The India Diaries

After a long, blissful couple of flights, I arrived safely in Delhi at nearly 10 P.M. on Friday, July 16th.  The once exotic, bustling airport now seemed familiar from recollections of the one previous visit made in December, 2005.

Whisked to the Sheraton Maurya–I love Starwood points; it was nice to return to the property–we were just in  time to eat at Bukhara, one of the world’s great restaurants.  A menu of about 8 non-veg items and 8 veg items with tandoor cooking key, make the place exemplary.  I’d been before and the lamb, daal, paneer, roti and kulcha were amazing.  We returned two nights later.

In between, it was time to visit a superlative south Indian place–all veg–and then Kareem’s, in Old Delhi’s Muslim quarter, with my good friend Anita.

Then, at last, a flight to Chandigarh and a five hour drive north, through monsoon, to this slice of heaven in apple and pear orchards plundered daily by monkeys.

The cook has a good repetoire: Chicken in yoghurt sauces, daal, red beans, and local vegetables prepared every which way.

The dog, a pup, named Zia (after the general) is a chief entertainment along with said monkeys.

Today we hiked down the hill to see homes being built by families of so-called tribals.

The setting is utter isolation: Socked in by clouds and lovely, intense rain or then opened up by the sun with magnificent vistas of the western Himalayas, we are, at about 8000 feet, dumbfounded and unhinged.


Big City Dining

Compare the review of “Ma Peche” by Sam Sifton in today’s NY Times with the review of “Menton” by Devra First in today’s Boston Globe and you’ll see why the former city has great restaurants and the latter doesn’t.

The Sifton review is a sober, detailed assessment: Food, service, ambience.  Notes on the differences between Korean influenced French cuisine and Vietnamese influenced.

The First review is effusive and fueled by the excitement of excessive amounts of food and wine.  I suppose at $750 per couple–that’s right, $750–some diners may want to overeat and drink too much.  The reviewer then escorts readers into the kitchen at the end of a meal at the restaurant: Did she let the restaurant know she had been reviewing?

The Sifton review describes David Chang’s latest venture in a deliberate way and his ability to parse of coax flavors.  Chang’s passionate outlook on life finds refinement in his food.  The food seems to act as a means of serenity.

WORLD CUP: Only 75 minutes to go…

…and then it’s kick-off.

I spent quite awhile trying to decide what to cook for the final.  The original plan was tapas and sangria, but empanadas and sangria are a pain to cook and besides doesn’t Holland mean beer and doesn’t beer mean ice cold cans of Heineken?

You bet.

But then the dilemma was: What to serve with the ice cold beer?

We’re ambivalent here, Holland or Spain: Both have their merits.  Neither is a team we’ve followed with passion, like Brazil, my favorite.

Then it hit me.

It’s World Cup.  And that means global cuisines.

So it’ll be a choice of frits met mayonnaise, shrimp, Thai tofu, samosas, Gouda, and grilled Andouille sausages on rolls.

Goal!  Goal!  Goal!

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Cornering the Market

If it’s true that every town gets the restaurants it deserves, a remark made to me by Ruth Reichl, which is true and succinct, then what kind of restaurants does Boston have that describe its character?  Which of these excel?  Let’s focus on the positive!  Let’s be nice!  Let’s not decry the lack of great Italian or Japanese…wait…stop right there!

Boston has more pizza parlors than NYC at this point and many of them are pretty good.  Why, just today I had two gooey cheese slices at Armando’s, my neighborhood place.  While eavesdropping on Snootsville, USA, at the next table, I dug in, enjoying utterly the droplets of orange grease on my white paper plate.  Snootsville, you wonder?  What made it so?  Well, it just so happens that it was a table of little girls and one said to the gathering, “What’s your favorite food?”  Why, “sushi,” of course!  You had to ask.  Doesn’t every seven year old crave raw fish?

In fact, Boston owes a real debt to its college students.  Thanks to them we have first-rate pizza at Pinocchio’s, the aforementioned Armando’s, Cambridge One, Iggy’s, Ernesto’s, Haymarket Pizza, Regina’s, Santarpio’s, and the truly world class Galleria Umberto.

We also can boast of dozens of little Chinese places where for less than $7, you can enjoy plates piled high with delicious fried pork, chicken, or beef atop mounds of boiled white rice.

It’s summertime, when things slow down, and I’ve been enjoying quick bites.

The two best places I’ve enjoyed this past week are:

Sichuan Gourmet, in Brookline, where, if you skip the Usual Suspects menu and go instead to Sichuan items, you’ll find spectacular versions of cold noodles topped with ground pork; fried strips of beef with peppers; fried chicken with red peppers; and, great pea shoot greens as well as sauteed eggplant slivers.  I broke into a soothing sweat while eating there on Wednesday and, happy as can be, returned the next day to order the same food.  To quote DMX, my guru on life’s complexities: “Bring it, we right here!”

Then there’s this Halal Pakistani or Indian place inside the old Super 88 on Comm Ave in Allston: First rate pakora and samosa.

Yes, everything in town is fried or covered in cheese, but let’s be pleasant, shall we?

Here’s what’s missing, since you asked: Simple, ingredient driven food.  There are a few mega high-end places–Clio, O Ya, L’Espalier–that try to do that sort of thing, but unless you’re Mr. or Mrs. Deep Pockets, the idea of $250-500 for dinner per couple–variation depending on wines–these won’t appeal.

OK, there are great exceptions meant for weekly, convivial dining: The Monday Bar in Upstairs in the Square, Henrietta’s Table, Casablanca, Harvest, Russell House Tavern, Rendezvous, East Coast Grill, Oleana, Craigie on Main, Scampo, Rocca, Ginger Park, Market, Grill 23, Bistrot du Midi, and Picco.  Not bad, really.

But what typifies our town: Food for college kids and food for the parents in town for a visit.

The Decision

First and foremost, I want to thank my family, my fans, the city of Boston, and God for these past 28 years writing as a food writer in this very special community.  As you all know, tonight is a very special occasion, both for me and the city, as I entered free agency but eight days ago, at the stroke of midnight, and had to decide: Will I continue to write in Boston?  Or will I move to another city to pursue my goals: To become the world’s first billionaire food writer  and to win the Nobel prize in literature for my food writing.

Tonight I am announcing my decision.

Writing in Boston has been something I will always cherish: The fans, the other writers, my editors–You all gave me something I feel I missed out on a child growing up without a father I knew.  My mom was like a single parent and so coming to Boston and writing about pickled onions, farm fresh strawberries, and chefs?  It was like having a new family, a family I could call my own.

I don’t know why I’m talking in the past tense.  It ain’t over.  It will never be over.  My agent handed me this line from  this old white dude, Faulkner, and he said, Faulkner, not my agent, “The past isn’t dead.  It isn’t even past.”  That is some heavy stuff.

But we all know that it comes time for a change.  If you take 10% of a billion dollars, you get 100 million dollars and my agent…hold up, (laughs) that’s not it, it’s not about my agent.  Serious.

It’s about me.  My two goals: To become the world’s first billionaire food writer  and to win the Nobel prize in literature for my food writing.

So though I love Boston, and I do, its fans, the excitement of writing about its dining scene, it has become clear to me that staying here I’d ultimately let down my fans, not just the ones in Boston, but fans all over the world.  Face it, if Muhammed Ali had stayed in Louisville, Kentucky, he’d still be Cassius Clay.

So I entered free agency.

I kept an open mind.

I listened to offers:

Chicago, home of deep dish pizza and Charlie Trotter.

New York, New York: What can I say?  Batali, Pasternack, Carmellini, Boulud, Ripert, Vongerichten.  Man, the opportunity to swing with those cats?!

Miami: South Beach, Cuban food, the annual food festival, tropical fruits, and the best fish on the East Coast!

Newark, NJ: How’d that get in there?  Nuh, just fooling, no disrespect meant to Jay-Z!

Ultimately, the decision came down to where I can write best and achieve my two goals: To become the world’s first billionaire food writer  and to win the Nobel prize in literature for my food writing.

And that’s why I’m going to Miami.   Ever see Little Havana?  It’s nice.

I will now take questions from the press…

World Cup Party

So much for the planned trip to Karl’s Sausage Kitchen.  Gone are the grilled brats and knockwurst served with hot mustard and sauerkraut.

Where does that leave us?

(I won’t do more then mention the insane departure just announced of traders from U.S. Treasury bonds to stocks.  Talk to me in late September after the crash.)

Back to the game:

I can’t see frits met mayonnaise.

So it’ll be sangria and cured ham; cod fritters; white anchovies…

Independence Days Dining

After Thanksgiving, New Year’s Eve, Valentine’s Day, Memorial Day Weekend, Columbus Day, and Christmas, the 4th of July is my favorite holiday: A time to reflect and overeat.

My gym was closed this year from 7/3-7/5, so I had the added benefit of excessive eating without all that exercise.

On Friday, it was a batch of turkey chili sans onions and garlic as The Old Man is phobic about O & G.  Something about a childhood spooked by admonitions in the Bavaria of old where he was told, “Not to smell like a Turk,” has lasted a lifetime.  Add to that the call to differentiate himself from Ostjuden–whose diets were rich with onions and garlic–has lasted some 80 years.

We’re talking simple: Braised dark ground turkey meat, chili powder, salt, diced carrots and celery, a can of tomato paste, a can of crushed tomatoes, a can of black beans, and a can of beer.  Oh, yeah.

Saturday night it was tuna burgers rolled in black and white sesame seeds pan seared and then served with wax beans and small, fresh ears of microwaved corn direct from The Pioneer Valley.

Sunday morning?  Nueske’s bacon, scrambled eggs with grated Gruyere, and rye toast.

But the pinnacle?  Burgers and dogs and mint juleps.  A few intrepid guests made their way through the river crowds to see the explosions.

But I watched., “Team America.”  The sex scene between the marionettes is priceless.

Tonight?  The finale: Grilled sword with lemons and olive oil.

Peace in our time.

Upper East Side Pasta Sunday

You don’t need to be on the East Side side for this, but in lieu of grills, the dish is a city option.

An even better bet is a glass-walled cottage in view of water.

I’d try the arrabiate.

Heat olive oil.  Add sliced red onion.  Stir until wilted.  Add crushed red pepper flakes to taste.  Add a cup of crushed Pomi tomatoes.  Add a half can of tomato paste.  Stir.

Boil salted pasta water.  Add penne.

The trick, as you may know, is to remove the pasta from the water just before it’s done.  Drain.

Add a little of the pasta water to the sauce.

Add a little chicken stock if you have some.

Put the sauce in the empty pasta pot.  Add the penne.

Cook and stir over a low flame.  Add olive oil and salt to taste.

Remove when it’s exactly al dente.  Serve immediately–one by one, not at the table.

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The Italians say that pasta and friends should be hot.

BBQ in Boston: Redbones

OK, not Boston, Some-A-Ville, but it’s in the area and it is very good.

Here’s what happened, the blow by blow:

I bid on restaurant gift certificates in charitable online auctions.

I “won” a gift certificate for $100 for dinner for four @ Redbones: An institution in Davis Square, Somerville.

Had the bidders, including me, known that the certificate included VIP service, I’d have faced stiffer competition for it, believe you me.    See, Redbones doesn’t take reservations and justifiably jammed (“J.J.’d,” as we say in the ‘hood) night after night, there is a line, a host or hostess, a clipboard, you get the idea.

Oh, no, not us.  We show up, we’re whisked to a table, food and drinks come flying:

Margaritas, a very decent Mint Julep (though crushed ice would have helped), suffering succotash, crisp onion strings, baby backs, St. Louis style (huh?), pulled pork, pulled chicken, red beans, corn bread!

Having starved myself for 12 hours prior, seriously, I was capable of eating a great deal.

Happily, too, as the quality of the meat was first-rate.  The vegetables were delicious.

My one criticism is: A relative lack of regional specificity.  I mean that pulled pork?  Not N.C., y’know.  Those ribs?  Not Missouri.  But, hey, are you kidding?   This is really and truly the best BBQ in the city.  (It has peers: Blue Ribbon, M&M; but–this is the best BBQ restaurant in town and for good reason.  EG: Service, ambience.)

Holy smoked!

Pre dinner:

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