Sometimes you just need a big restaurant in the middle of the city to warm you up on girls night out. We're at McCormick & Schmick's in the Park Plaza Hotel in Back Bay. Everyone is glad to see us and it's bright and cheery. If you're upstairs in the hotel, what could be easier? It's Friday and we suspect it gets frantic when there's a convention but this is not one of those nights. How happy are we that we crossed the street? Just ask me.
It's six o'clock, and their happy hour bar menu is ranked #1 by USA Today. Get it from 4-6:30 and it picks up again at 9 pm. (Saturdays it begins at 10 pm only). Janet's ordering and she's got her eye on ahi yellowfin tuna. It's puddled in pepper sauce they went to Mongolia for and if it doesn't take you out, there's no shortage of jalapeño. It's smoky suited in black and white sesame seeds and pepper, lots and lots of pepper. This dish lays to rest, once and for all, my/your happy hour stereotypes whatever they are. The tuna stands on its own. We will concede, because we're big fans of hot, that the sauce is good though I feel bad the star fish is wearing a mask. What a question, of course we want another Pinot Noir Mirasson.
Via Matta's got location and style as it dazzles regional flavors of Tuscany. Sitting on prime real estate in Back Bay, Boston, Chef Michael Schlow dishes Italian with flair and a sense of humor. Know what "matta" means? It means "joker." Via Matta is "joker's way" in Italian and I wonder about it but no one's saying, at least not to me. It's nice, not taking yourself too seriously. I mean, his Facebook page says he plays with food for a living.
Schlow gets interviewed a lot. He was on the radio last week and of course, he brings food to the hosts. As you would expect, doughnuts make the guys happy. On his website, he lists places he likes to eat, not just in Boston. I see that he and I agree on the local places. As well, he posts recipes with pictures that make you want to run right over to Via Matta. I ate this calamari as soon as Julie snapped it. (See recipe below.)
It's capered and you taste the squid in its peppery red sauce; no breading. So relieved that it comes with not a single lima bean. For his kitchen mood, Schlow has a list of tunes he likes to cook by. I can picture him on an endless loop of "Grazing in the Grass," "Walking to New Orleans," and "Baby, I'm Yours" leaning over the grill putting together our meal. Well, maybe not him, but still. What are they playing now and have they moved on to Graham Parker's 1976 "Between You and Me" and Cressy St Breakdown's "Cookin' on Three Burners."
I love the city of Boston. I spent my college years living there and enjoyed myself immensely. My family is from Massachusetts (not Boston, there is a BIG difference) so I get to visit once a year, though my time in the City is usually quite short. This recent trip I had mere hours - after landing and before take-off - to get my food on. I follow as many Beantown restaurants on Twitter as I do LA ones and had hoped to visit a few on my Hit List but timing and opening hours conspired against me. That's how we found Snappy Patty's.
I had wanted to stop in Cambridge at Catalyst for our last East Coast lunch, but driving into and around Cambridge is a nightmare on a good day, even if you know how to navigate the tiny, one-ways streets. I won't even discuss the parking situation. No, we were out of our element, hungry and pressed for time. Getting lost was not an option. (Yes, that's still possible in the Smart-Phone Age.)
So, as we barreled down the highway, I choose a nearby northerly suburb - Medford - guaranteed to have street parking and plugged the town into Yelp. I know, people are hating them right now, but sometimes you just need the best info you can immediately get your hands on. Nothing really stuck out except Snappy Patty's. Clever name, 4 stars, right off the highway? Burgers, beers, a nice little wine selection - we were still on vacation - it was just the type of neighborhood joint I was looking for.
Row 34 is party central for non-stop oysters. It's the place for shrimp, lobster rolls, ceviche, Cape littlenecks, pâtés of trout and bluefish, and mussels with fried green tomatoes. Drink? 25 beers from the tap plus 40 more locked up in bottles. Most popular: Trillium's Congress Street pale ale. I see one guy knifing his way into a flat iron steak and really, why not? It's a party. All the hoopla? Well deserved.
Row 34 is born of oysters and beer. High ceilings yield clamor but after all, it is a "workingman's oyster bar." It's Monday and a good thing we reserved. Roseanna and I have hot stuff: for her, Maine crab cake with a tall Ipswich Ale Brewery's Celia Saison. For me, citrus-glazed salmon atop pickled cucumber and fennel. Both preparations are spot-on. Sadly, no sides; won't someone would throw me fries? Dessert: it's a flaky strawberry rhubarb pie that's been fried, really, with a side of white chocolate anglaise: milk, cream, eggs, sugar, white chocolate and vanilla. We can't imagine anyone would pass it up.
Boston's City Landing is across from Marriott Long Wharf and down the block from ferries that will zip you to P-Town. Outside, miss not a minute of tourist central with concierges, ferry blasts, street vendors, the Rose Kennedy Greenway, Aquarium sharks and views of other people's boats. Inside, according to Worth.com last year, the aptly named City Landing is a power lunch stop. It's Sunday, there don't seem to be any deals in the making but if you want to show me the money, I'm in.
We understand you're sightseeing at Faneuil Hall but eschew fast food and come over for real lunch. This is summer in the city fine dining even in sneakers. We're at the window with an eye on street drama of which there is plenty and though we cannot hear, we can read lips. We're having lunch: Roseanna's crab salad is topped with avocado, egg, fennel, bacon and tomato. It's easy being green here. She's clever, ordering a side of sweet potato fries. It turns out fries are the best and there are almost enough of them.
When I don't know what to have, which actually happens a lot, you can always get my attention with soft shell crabs. We had them as kids and then it was a short season, just August. Now they're served all the time and since I'm never going to make them at home again ever, what I want is a crab sandwich from someone else's kitchen. I remember them as being lunch but they're a snack. Yes, the crab is fine and yet I'm still hungry.
Andrew Foster and Steve Bowman dish contemporary American at Fairsted Kitchen in Brookline. It's a young vibe with a busy bar and communal tables so be ready to party. Why not? Even I have given up thinking I must get in my car to eat. It's not that I eat in the car. It just turns out favorite places or ones I want to try are elsewhere. So it's newsworthy that within walking distance of where I live, there are choices. Andy Warhol said it better: "I have to go out every night. If I stay home one night I start spreading rumors to my dogs.”
Julie and I start with sumac-cured salmon garnished with pomegranate. For the record, we never had fruit on our lox at home. This is more lox than I've ever had in one sitting, assuming you're out of cream cheese. It's a time when bread . . . Of course I should have asked our server, Scott. And yes, I'm well aware there's not a chance in the world Nathan Mhrvold, the modernist chef, will be inviting me to a 50-course, lab-prepared whimsical meal anytime soon.
Julie's having what she calls a medium-bodied Malbec with her wilted kale salad that has shallots, apple and pecorino I can smell across the table. (Wilted kale is so big our Whole Foods has a waiting list.) When it comes to salads, we're curious how far inventive chefs will go beyond mesclun. At home, we make lunch a lot with arugula, croutons, Boston lettuce and avocado. You impress, chef Jason Albus, when you do us one better.
Bistro du Midi is all about location. Facing the Public Garden and adjacent to the Four Seasons in Boston, it lives on Boylston Street not where you live, at least not where I live. But it's where you stroll for a south of France lunch. We like the downstairs where you'll meet Jenna who's minding the bar. Have the café menu at the bar and on the patio and if you can score a tiny table outside, take it. (Upstairs, Chef Robert Siska does it up big starting at 5 but we're partial to light fare). After two visits I'm on to this being one of those cafés where you think you're looking at someone you know from the movies. Today I think I see Dermot Mulroney. I ask Jenna and she agrees it looks like him: him in 10 years maybe. Still.
Quiche: It's Julie's choice with Languedoc Hecht & Bannier, better than good. This is a traditional quiche; the creamiest we've had since forever. It's topped with potato crisp and goat cheese, spinach, leek, and tomato fill it out but it's mostly cream and eggs. She says it's one of those lunches that taste like summer, even more with these bright greens. The last time I had my own quiche was a long time ago. I take just a bite; eggs are no longer mine and I miss them. This quiche is, as you expect, filling with the taste of France now that Maurice Chevalier is keeping us company.
I'm not sure who declared Fuji 1546 has the longest bar in Quincy; a local editor, reporting two years ago, or the website. Either way, it is major. If you want a seat, you can have one. High ceilings make it noisy all right with the concrete floors and all. Watching a ball game here is like being in Fenway Park without having to get up for the beer. Honestly, it's just what we need this Tuesday. Dance class is off and we're in desperate need of a big dose of happy with good food and wine. It's all here.
Julie chooses a Nobilo Sauvignon Blanc, New Zealand grown. Nobilo isn't making it easy to learn more. Before you can get on their site just to read about wine, not drink, you must swear to be "of legal drinking age in your country to enter this site." And you have to put in when you were born. Really, as if no one ever lied to buy something online? We agree it's crisp with citrus notes which pretty much describes everything we order. I'm having a Chateau Lafayette fizz from California which 1000corks.com reports, without any tells, you can get on the cheap around the country. We send back the first glass, no bubbles. The second one's fine.
What used to be a quiet street is now where it's at. Where there was nothing, there are heady times. It's a place your very own New Jersey food-wise cousins pick from online reviews. It's fun. It's affordable. It's a big deal with something for everyone. Finally.
We're talking three deep at the bar Friday and Saturday and reservations all week. A din to make Gunga deaf. Our first visit comes after an interminable Urban Nutcracker. What nails it for us: they have tastes of wine.
Barcelona's taste is half a glass and this is after the sips they bring first so you can pick a taste. We choose a Viognier from Argentina and white Rioja from Spain. The Viognier is fruity and the Rioja is um, boring, but not as boring as the Nutcracker. There is beer and there are cocktails and there is wine by the glass.
Julie is having carrot salad with arugula and avocado. It's light and filling and if they make this in Spain, authentic. It's not on the menu now but there are others: kale with anchovies; greens with goat cheese and raisins; raddichio with raisins; shaved mushrooms with celery and mustard; plus ensalada with onion and no raisins.
Is everyone at Kendall Square's Evoo and its sister, Za, right next door? It's Evoo for more formal meals like scallops with risotto or fig compote with lamb rillettes. You could chill out with pizza and salad at Za and slide over for dinner all without moving the car. I'll concede that we haven't but we might.
Right off, Evoo changes the menu often; each day but if not, for sure by the week which means they ax a favorite without warning. I just checked: what we had, the Pig Pile, you can't so wait for it. No matter, what you will not be is bored.
While many kitchens call their cuisine eclectic, Evoo has a gift for New American eclectic. And if you're going to write about novel dishes, take notes and get the menu on your way out because by the time you get around to it, they've thrown a curve and moved on.
First, Julie and I come for lunch. She's picked peppery fried eggplant with cucumber salad in minty yogurt and curried tomato sauce. It's all here in a tower of mashed potatoes, pea shoots, corn, grape tomatoes and onion. Eggplant should always be this good. I checked: chefs call eggplant vegetables and to botanists, eggplant's a fruit. She chooses for us the Atalaya garnacha tintorera monastrell that goes down in a swirl of cherry and chocolate. No one's going back to work.