Those Immigrants!

My new book, “Those Immigrants!” will be published in a few weeks, and a few weeks after that my new booklet, “The Artisans of Yamanaka,” will be published.  It’s been a frenetic winter and spring without much sustained order so it’s nice to see work appearing outside of the screen of this laptop.

Then, too, the top secret project on ryokans and restaurants in Japan will be out in June or maybe July, and my guide to Japan was in The Boston Globe two weeks ago.

That leaves the glorious edits and revisions of a book I’m puzzled by, and a proposal for a long work on race riots.

There is still time to eat, which in Boston means Giulia or Babbo Pizzeria & Enoteca or Night Market.  While in NYC, most recently, we’re talking favorites: Brandy Library, Batard, Il Buco di Alimentari, Rubirosa, Russ & Daughters, and Esca, with new places: Le Coq Rico and I Sodi.


Lock, Stock, & Barrel

We loaded up the car on Sunday.  A half dozen poppy and a half dozen everything, Nova, pastrami cured, loin, and belly; horseradish cream cheese; thank you, Russ & Daughters for making mornings exciting.

Prior to this, it was some guanciale, cured meat from Batali’s father’s salumeria in Seattle, a chunk of parmigiano, Florida grouper, Piemontese style beef from out West, three types of pasta filled with vegetables, and ramps.  EATALY is coming to Boston in the Fall, but until then I’m OK with buying in NYC and returning home with food for the week.


Out to Lunch

A bunch of years ago, the best known food writer and editor in the U.S. said, “Every city gets the restaurants it deserves.”

She was responding to a question in an interview about the high costs of eating out in Boston, and the limited value of doing so.  About half of the restaurants featured in that piece closed; one has completely changed its menu.  Chefs can cook, but learning how to run a business isn’t part of the core curriculum at most culinary institutes, and those who learn how to work in restaurants on the fly are fortunate if they are taught the part about making money.

What Boston excels at, far better than most cities, is lunch.  No Western city has a better array of sandwich places, pizzerias, bakeries, noodle joints, or inexpensive Chinese restaurants where for less than ten dollars–at any of these–you can enjoy delicious food.

It’s fun and practical to pick something up and return to class or work.

At the end of the day, either hit the bars or return home.  It might be enjoyable once in awhile to stop in for an expensive experience, but as Pete Wells notes in his terrific review of I Sodi this week, too many restaurants aren’t really about dining: “The current food scene rewards egotistic gestures of novel techniques or ingredient pairings above rigorous devotion to tradition…”  (He cites I Sodi as a good example of skill and tradition.)

Slice and a coke, please.


Italian Neighborhood Cooking

There’s a terrific review out in today’s NYT by Pete Wells of I Sodi

Wells makes note of the skill and focus it takes to make great pasta.  The piece’s best lines are: “The current food scene rewards egotistic gestures of novel techniques or ingredient pairings above rigorous devotion to tradition like Ms. Sodi’s. But there can’t be any doubt that she is one of the city’s great pasta practitioners…”

Compare that to a review in today’s Boston Globe where a new joint is praised for goat Bolognese.

I remember years ago going out to eat with a well known Boston chef and how he laughed about the buffalo ribs–or was it bison?–saying that because it was a unique menu item, at the time, there was no way to compare it to other versions that might determine if the one on the menu was any good.

There are really two very good Italian restaurants in all of Boston–Giulia and Babbo Pizzeria and Enoteca–and it would be nice, of course, to see many more.  Locanda Verde, Lupa, Alimentari il Buco, I Sodi, Da Silvano, Bar Primi, Babbo, Osteria Morini…but that takes a sea change in how food is regarded.


Follow the Dough

A lot’s been written about the narrow margins in the restaurant industry, which are only going to get narrower when the minimum wage goes up to $15 an hour, and chefs who know their way around kitchens are trying to come up with ways to profit and stay in business.

One word: Dough.

Whether it’s soba, ramen, udon, pizza, bread courses, or pasta, no menu item–outside of beverages–brings in more bang for the buck.  Have a look:

That’s why you’re going to see food trends over the next few years that will focus on these items, especially pizza.  In Boston, for example, within the next few months, and starting a few months ago, no fewer than a half dozen pizza joints have opened up.  It’s a cool idea, one wishes them well, and a good way to try to get going in the restaurant industry.

It’s a lot like what has kept Italian and Chinese restaurants alive for decades: Pasta and noodles, pizza and dumplings.



It’s been a busy week, what with a snowstorm and a torrential day of sheets of rain soon after, flowers and buds buried under snow and then flooded.  Silent birds, noisy birds.

Inside the home, my book is making the near final edits with the editor and publisher and we are weeks away from publication.  A really lovely Foreward from a U.S. Congressman!  A blurb from a  U.S. Senator!

And it looks as if the latest strategy for the book I’m editing?  It looks like it might work.  It might just work.

From a culinary standpoint, we’re seeing the ongoing deterioration of the restaurant landscape.  Twenty new restaurants opening in Cambridge, Massachusetts this spring: Twelve are burgers, pizza, tacos, BBQ, fast food Chinese, coffee, or a deli.  The other eight are hodgepodge cooking, direction-less, and mostly about pork or cheap cuts of choice beef or fish that costs the kitchen next to nothing.  Not a single full-scale Italian restaurant, simple French, or Japanese among them.  Not a rotisserie, not a vegetarian, not a straightforward “gastro”-pub.

This boils down to good meals at home that cost far, far less than eating out, which leaves enough time to write and read as well as eat out on rare occasions at places that are first-rate: Babbo Pizzeria & Enoteca, Giulia, Bar Boulud, Mooo, and Pastoral.

Snow Festival in Boston

Early April snowfall in Boston preceded by a long night of rain, and that’s a pleasant way to wake up on a Sunday morning though the silence of the cold birds suggests otherwise.

Once a year I use Hyatt points to book a room for a night in Boston, and this year was no exception.  Boarded the subway at Harvard Square and trooped down Tremont Street to the Regency in the part of town known as Downtown Crossing.  A room on the 18th floor: Views of the gold domed State House.

“Everybody Wants Some” was playing at the movies just down the street and a better picture of life in one’s early twenties hasn’t been made.  Reminded me a lot of early Truffaut with its love and tenderness.

Speaking of things French: A short jaunt through the Commons and there we were at Bar Boulud.  Easily and by far the best French restaurant in Boston, the precision of dishes and alacrity of service make an evening there memorable.  Just good food without any fussiness or pretension.

Later today, to honor the cold and storm, I’ll roast a “green circle” chicken–These birds are shipped from D’Artaganan and have a depth of flavor that trump any birds I can buy locally.