Boston- a Feast for the Taste Buds, a Test for the Feet.
By Donald Anthony with Janet Pope
Boston is an eating town and lucky for our waists, Boston is a walking town too. My spouse and I escaped one weekend from one city- New York, to head off to another city- Boston. One thing they definitely have in common is their abundance of good restaurants.
For us, Boston and the Back Bay Hotel were an easy four and half hours from New York City, while avoiding the main problems of too much truck traffic on Route 95. The hotel was just off Route 91 and a short couple of blocks through town. It was really an easy run to the most accommodating hotel we had been in, in a long time. It is located in just the right spot for our culinary weekend: close to the restaurants and the transit. The doorman even offered his own umbrella to make certain we would be dry in case of rain.
Our first meal on a Friday night was at Prezza, in the heart of Boston’s Little Italy. The restaurant was crowded with after work diners and buzzing with lively conversation. The wood floors, crisp white tablecloths, and cozy candlelit tables took me back to the cafes we visited while in Italy. Here we experienced quick service, attention to detail, and knowledgeable wait staff, but most importantly- fine cuisine. I sampled the wood grilled squid and octopus with braised white beans and found the sauce outstanding. (I quickly found another use for the crisp bread on the table.) My wife and I soon came to realize that every sauce was outstanding and complimented each unique dish. My wife tried the “Ravioli di Ouvo,” a ricotta stuffed ravioli set atop a raw egg, surrounded by a butter sage sauce. When you cut into the ravioli the egg yolk burst and melded into the sauce creating a rich creaminess. She was pleasantly surprised by the end result. Our dinners were the Crispy Pork Chop with vinegar peppers and roasted onions and the Fish Stew with tomato, lobster, swordfish, shrimp, clams, mussels, and squid. Both choices were again highlighted by the fabulous sauces they were created in.
We took the train back to our hotel and quickly got the hang of their transportation system. It’s easy enough with the signs and maps everywhere. After a good night’s sleep it was time to eat again. We took advantage of our hotel’s breakfast, with everything from granola cereal and fresh fruit to Eggs Benedict with bacon. Stuffed once again, we headed off to walk and in my wife’s case, shop. Boston, beside having top restaurants also prides itself on top retail stores; from Neiman Marcus to Filene’s Basement, where we happily picked up quite a few bargains.
Around noon we actually had the nerve to stop for lunch at Legal Sea Foods, a chain with 37 restaurants, but this was actually our first time eating at one of their establishments and now it won’t be the last. While waiting for our food, I busied myself reading the placemat which detailed a history of Legal Sea Food’s beginnings back in 1904. One of their mottos is “It better be better than you can make at home.” It sounded good to me. My wife’s New England clam chowder and grilled shrimp and my steamers and crab cakes, definitely passed that test. This restaurant, in addition to boasting fresh and delicious seafood, also owns bragging rights to one of the most well stocked wine cellars in the city, with over 10,000 bottles. If you feel exceptionally flamboyant, you can even order their 1962 White Burgundy which sells for $2,100 or if you are like me you can go in and know you are going to get a great cup of seafood chowder.
After a delicious and filling lunch at Legal Sea Foods, we headed back to Boston’s Little Italy for a three hour walking tour arranged through Michele Topor, Inc. They call it “A Culinary Walk Through Boston’s Little Italy”- North End Market Tour. Beth, our guide, was a retired teacher who held our attention and kept us all in line, literally, as we walked the narrow streets of this historic neighborhood. Beth, having lived for a year in Italy, gave us snippets of history, mixed in with everyday knowledge of both the area and Italian food. The brick buildings in this one third of a square mile, were originally inhabited by Irish, then Jewish, Spanish, Portuguese, and the last to settle were the Italians. There are about 100 restaurants in this corner of Boston and the smells that permeate the streets are a feast in themselves. On the tour we visited about six different shops, each giving us a little tour and a few samples as well.
From Maria’s bakery, where we tasted pastries from Southern Italy, to Polcari’s Coffee where we nibbled on chick peas and pine nuts, each store greeted us with the reception given an old friend. These stores are a throw back to the quaint shops of yesteryear when Mom and Pop ran their business with pride and personal service. In fact let me give you an example of the outstanding hospitality we encountered. While on the tour, in Polcari’s Coffee, my wife asked the storeowner if he knew where she could buy some saline solution for her contact lenses. He gave her directions to a drug store a few blocks away. While our tour continued in the shop and we oohd and ahhd over the delicacies before us, one of the shop’s owners came over with a bag of the saline for her. He had left the store, ran over to the drugstore to get it and actually refused payment. Now that’s hospitality.
After walking for 3 hours we headed back to the hotel to rest a bit, before hitting up another restaurant for yet another meal. Japanese was on the agenda for the evening and the choice was Haru. The atmosphere was quiet and relaxing, a good choice after a busy day. Fare here was fairly typical for Japanese cuisine. We nibbled on edamame and my wife had the teriyaki chicken while I sampled the spicy garlic shrimp. The portions were large enough for us, leaving just enough room for the deep fried cheesecake. Yes, I know it sound unusual, but it is simply a great end to a great meal.
Haru is a convenient stop for shoppers as it is also adjacent to two malls, which have connecting bridges over the streets. My wife was disappointed the stores were closed after dinner, but she settled on window shopping on our way back to our home at the Back Bay Hotel.
As if we had not eaten enough this weekend we decided we would go downstairs and have just a small something for breakfast- one omelet with sausage and one blueberry muffin later, we once again hit the Boston streets for a beautiful Spring stroll.
Our last meal of the weekend was brunch at Towne - Stove and Spirits, with its unassuming façade that leads to a fabulously chic restaurant. The good book says something about “by their works you shall know them” and we met Lydia Shire through her manager, chefs, wait staff, and even in the eclectic decoration. I had the chicken and waffles with grits, while my dear wife consumed the cinnamon French toast with lyles golden syrup and whipped marmalade butter. It was quite a way to end our Boston adventure. After all that we saw and tasted, food at the Towne made us promise to return to walk more and, of course, eat more.
Back Bay Hotel - http://www.doylecollection.com/locations/boston_hotels/the_back_bay_hotel.aspx
Prezza - http://prezza.com/
Legal Sea Foods - http://www.legalseafoods.com/
Michele Topor Inc. - http://www.micheletopor.com/
Haru - http://www.harusushi.com/
Towne - Stove and Spirits - http://towneboston.com/about