A Chicago Chowhounder Reports Back on His Boston/P-Town Trip
Thanks again for all your input. I just wanted to report back on our Boston/P-Town trip. First of all, I can’t say enough about how great your city is. It was easy to get around on the T and everyone was very helpful in providing directions as needed.
We arrived in Boston late morning on Friday. After checking into our hotel and taking a walk in the beautiful Boston Public Gardens nearby, we had lunch at the Parish Café. It was a gorgeous day and the place was hopping. We timed it just right though. We beat the line by a few minutes and were able to eat outside. I had the Flour BLT and my partner had the Alternative tuna melt, which we enjoyed with a couple of draft beers. Both sandwiches were quite good and we were very happy with our choices. We also loved the atmosphere and the eclectic mix of business professionals, students and society mavens.
From there we were off to the new ICA museum followed by a snack at Flour Bakery on Farnsworth. Unfortunately, that location is in the midst of a renovation so the ambience suffered a bit. We had a pot of tea and sampled some of the baked goods. I have to say I wasn’t wowed. Everything was tasty, but nothing was especially notable. It was better than settling for a Starbucks or something equally generic though.
After a brief siesta back at the hotel, we headed out to dinner at Taranta in the North End. We L-O-V-E-D the North End. Disney couldn’t have created a more charming place. We’ve eaten in Italian neighborhoods all over the country (NY, Philly, Pittsburgh, Buffalo) and nothing beats it. Every place was packed and everything smelled delicious.
Although we felt a little crowded at a tiny table against the wall, we loved the food at Taranta. We started with a perfectly fresh caprese salad and then ordered two of the featured entrees (at the waiter’s suggestion). I had the incredibly huge COSTOLETTA DI MAIALE CON CANNA DI ZUCCHERO E ROCOTO - Brined double cut pork chop with a sugar cane – rocoto pepper glaze served with a yucca piatella and a sauté of giant Peruvian Corn, spinach and caramelized onions. I’m generally not a big fan of pork. It’s usually too dry and not very flavorful for me. However, this dish was amazing. My partner had the GNOCCHI DI YUCA AL RAGU’ VERDE STILE SECCO PERUVIANO - Cassava root gnocchi with a slow braised “Chicha de Jora” green lamb ragu and shaved parmesan. While maybe not quite as amazing as the pork, this was an exceptional dish as well. The gnocchi was lighter than most I’ve had and the lamb ragu was very satisfying.
After dinner we wandered the streets a bit longer, taking in more of the North End’s delicious atmosphere. We walked past Mike’s Pastry, but there was a huge line out the door. Even if we could get a table the café was so packed that it didn’t seem like we’d be very comfortable there. Instead, we opted for Modern Pastry which is right across the street from Taranta. It was a great choice. It was crowded, but not nearly the mad house that Mike’s seemed to be. We each had a cannoli, a sfogliatella and an espresso. All three were perfectly executed and the combination was heavenly. It was the perfect ending to our evening.
Saturday morning started with the prix fixe brunch at Acquitaine in the Back Bay. I never would have found this place were it not for a chowhounder’s recommendation. It was very convenient to our hotel and at $9.95 per person it was an amazing value (warm home-made cinnamon bun, Omelette de la maison - Bacon, smoked tomato and Gruyere cheese served with caramelized onion home fries and toast, fresh orange juice and bottomless coffee). It’s a big loft-like space with a bistro atmosphere that was quite cozy on a drizzly Saturday morning..
From there we were off to the MFA followed by lunch at the Gardner Museum. Given the price (I think the admission was $30) I’m not sure I’d return to the MFA, but the Gardner is a real gem. The interior courtyard is striking and the collection is very impressive. The outside café was closed due to the weather, so we ate inside. The space was not remarkable, but the food was pretty good. I had the Cod Cake with cucumber & tarragon salad and my partner had the Thyme & Sweet Onion Quiche with baby lettuce and sherry vinaigrette. Both went very nicely with a glass of chardonnay.
After the Gardner we walked over to Kenmore Square in time to see the crowds filing into Fenway for the Red Sox / Yankees game. It was a great way to experience the ambience of the area without actually going to the game. Although the Yankee fans seemed well represented, the Red Sox fans were mostly good natured and everyone seemed to get along pretty well in the festive atmosphere. That evening we journeyed to Jamaica Plain (via public transportation) for dinner at Ten Tables.
I know TT is a Chowhound favorite and I can definitely see why. It’s a charming space in a delightful neighborhood. JP reminded me a bit of Silver Lake in Los Angeles. We had the four course tasting menu: local tomato Panzanella with boquerones; shallow-poached local Hake with farro, salsa verde and pepper jam; wild Coho Salmon with leeks, tomato, black olive and anchovy butter; and all-natural Coulotte Steak with french lentils, celeriac and mustard cream. It was an amazing meal. Although the ingredients may sound complicated the flavors were simple and subtle. The combinations were all very satisfying. It was a wonderful experience in a very intimate setting.
Sunday morning began with an early breakfast at Union Bar & Grille in the South End. Once again you chowhounders hooked us up. We had the $9.95 Early Riser All Inclusive Brunch Special. I chose the Smoked Salmon Scramble House Cured Salmon with crème fraiche, scallions, homefries & toast. My partner had the B-52 French Toast with orange marmalade and smoked bacon. Both entrees came with cinnamon swirl sour cream coffee cake, fresh squeezed juice and coffee. Like Acquitaine, this was an amazing value. The space is gorgeous and the crowd at that hour was mostly local. We really felt like we were part of the neighborhood. It was a very enjoyable start to our morning.
From there we headed off to the JFK Museum at Columbia Point. It’s in a beautiful space overlooking Boston’s harbor. The museum is a bit off the beaten path, but well worth the trip. After that we jumped on the Red Line and headed to MIT in Cambridge. We got off at Kendall Square to check out some of the campus architecture (Gehry’s Stata Center and Saarinen’s chapel & auditorium) and walked from there to the Central Square stop.
Along the way, we had a pretty good piece of pizza (with a thin cracker crust) at MIT’s student center and then stopped at Toscanini’s for ice cream. I have to say this was a bit of a disappointment. The counter help seemed in a hurry to take our order, but they didn’t seem too interested in offering advice on what to try. I’d heard their malted vanilla and grape nut raisin flavors were good, but neither of them was featured that day. I can’t actually recall what I settled on. Whatever it was, it was OK but obviously not especially memorable.
Next, we made a quick detour to Harvard to see Le Corbusier’s amazing visual arts center building and then headed back to our hotel for a well earned nap. We returned to Cambridge that evening for the four course “Chef’s Whim” at Craigie Street Bistrot. I wish I could give you details on what we ate there. It’s not that it wasn’t memorable it’s just that my mind is a little fried from so many great meals back to back. I had a look at CSB’s online menu and some of it looked familiar (Crispy Tempura of Dayboat Cod Cheeks with pickled eggplant, sweet garlic purée, scallion and pickled ramp salsa verde), but most of it didn’t ring any bells. I assume the chef did a lot of improvising. In any case, the food was outstanding. While most of the dishes were perhaps a bit more complicated than what we had at Ten Tables, they all worked well and the flavors and textures were very pleasing to my palate.
For our last Boston breakfast on Monday morning, we headed over to Charlie’s Sandwich Shoppe. I loved the old-school diner atmosphere and the communal seating, but the food didn’t blow me away. Perhaps we just made the wrong choice. I’d seen chowhound raves about the Cape Cod cranberry French Toast, so that’s what we chose. It was OK, but not really outstanding. Apparently their turkey hash is really good maybe we should have had that instead.
We caught the afternoon ferry from Boston harbor and made it to P-Town in time for lunch. Our first stop was Townsend Lobster & Seafood (on the Fisherman’s Wharf). Located adjacent to the ferry dock, it couldn’t have been more convenient. It looks like a fish shack from the outside, but you won’t find fresher seafood anywhere (they were hauling in fresh lobsters as we placed our orders). I had a cup of the lobster bisque while my partner had the clam chowder. We each had a delicious lobster roll as well. Everything we tasted was exceptional and contrary to what I had read there was plenty of in-door seating. I can’t imagine returning to P-Town and not going back to Townsend’s.
Our B&B in P-Town offered a pretty nice breakfast which we happily indulged in each morning. For dinner, we went to the Mews, the Lobster Pot and Café Edwige. They were all decent meals if not exceptional. We also rode bikes to Race Point Beach and Truro stopping at Clem & Ursie’s and a deli called the Filling Station along the way.
All in all, we had a wonderful trip which was greatly enhanced by the keen insight and advice from all you Boston Chowhounders. Thanks again for your help and I’d be happy to reciprocate if anyone is planning to visit Chicago.
What wonderful descriptions and insight in your report. It was a fascinating read and because I live here, it was able to relate and visualise each place you visited, especially the museums. I love the garden courtyard at the Gardner. I'm glad you enjoyed your visit. Come back again.
You know, just when you start to get a little weary of the cynical, overly negative posts, and put off by the seemingly suspicious glowing posts by one-time posting wonders, a truly generous post like this with integrity and passion for chow comes through, reminding us what the board is all about.