu well-executed by his cooks.  I had house-made spaghetti topped with a deep fried egg that oozed when opened and a thin, perfect slice of guanciale followed by a tuna as if in a sandwich.  Perfect portions, smart and sensibly arranged.  This is what happens when genius meets terroir and lets the food express itself.  What happens when the chef gets out of the way.

In the afternoon, heard Wyclef @ the music festival.

In the evening?  MiLa: Salad of local spring vegetables and Alaskan halibut.  Waiter looked like Roy Orbison.  Food?  Just splendid.