Boston

Russell House Tavern

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by Kitty Kaufman

russell house 5Here's how Dilusha and I decide where to go. She sends a text, "I'm hungry, let's eat," and then I have to find the place. We always get lucky in Cambridge and so we did at Russell House for "classic American fare." Where this tavern is, once sat the Wursthaus. From 1917 to 1996 it catered to the likes of Derek Bok, the Aga Khan and Robert Reich among others. The Cambridge Historical Society also says Wursthaus closed because of "non-bratwurst eating masses of the '90s." True, and even in the unenlightened '80s it was hard sidestepping platters of meat.

We're downstairs in the dark marble bar. Dilusha orders cast iron seared fish of the day, striped bass, and it's plated on grilled bread with heaps of greens. Her salad is slathered with onions and oranges, pickled something we can't identify, and the green aioli doesn't hurt. She is nuts about it. Mine is a fried clam roll, very crispy it turns out, with arugula, bacon and a salad of pickled fennel, greens and onions. (We pick off onions.) This is not your usual clam roll; it's so good we eat it with the roll and we never ever eat the roll.

Lunch at Toro

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by Kitty Kaufman

toro2 560x375Officially, it is Toro by Ken Oringer. He has Clio at the Eliot Hotel. He created Uni inside Clio in 2002. Toro opened in 2005, which was followed by La Verdad at Fenway in 2007. Coppa, in 2009, is nearby on Shawmut Ave. We're thrilled to score lunch. Add Toro to our short list of South End settings that becomes even more attractive at noon when there's no wait and the parking is easy. The patio fronts on Washington Street and of course, the outside tables are full.

Inside, we count six chefs in the open kitchen. As always, the bartenders are charming. Bar shelves to the ceiling are solid and lucky for you, the bar has no mirrors. Otherwise, you'll see yourself slumping on a bar seat and there's not a thing you can do about it because the seats have no backs. Seriously, guys, no backs?

We start with pan con tomate, Catalana rustic toast with fresh tomatoes, oil and garlic. For boquerones, marinated fresh anchovies with lemon, vinegar, chives and hot peppers, we favor the plain toast. There is something stunning about them. Fresh anchovies are nothing like the powerful version you get from a can or a tube of paste. Like canned tuna and sushi tuna - both good but very different. I've seen fresh ones at Whole Foods and next time I'll buy some because they're great with beer. I try never to look them in the eye.

Island Creek Oyster Bar

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by Kitty Kaufman

island-creek-oyster-bar-boston-maSince 2010, Island Creek Oyster Bar's holding the corner at 500 Commonwealth in Kenmore Square. Any time after four, you'll find 175 of the happiest people in Boston. When I go by on my walk, it's packed and this isn't 7:30. It's five o'clock and it's busy, busy. I call on Monday morning to reserve two seats at the bar. Even for the bar you need a reservation, even on Monday.

Something's happening as soon as you walk in. The host is happy to see you. Island Creek staff gets interesting training: everyone spends a full day working the oyster farm in Duxbury, MA. Yes, they grow their own and most of everyone else's in town too. Later, when I ask what's in the gribiche that comes with the crab cake, the bartender recites the ingredients. So the staff's been to culinary as well as charm school.

Oysters are us. The menu lists not only where they're from but who grew them: Island Creek owner Skip Bennett raises in Duxbury. Cape provenance: Barnstable, Dennis, Eastham, Plymouth, Wellfleet, Chatham. Out of state varieties come from Virginia and Washington State. Everyone at the bar has oysters.

He's Just Not That Into Your...Food

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by Hallie Ephron
hallie ephron
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hallie ephronOne of the first things you discover early on, dating someone new, is whether your stars align. If you're a serious foodie like me, the key question always involves food. 

Mine: Shall we go out for steak or soup dumplings. 

Knowing the answer early on eliminates a lot of futile hope and wasted time.

Evie Ferrante in my new book THERE WAS AN OLD WOMAN has my passion for Chinese soup dumplings. I order rack of those succulent babies just for me. Anyone who encroaches on my share gets stabbed with a chopstick.

For my money, the best soup dumplings in Boston these days are in Chinatown at the (cramped, noisy, worth the wait no matter how long) Gourmet Dumpling House.

On the menu they are the Mini juicy pork dumplings. The woman in that kitchen -- once, when we were the first customers in the door, she came out to take a bow wearing a black dress and pearls and an apron -- really knows what she's doing.

B & G Oysters

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by Kitty Kaufman

bg 3B & G Oysters is one of those places that took off on Day One or at least that's how I remember it. We've had lunch there for years, not years and years, but enough to know that every oyster's hand-picked and polished. You watch chefs pry and fry your oysters, baste salmon, jimmy clams, beer-batter fish, pan-fry fluke, hack your hake and steam mussels. It's like being in someone else's kitchen where you're close enough to inhale but far enough away not to get involved with dishes.

Summers we're partial to oysters, choosing one of each from everywhere. Winters we're into soup and entrées. Like other places with "oyster" in the name, it's fine to pass on raw; that's what the open kitchen's for. This brunch every seat is taken. After a short wait we decide it's not too early for a sparkler. Simonnet-Febvre Cremant de Bourgogne Brut, a chardonnay pinot noir blend, pairs with the spice bomb clam chowder and I get all the floating lardons. Our server, Mark, explains the chowder's not roux-based so clams lead. My Saturday's improving by the minute with chefs who know their way around a cast iron skillet.

Boston Bakery and Restaurant - Area Four

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by Kitty Kaufman

area four 4It's inauguration Monday. Neither bison nor lobster's on our Cambridge menu but we're celebrating. The first place is "not doing lunch today," so around the corner we go to the second where I'm greeted, "Do you have a reservation?" It's 11:30 and if I'd brought a cannon we could set it off. Wisely, we move on next door to Area Four: bakery, bar and restaurant. Le bébé's eyes light up. Ours too.

It's busy. We opt for pulled pork and two pizzas. The pork sandwich comes piled high with arugula on a soft bun you scrunch to inhale with special sauce. Best of all, the pickles, peppers and pearl onion side is delivered in a cast iron frying pan that's all of two inches wide.

Damnath's thick-crusted carbonara arrives with onions, provolone, chunky bacon and eggs. Whoever said you could pile bacon on anything? I did. We don't know how they do it but this creamy, slurpy topping steals our hearts. The margherita, with plenty of sauce and for once, enough basil, is tomato tangy without a sniff of boredom. Other zippy pies rotate: puttanesca, pepperoni, pepper and sausage, bacon and clam, mushroom with fontina, gorgonzola with onion, and carnivore with pepperoni, sausage and bacon. More beer, please.

Grill 23 . . . going on 30

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by Kitty Kaufman

grill23barBack in 1983, Grill 23 opened with what was, for then, a great deal of fanfare. I don't remember being there in the '80s; to be clear, not my eighties. I mention to my sister-in-law Ellen that I'm writing about it and she recalls working at Harvest, St. Botolph and on to Grill 23. This is what she says: "It was busy from day one. The service was impeccable. We were all so very well trained. It was the first of its kind in Boston: the end."

We like the bar on the second floor. It's friendly and when you come by yourself, chat up the bartenders or watch TV. In a way I can't define, this bar encourages the telling of secrets. I've heard more secrets here than anywhere else and it's unsettling since bar chairs call for balance. At a table you might order a bottle of wine but at the bar we never do because we might, among other things, fall off our chairs. So far, so good.

We're splitters but not tonight. I have my own burrata which they describe as crispy eggplant with stewed tomatoes. The bartender calls it "our version of eggplant Parmesan." Which you could say it is except that it has mozzarella and no Parmesan. It's crisp and topped with fresh tomatoes which make all the difference. We also have fried calamari with pepperoncini cream which is big for a starter but perfect if you need something to go with your sidecar.

Eastern Standard Kitchen

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by Kitty Kaufman

escalamariThese guys are pros at brasserie: noisy, friendly, and day or night, busy. If you're upstairs at Boston's Hotel Commonwealth, nix room service and come on down when breakfast rolls at 7 with granola, fruit, oatmeal, bagel and lox, home fries, eggs any way and French toast with berries and bacon. Lunch takes over at 11:30. After 2:30, the raw bar is in full swing and if you're in the mood for salads, sandwiches, a burger, meat balls, mussels, or steak, it's all there smack in the middle of the afternoon.

Fried calamari appetizer is my personal taste test. Eastern Standard's is lightly breaded with a side of lemon aïoli, never messed with peppers, tomato sauce, garlic or peanuts. Of all the fried calamari I've had, this is five-star. It pairs with their Bibb salad and of course they're able to find perfect heads I rarely see in the best markets.

Dilusha is the best orderer. She chose Faroe Island salmon and there were dueling forks over the bean salad. In November, Julie started with mushroom soup that came with brioche croutons and lucky for me, two spoons. She complemented her moules provençal with Kiralyudvar Tokaji Furmint Sec (KEE-rye-oohd-var), a white Hungarian grape. Our waiter also poured tastes of Hirsch Grüner Veltliner that she loved. Other by the glasses: Cristalino Brut Cava, Wimmer Czerny Blanc de Noirs, Nicolas Cole Merlot-Cabernet, and Henri Milan Grenache-Syrah.

Reel Dinner: Legal Sea Foods

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by Kitty Kaufman

legal kendall 0684Come to Boston, eat fish. In Cambridge, Legal Sea Foods is in Kendall Square. In Boston, seek out the Legal that's in Copley Place (near Barneys) because you can nearly always get seated.

Don't confuse it with the other Legal in the Prudential Center which is at the top of the escalator on Boylston Street (and packed all night). Copley Place is connected to the Prudential Mall and since there are two malls, there are two Legals.

Friday nights the bar is crowded. If you get a seat at the bar from 3-6 pm weekdays only, oysters are a buck instead of $2.50. We had five local varieties including Wellfleets, Cotuits, and Wiannos from the Cape, and Naked Cowboys from Long Island, of course. Other bar plates: tempura vegetables, clams casino, buffalo shrimp, lamb skewers (all $5).

Icing? Make it cream cheese. Hold the lox.

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by Kitty Kaufman

georgetownladiesEach night there is a line. I ask a young woman from Orlando, why? She says, "They're good." And what else? She points to the window sign: "They're on TV." They are on TV, on TLC: "All new episode! NY vs. Boston." Not baseball, cupcakes. The newly opened Newbury Street location of Georgetown Cupcake.

The number of people in line is 25 and sometimes more. Inside are two cashiers and five packers. They need them all. You pay first and wait to pick up. Everyone is smiling: the help, the people on line, the eaters, and we who'll soon have cake.

The concept comes from DC sisters Katherine Berman and Sophie LaMontagne. Wikipedia says the cupcakes have 250 calories. Neither of the cupcake sisters look like they have ever eaten a single cupcake.

My first is chocolate with cream cheese frosting that's been rolled in coconut. (Be sure to ask for the ones with cream cheese). Cream cheese is frosting's best friend. It's like bacon. If you put bacon that's not crispy between two slices of toasted mayo-ed cardboard, it's lunch.

 

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