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Boston Report: Biba, Rossini's, Daddy's Roast Beef and Maria's Pastry

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I just returned from a Thanksgiving holiday that included a couple days in Boston. I crammed as much eating in as I could (which unfortunately did not include a return trip to the fantastic Taiwan Cafe).

First, Biba. I ate at the bar shortly after this restaurant opened in the early '90s, and remember a delectable dish of beef marrow on toast. This combined with some of the raves found below, mentioning the restaurant's daring with organ meats (link at bottom), convinced me I needed to try it again. I noticed that some of these posts dated from January 1998, which should have forewarned me, but oh well...

The keynote at our Biba meal was heavy sauces. Heavy, heavy sauces. Adam's stack of saut├ęd foie gras was generously sized and the only dish served relatively plain; the meat was good but not the creamiest or smoothest foie gras I've ever tasted. My wood pigeon appetizer was quite tasty. So far, so good. But Adam's venison in Concord grape sauce was utterly overwhelmed by cloying grapey-ness, while my crusted lamb chop and sherry-cooked lamb shank was drowned in an unidentifiable sweet brown sauce.

Wines were uniformly overpriced. We had a decent Varrois in the mid $30s that would have been acceptable at under $20. It was one of the cheapest wines on the list.

I would not recommend Biba. Despite its lovely views over the Public Gardens, the main room has a sad dated early '90s Southwest vibe. The bar downstairs used to be welcoming and cozy; a TV has now been installed and music was echoing loudly off of bare walls. (Why is it that Boston simply cannot do bars well?) The check was hefty even by New York standards; quite insane for Boston.

Fortunately, my Boston eating experience improved drastically after this. The following morning we went to Rossini's Pizzeria for lunch. This place is located on a desolate stretch of Washington Street where the former elevated Orange Line used to run, just south of downtown. Two small tables in front, a small counter, and an enormous pizza space in back, 15 foot ceilings, huge pizza ovens, and crews of men working on dough and sauce. Adam was disappointed that our slices didn't come from a fresh pie, which he says makes all the difference. The fresh pies must be amazing, then, because my pizza was lovely. The sauce was perfectly balanced between sweet and herbal (oregano), the crust was light (not particularly crispy), and the whole slice had the crucial crust-sauce-cheese blending, each layer melding with the next just perfectly.

We only had a slice each so that we would have room for our next stop, Daddy's Roast Beef. This unremarkable-looking corner joint downtown carries on Boston's old roast beef traditions in its own peculiar way. Boston has many old roast beef sandwich places. Two of the most famous, in the old days, were Elsie's Roast Beef in Harvard Square, and Buzzy's Roast Beef on Charles St. near the Longfellow Bridge. Elsie's, which sadly closed five years ago, layered cold, pink beef on a bulkie roll with their own special russian dressing. Regulars always called it a "special". I don't know anywhere you can get this kind of sandwich in Boston anymore. Buzzy's still exists, but has been renovated and is under new ownership, I believe. The classic Buzzy's sandwich was the "roast beef barbecue", hot pink beef in short sub roll with a sweet red "barbecue" sauce on it, prepared by extremely grouchy old men and served all night. They were also famous for their onion rings.

Anyway, I'm getting off the subject at hand, which is Daddy's. They serve a third kind of sandwich: pink-to-brown (medium-rare) beef on an onion roll with swiss cheese. Their beef comes with liberal drippings and juices, and the combination of beef, juices, cheese and roll was very nice indeed. I would go back.

Lastly, we went over to the North End to get cannoli. We had originally planned to get cannoli from Maria's and cannoli from Modern Pastry Shop and do a comparison (see the discussion between Jim and Adam about these places at the end of the Biba thread below), but the line at Modern was out the door with Thanksgiving shoppers stocking up, and we were pretty full already, so we decided we'd just plump for Maria's.

Maria's is much less famous than Modern and less well-situated; they had no line. The cannoli shell was crisp and the ricotta creamy and luscious. A perfect end to a three-part luncheon!

Next trip will include: Taiwan Cafe, Carl's Deli and a famous old lunch counter in the South End whose name escapes me just now. Also, the next time I go to Boston to spend money I think we'll take some friends' advice and try the new places!

Patrick

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