BOSTON’S BEST

There’s a lot of talk about Boston being a “food town” filled with great restaurants and here today let’s do a Q & A on the city’s Best:

Q: Where is the city’s best Japanese restaurant?

A: In addition to PABU, the Boston Celtics have a great line up and with the new draft pick on Thursday, who may replace Baynes, they could find themselves in the Finals in 2019.

Q: Best deli?

A: I can’t say I follow baseball: Too many games means that watching the pitching reminds me of sandlot ball with lots of hits and down time.  But if I did watch baseball, I’d enjoy going to Fenway Park, which is a very beautiful place to spend a few hours catching up on email.

Q: Best bagels?

A: Katz’s in East Boston is exemplary.  As good as it gets, with a great staff, and really delicious chicken pot pies in addition to bagels.  They don’t sell poppy seed bagels, however.

Q: Best Italian?

A: Galleria Umberto. Pepe’s, Santarpio’s, T. Anthony’s.  In that order.

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In the Tropics

Don’t like shopping for food?  Me, neither, though there are ways around it.  In Boston, there’s ARAX, a remarkable and family run shop filled with fruits and vegetables and prepared items and dry goods that draw upon the cuisines of Armenia, Syria, Iran, and Lebanon.  Hagop is now in the kitchen cooking, and his sons run the front.

Whole Foods now delivers for free, plus tip, so I no longer have to go through its doors.  Russo’s is there on desperate days and looking over its items, seemingly left over from restaurants that turned the stuff down, I go there at most once or twice per year.

Best of all?

TROPICAL FOODS in Dudley.  The lot alone is welcoming.  What with a guy in the summer with an open van selling flavored ices, to the music, often reggae or old soul, pouring out of speakers from inside.  Inside, the rafts of yams, bananas, limes, oranges, and lemons speak of abundance.  Ginger.  Big containers of dried spices.  And pleasant.  People are pleasant: Eye contact, brief conversations about what’s in store.

“See these steaks?  I don’t mess around!”

Rest in Peace, Anthony Bourdain

I met Tony Bourdain ages ago, over dinner at Da Silvano, in 1999, and his shyness was the most striking thing about him that night.  He handed his menu to his publicist and said, “Please order for me, maybe a steak.”

He was soft spoken throughout the evening, more interested in listening than talking, which is the hallmark of a great storyteller, ironically, which he was then and remained throughout his very remarkable life.

He was adept at getting out of the way of a story, and despite all the bombastic, eye-catching comments, his ability and willingness to accept and celebrate vulnerability were a stunning counterbalance.

Like A.J. Liebling, his writing about food was attentive, muscular, and alert to what bounty and deprivation, taste and sensuality, providers and consumers are about.

His generosity is also a big part of who he was.

When I interviewed him for a story I did for The Boston Globe, many years back, about the awfulness of restaurants in Boston, he said, thoughtfully and with an eye toward making things better: “I think they’re charging high prices because they can – serving food to people who are grateful to have what they consider big city food.  I think what’s going on in Boston is a classic example of chefs working in a place that’s not yet a national restaurant city, not by a stretch. It’s a period of insecurity. And I can really understand why the chefs are charging so much: If prices come down, they lose their mystique as chefs. They’re reluctant to abandon their pomposity, expense, and pretense.”

His honesty and presence are missed, and it’s only been less than a day.