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May 10, 2013 08:18 PM

Chowin' with a Chicagoan.

A good pal from Chicago came to visit, and we had some vittles about town.

From Logan was a straight shot up to Malden where we stopped in at Pastel for a coffee and pão de queijo, killing a few minutes before Biryani Park unlocked their doors for the day. There's an enormous menu of pastels, sandwiches, salgados, soups and juices which will be further explored the next time I have stomach space to spare in Malden/Everett.

Biryani Park was its typical stunning self. Lamprais comprised of myriad interesting flavours, all supremely spiced, each with a distinct profile. They were out of samba rice, but they have a good hand with basmati as it is. String hoppers with hodi and coconut sambol was a light supplement to an already belly-busting lunch but was summarily snarfed.

A coupla fortifying whiskies at Citizen Public House killed enough time to open the window for seats at the bar at ICOB as the first inning rolled out. Dozens of oysters were immaculately shucked by Eduardo and his sidekick, these guys are hardcore pros like no other. Oysters and a Hendricks is the height of gastronomic experience for my pally, and I'm pretty sure he had a bit of an epiphany that night.

The next morning called for soondubu at, where else but Kaju Tofu House. Seafood bowl (extra spicy) was a marvel. The owner from California was paying a visit and I don't know if that had anything to do with it but they sure knocked us out that day. Wonderfully integrated, seafood is the only way to go. I strayed on this occasion and ordered the beef & octopus (extra spicy) and it just simply didn't impart anything beyond (good) protein the way seafood elevates the bowl.

My friend is something of a ramen pro, having written pretty extensively on the topic, so I sent him out to Yum Wo Katare (I had another dinner obligation). He had a horrific time. One-dimensional porkfat broth, a massive blob of undercooked and clumpy noodles, spent chashu, I never heard the end of it.

The next day didn't bring much redemption in Revere where Kelly's bellies were miraculously devoid of flavour, though the beef was a bit more of a success. They really assemble that sandwich with care.

Gene of Gene's Flatbread Cafe is a great personality, a total hound who'll jaw about his food with you in the same obsessed way. Nuclear garlicky hand-pulled noodles are a good chew, though I preferred the springy spaghetti noodles of his house noodle soup.

More oysters were needed and slurped at East Coast Grill prior to ankling it down to Muqueca for their house special seafood muqueca and a feast of feijoada that required at least a few digestifs at Brick & Mortar and Green Street Grill.

The last day brought more soupin' as we rolled down Dorchester Ave for a bowl of bun mam and bun rieu at Hien Vuong. Bun rieu was nice, though I've yet to find one sufficiently crabby here in town. Bun mam, accompanied by a gorgeous plate of shaved vegetables topped with banana blossom, was strongly sweet, far from funky or stanky in any way, my suspicions were confirmed when I asked the waitress - we'd just been gringoed beyond belief. I asked for another bowl, done right, and it was an entirely different dish - fishy, funky, but really well-rounded, with delicately poached skin-on salmon that was totally absent from the gringo bowl. One must grab the steering wheel here when ordering, we witnessed a couple of other gringo hate crimes during lunch.

Later that afternoon we found ourselves walking past Summer Shack (Back Bay) and so we rolled the dice, ordering just two oysters each (Bluepoints and South Bay Blondes) which, much to our surprise, were just flat-out flawless.

Capped off the visit with an ol' reliable, gamjatang at Korea Garden, one of my very favourite dishes anywhere. A few last cocktails at Ellum and we called it.

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  1. Awesome, Nab! Did you have to call ahead for the lamprais? I'm always afraid of "call 24-hrs-in-advance" dishes.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Prav

      We did hafta call the lamprais in and, like you, I don't always feel comfortable committing over the phone a day in advance, but I figured lamprais was a good introduction to BP's cooking.

    2. "gamjatang at Korea Garden"
      Do you mean Hanmaru? Or are there two incredible versions of the dish within 10 feet of each other?

      3 Replies
      1. re: clamdining

        I'm not a fan of Hanmaru's gamjatang.

        1. re: Nab

          I tried the gamjatang at Korea Garden based on these comments. It's definitely an adequate substitute for Hanmaru's version when that restaurant has a long wait, but I didn't think it was nearly as good. My main criticism is about the quality of the ingredients. The pork in KG's version was tough and gristly, and very difficult to get off the bone. This is a big difference from Hanmaru, where I find the pork to be the star of the soup. The cabbage in KG's version was also very soggy, inedibly so for me, though this may be a matter of taste. The broth at KG was substantially less spicy, and perhaps slightly thinner, than at Hanmaru. There was only one aspect of KG's version that I found better, several spices in their broth that I haven't tasted in Hanmaru's (possibly because of the greater heat level of Hanmaru's).

          1. re: clamdining

            Hey, thanks for checking it out and reporting back here. I am learning that KG has a highly variable kitchen and your experience lends further support to that notion. I find their pajeon to be maybe the best when they're on, but the last time it had that horribly gluey raw flour thing going on. And usually they shower the bowl of gamjatang with perilla seeds but they totally omitted them on this occasion (we then requested the shower). The pork and potatoes and greens have always been perfectly cooked in my experience.

            Hanmaru has that funny customization option, which I guess is nice, but ultimately their broth is one-dimensional spicy, whereas I find all the broths at KG to be very nicely balanced and rounded, getting better and better down the bowl.

            We did a city-wide gamjatang tasting a coupla years ago. I think the rank order ended up something like KG, Westborough, Chung Ki Wa, Wujeon, Hanmaru, Suishaya but, y'know, things change. I'd go back to Hanmaru.

      2. Moral to the story: it's GOOD to have a friend like Nab

        I'm impressed by the chasing of whiskey with gin.

        I've never had them at the Back Bay location, but have always found the oysters at the SS Alewife location to be consistently among the very best available in the area.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Gabatta

          I was surprised my friend didn't give me a hard time for the whiskey before gin move, he's a cantankerous ol' bastard about such matters !

          According to our bartendress at Summer Shack, the shuckers are trained pretty thoroughly, emphasizing the importance of a proper shuck instead of the number of oysters you can smash open during happy hour.

        2. Your friend is lucky to have such a great guide. Sounds like a delicious set of places and a terrific time.

          It takes about an hour to cook the lamprais, and it takes some work to prepare. So I think that's why they ask for a day in advance, but they've actually made it for me when I asked for it the minute we walked in, and it comes out about an hour later. However, it's definitely better to ask for it a day in advance, because in addition to the wait, I think it puts an extra burden on the kitchen staff to prepare all the items. I love so many things on Biryani Park's menu (Chicken 65, Gothamba Coconut Roti, Panchratna dosa) but I think the lamprais are the most delicious.

          1. Thanks for this Nab. You hit some of my favourites too. Post like this are the reason I enjoy this site. I seem to lack the stamina for such prolonged hedonism these days but still attempt the occasional mini-chow crawl. Also appreciate the warning on Yum wo katare. I can't understand why this city can't make a decent bowl of ramen and makes such a big deal out of it when they try (e.g. last year's pop up lunacy). We are certainly doing much better by Korean lately especially Kaju and Westborough Korean which i finally made it to. Had surprisingly good big belly fried clams at Moultons recently for a good price.