Report from a Seattle Hound
Thanks to everyone who gave me suggestions on what and where to eat during my stay in Boston. http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/7005.... Here’s a report.
My wife’s and my stay in Boston started on Tuesday, which proved to be the pinnacle of our eating experiences. We had a late lunch at Neptune Oyster where, among other things, we enjoyed some raw Massachusetts and Prince Edward Island oysters, some cherrystone clams on the half-shell, and a Maine lobster roll. They were all spectacular. We also had some clam chowder that was subtle and light, but not quite as clammy as I would have preferred. After lunch, we wandered around the North End neighborhood and picked up some items from Maria’s Pastry Shop and Modern Pastry, which provided in-room breakfast fare during the rest of our stay in Boston. The pastries were good, but suffered by comparison to those we had the previous weekend from Villabate Alba Patisseria, a famous Sicilian bakery in the Bensonhurst neighborhood of Brooklyn. For dinner, we went to Cragie on Main in Cambridge. Many Hounds commented that it was expensive, but well worth it. I couldn’t agree more. It was simply fabulous. The amuse-bouche, appetizers (grilled dayboat monkfish cheeks with salsa verde, golden raisin-verjus sauce, and curry oil, and a ragout of forest mushrooms, boudin noir, and venison sausage) and desert were all wonderful. But the main event was the entrée, a confit and roasted half pig’s head. It arrived with a deeply bronzed and cracker crisp skin, underneath which was some of the most succulent pork I’ve ever tasted. It was swooningly, moaningly wonderful. .
On Wednesday, while my wife was busy with her conference, I took a drive to Ipswich, where I had some fried local clams at the Clam Box. I made the mistake of not asking for “belly clams.” I later learned that they were available by special request, although not listed on the menu. I was told that they are bigger, juicier, and tastier than the smaller clams I was served. I wasn’t overwhelmed by the fried clams I had, despite the fact that they were cooked just following the 2:30 pm oil filterijg. The breading and frying took too much away from the pure flavor of the clams. I prefer fresh clams on the half-shell, where I can experience all the brininess and full, unadorned flavor of the clams. By the way, when I told my waiter at Cragie that I didn’t order the fried clams at Neptune, he furrowed his brow and indicated that I’d made a big mistake. From Ipswich, I drove east on Route 133 through Essex to Gloucester, then from Gloucester to Salem, and from Salem back to Boston. On Wednesday night we had a dinner of small plates at Coppa in the South End. There were some standouts – such as the pig’s tail and a wild ramps pizza – but in general the results were mixed, and I often found myself wishing for a simpler, more straightforward approach to some of the dishes. For example, the sea urchin panini with mostarda suffered by comparison to the purer flavor of sea urchin I’ve had at good sushi restaurants. Similarly, the wood-roasted asparagus with pecorino and horseradish suffered by comparison to a simpler version I’ve had at Harvest Vine, a Basque restaurant in Seattle – perfectly cooked, slightly charred wood-grilled asparagus accompanied only by a kiss of olive oil, lemon juice, and sea salt. I love pecorino and horseradish, and the dish at Coppa had lots of menu appeal. But in the final analysis, I found those flavors to be more of a distraction than an enhancement.
On Thursday, my wife and I drove to Essex, New Hamphsire to visit some relatives. We stopped off in Essex for some tasty soup and a sandwich at the Green Bean on Water – a very nice lunch spot. We had dinner that night at my niece’s house in Essex.
On Friday, I drove out to Cape Cod to visit my sister who lives in Harwich. We drove to the picturesque town of Chatham, where we had lunch at the Wild Goose Tavern (my sister’s choice) – a nice setting where a pretty good bowl of clam chowder made me hopeful, but the subsequent lobster roll was pretty awful. I drove back to Boston in the late afternoon, where the cold, rainy weather and my wife’s weariness after giving two major presentations at her conference influenced us to limit our dinner excursion to Legal Seafood, which was just across the street from our hotel. We had a good clam chowder, some cherrystone clams on the half-shell that were not the equal of those I had at Neptune Oyster, and some simply grilled, very moist and tasty bluefish.
On Saturday, before leaving for the airport, we ate lunch with one of my wife’s colleagues at Pairings in the Boston Park Plaza where we had been staying in connection with my wife’s conference. I ordered my third and last lobster roll, which only served to make me realize how wonderful the version was at Neptune Oyster in comparison to the other two versions I had.
Thus endeth the report. The next time I’m back, you can be sure that I’ll return to Neptune and Cragie, and check out some of the places that were on my list that I didn’t get to. Thanks again for all your help,
Thanks for the details. The Clam Box is much fun, but as you found out from your server at Craigie, the clams at Neptune are much better. Neptune is quite wonderful in many ways, but a secret, maybe not well kept, is their fry station is among the best. I wish they'd fry more things (I am a glutton for fried things and sorely wish there was decent fried chicken around here).
You seem fixated on lobster rolls, which is a good thing to be fixated on, but a bad thing to be fixated on in Boston. Other than Neptune, I can't think of a really good lobster roll served in the Boston area. You were a lucky boy getting one from Neptune.
As far as Italian pastries go, I am as well disappointed. I still can't find a canoli that sets my heart aflame. I can in Oakland, CA of all places (hello Lo Cocos!)...but not in one of the most proudly Italian neighborhoods on this side of the Atlantic. Oh well.
The clam chowder at Legal is quite good. I could do with a cup of that at every meal for a few weeks non-stop and not tire of it.
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Thanks, hondodog. I get to Oakland quite often, so am delighted to learn about Lo Coco's. I haven't found any worthy Italian pastry in Seattle, but the consolation is that Cafe Besalu makes the best croissant I've had other than a few places in Paris. I'm really not all that fixated on lobster rolls, but at a couple of restaurants I went to -- at my Boston hotel and in Chatham -- they were the only thing on the menu that seemed uniquiely New England. But you're right, they weren't good and, in hindsight, I should have ordered something more generic. And, although I almost got into an argument about it at a South End cheese shop, I generally prefer Pacific Northwest oysters to East Coast oysters.