boston


Boston in 30 hours. That doesn’t seem like a lot of time at all, but yet I managed to fit in 3 square meals with a couple of dessert breaks thrown in for good measure. Of course, I can’t claim credit for doing it alone. I had help from 3 ladies, who happily allowed me to dictate our dining schedule for a good day and a half. My partners in crime:

Ruoying, Wanling & Gerrie, aka the Superstar, her Assistant & the Manager

We refueled at Taiwan Cafe, a convenient 2 blocks away from the bus station. This is the place to go for a filling, honest chinese breakfast when in Boston. We dunked fresh fried dough fritters into bowls of sweet soy milk, mixed up a big bowl of slithery noodles topped with thick brown meat sauce and scalded our tongues gobbling up plump soup dumplings.

After checking into the coolly decorated Nine Zero Hotel located a stone’s throw away from Boston Common, we engaged in some non-food activities, like wetting our feet in the Frog’s pond, smelling roses in the beautifully manicured Public Garden, walking the length of Newbury Street, trying out clothes in Filenes Basement and crossing the Charles River to Cambridge, home to MIT and Harvard universities. Very soon, it was dinner time at the Cambridge branch of Legal Seafoods in the Charles Hotel.
Legal Seafoods is a Boston chain, and as much as I try to avoid chains, the seafood here is pretty stellat. Nothing says summertime like a lobster roll does, and so I had one that shared the plate with nondescript fries and coleslaw.

At $20, its definitely a fancy kind of sandwich, but the roll was toasted, buttered and then stuffed with fresh and succulent lobster meat loosely bound with mayo and a minimal amount of celery as filler. It was an extremely satisfying but messy meal. Cioppino is a great choice for someone looking for more variety, coming with a lobster claw, shrimp, clams and big, sweet mussels in a hearty tomato broth.

You know how sometimes you eat too much that you have no room for dessert? That was us. Well, almost. We declined dessert at Legals and had reached the hotel before decided it was far too early to call it a night. So we traipsed down to Finales in the theater district for a fitting end to our first day in Boston.
The Fantasia Plate is a smorgasbord of minature fruit accented desserts. Unfortunately, the names sounded prettier than the food tasted and the success of the multiple dishes was mixed. I liked the creamy orange creme caramel, was indifferent about the strawberry tart and peach mousse slices, thought the chocolate basket with crispy things inside and white chocolate petals with butter cream and blueberries were pretty and pretty superfluous and downright avoided the gunky rice cement.
Luckily the signature molten chocolate cake saved the day, with a rich gooey chocolate cake paired with coffee gelato and addictive caramelized walnuts that brought some smokiness and salt to balance the dish.

Day 2 in Boston and we had plenty of ground to cover. The Freedom Trail beckoned, as did the entertaining street performers at Quincy Market doing dare-devil stunts in return for applause and some singles. Lunch was a quick and simple affair at Wagamama. Yes, in New York we have Momofuku, but in Boston there’s Wagamama, which the additional clout of being part of an international chain first becoming popular in the UK before spreading ramen fever to continental Europe and Australia.
I must say the noodles were a little too tender for my taste, and I found the broth of my spicy miso beef ramen too one-note. I however enjoyed the tenderness of the quality beef, and Ruoying’s complex spicy beef ramen broth that was salty, spicy and sourish at once. The fruit juices too were very yummy and sippable.

A few hundred feet away from Fanueil Hall and Quincy Market is the North End, also known as Boston’s little Italy. Pastry shops are dime in a dozen, but Mike’s Pastry is where the action’s at judging from the crowds that spill over onto the sidewalk.

The shop operates on a mode of organized chaos. There are no lines at the counter. You just shuffle your way to the front of the counter and catch the countermen’s eye. Then you select your cannoli, baba rums, eclairs, tiramisus, cheesecake, mousses, cookies, marzipan fruit to go. Or you can keep and eye out for one of the 10 tables in the shop to clear, park yourself there ASAP and wait for a stressed out looking but highly efficient waitress to serve you. Or do as we did, the hybrid way, getting the pastries in a to go box, then somehow managing to grab a seat, and then ordering coffee from the server. Whatever method works best in this crazy place.

We were really impressed with the dense, moist chocolate fudge cake and the peanut brittle like flavor of the cannoli shell. The Florentine cannoli was indeed redolent of burnt sugar, nuts and filled with cool, slightly grainy ricotta cheese and the best cannoli I’ve ever had. The cappuccino had a rich creamy foam and great with the decadent pastries. Sitting there in the midst of the cannoli buying maelstrom, we were an unexpected oasis of calm.

Being a solo traveller often means dining alone. And while I’m fine doing that at lunchtime, dinner is another matter. For one, its quite acceptable to be eating alone at noon. Afterall, no one makes plans for lunch. But dinner, well. To put it bluntly, unless you’re eating at the hotel dining room, you’ll probably stick out like a sore thumb, a single diner in the midst of canoodling couples in popular restaurants in every city. I get stressed out eating alone and given the choice, would rather stay at home for a homecooked meal.

Unfortunately, I was on my own at a conference this week in Boston, and was not going to settle for inedible room service. An inquiry with the concierge led to my walk across the Back Bay area on a deliciously warm evening to B&G oysters, a seafood restaurant/bar built for solo diners. The open kitchen and surrounding marble bar dominates the long and narrow room and the bar seats offer a good view of the happenings in the cooking area, the calculated shucking of the oysters, the opening of wine bottles, the feverish pace which the chef kept, prepping 5 dishes at once. My server was helpful and knowledgeable but never overbearing and steered me into a few oysters from about a dozen other choices to start. She picked her favorites from the local region (no west coast oysters that day) and the Island Creek oysters from Massachusetts did not disappoint, pristine and plump, sweet and slippery. The only one I didn’t enjoy as much is the better known blue point oyster, which was a little chewy. I judiciously stopped at 3, but looked enviously on at another diner three seats away who ordered a dozen for himself, just for starters, before proceeding to order a “real” appetizer and a main course.
I selected the spicy clam stew from a dozen or so entrees as my main course and watched while the chef prepared my meal. In a few frenzied motions, no spare movements wasted, he sauteed the onions, tomato and garlic rapidly, fried the chorizo, added the clams, poured in the broth and served the stew in the instant the clams opened up. The littleneck clams were chewy and amazingly sweet, pairing up well with spicy chorizo, pungent scallions and crunchy crostini that I dunked repeatedly into the stew. As I ate I could just imagine how wonderful the clams would have tasted, raw and dressed with a spritz of lemon. Unfortunately, the clam dish is too popular and the restaurant seldom has extra that they can sell on the half-shell, but they would be happy to do so if available. An ice cold beer to wash everything down followed and I spent a few happy minutes chatting with my server, discussing her favorite dishes and observing the crowd in the room. While pairs and trios made up most of the clientele, there were others like me, eating contentedly, happy to be alone.

B&G Oysters
550 Tremont St, Boston MA 02118

Three consecutive meals at three different Chinatowns (two in NY, one in Boston) later, I’ve come to the conclusion that if you can stomach 1) a little bit of attitude from the servers, 2) sitting with others on the same table and 3) the insanity that’s called parking in Chinatown, you most definitely be able to find some excellent grub at hit me its so dirt cheap rock bottom prices. And have money to spare to eat dessert too!
Anyway, P and I hit Boston’s Chinatown for Sunday brunch and both of us remembered a taiwanese restaurant (uncreatively named Taiwan Cafe) which we had been to and really liked 3 summers ago when visiting a friend at MIT. So we had the signature pork chop rice, not very suitable at 11 am, but very satisfying, with a huge pork chop deep fried in star anise-spiked batter laying atop a huge mound of rice, which was in turn drenched with dark, sweet and salty meat sauce. The plate of the rice also came with a hard boiled egg cooked in soy sauce and some pickled vegetables which helped balance the oily factor. We washed down the rice with a fresh bowl of sweet soy milk served in a bowl and picked up another plate of fried vermicelli, once again topped in the tasty meat sauce and also a big roll of baked chinese dough (烧饼)All that for under $15 bucks with a hefty tip!And the leftover dough served us well as an afternoon snack while stuck in traffic too! Parking was a crazy affair however, with hungry chinese eaters double parking, placing cars blatantly next to the fire hydrants etc, so if we do ever go back, we’ll be taking the metro.
Almost 10 hours after our foray into Boston’s ctown, we landed in Flushing, Queens. This time we headd to Shanghai Tide for what else? shanghainese food, including a steamer full of soup dumplings, which, while competently made did not wow us. We also had 2 not tt memorable dishes and a bowl of spicy dan dan noodle that stole the show. Its amazing how good a little bit of minced pork and a lot of chili oil mixed together with handfuls of scallions can taste. While we were there, we observed the bulk of the diners actually eating hotpot, which while did not seem like the best summer dish to us, was indeed a huge bargain, as $18.95 yielded an all you can eat buffet and as much beer you can drink. Again, we spent no more than $25 dollars, tips included. We blew the remainder of our cash on cantonese desserts at Sweet & Tart Cafe, where we had a hit in the doubled boiled ginger egg custard (姜汁炖奶)and a miss in the classic green bean soup (绿豆汤). Still at $6 dollars, the entire tab cost less than a frozen hot chocolate in a certain Manhattan eatery, which while satisfying, is definitely not worth its price.
Chinatown #3 is our very own sprawling Manhattan version, where littered amongst some serious duds like the (un)Yummy Noodles are several more worthy restaurants. We discovered a newfound favorite in Great NY Noodletown, where the minced beef congee is up to discerning standards, and the portions for the wonton soup are huge, with more than half a dozen wontons, all swollen with fresh, succulent shrimp. We liked that place so much we were there three times (once we didn’t get seats because it was so darn crowded) in less than 2 weeks. Talk about an obsession. We ended our mad eating session that day with a superlative bowl of sweeten silken tofu (豆腐花) for a princely sum of $1 from Kong Kee Food Corp. This made our total lunch expense that day $10 including tips! Slap me now, I’m giddy with the realization that I fed me and my bf for the same cost of a salad in midtown! How much less I would be spending if the office was closer to ctown =(

Taiwan Cafe (34 Oxford St, Boston)
Shanghai Tide (135-20 40th Rd, Flushing)
Sweet & Tart Cafe (13611 38th Ave, Flushing)
Great NY Noodletown (28 Bowery, NY)
Kong Kee Food Corp (240 Grand Street)