Boston

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.

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Via Matta 4Via 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."

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seiyo sushi-barSeiyo Sushi & Wine Shop in Boston's South End on Washington Street has a patio where you can eat as well as watch ambulances shrieking their way to Boston City Hospital but all in a good way. Our eating adventures are mostly about food but sometimes it's not just food.

We're checking out this restaurant and wine purveyor housed together in a building called Minot Hall. It's been on our list of must-trys but the concept has me stumped. I look it up: the 1859 building was constructed as a social hall, according to Architect Week, and some years later became the Olympia Hotel and then a few other things before eventually turning into condos and retail not so long ago.

We have fear of winter in New England so we're wondering if this could be our last outside lunch. I'm hoping we're wrong because the day is perfect. Wait until you're seated. It's glorious to find this much outdoor seating with a tree awning in the middle of the city. You've passed Seiyo often on your way into the heart of the South End because we have. Its signage is so inconspicuous as to be nearly non-existent. We can't help mentioning it to our servers because we're surprised the place flew under our radar. They say they'll mention it to owner Steve Yung but we think he knows. Anyway, now the idea of somewhere to eat along with the chance to buy wine makes perfect sense.

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gallows-490x329"We're a loud and welcoming hangout in the South End with a menu that changes weekly." It's Saturday and we can confirm the fun's here all right, along with everyone in the neighborhood. There's something about the South End we don't find anywhere else. You feel at home even when your neighborhood is miles away. The places are intimate, tony, casual, hip, and where the sidewalks are wide, there's outdoor seating. I've often wished I lived here.

Lan is ordering a mimosa. I'm not known for my noontime drinking especially but look at this: Les Boone's Farm Sunshine Pink NV CA. I've had it before, not in this century, so I order a glass. Andrew's in charge at the bar and wisely pours a small amount into a cup which is, now, how I feel it always should be served. It's kind of grapefruity in a lemonade way. Its nose is à la college dorm room and half a cup is just enough. Unless, of course, you're channeling high school, in which case have the whole glass.

The Gallows other wines are seriously regular, really, and if you're not sure, the wine list confirms: "These are the drinks, homie." Anyone who tries Boone's Farm will notice they have red beer: an "inspired mix of Pabst, lime & tomato juice." It's not a Bloody Mary, it may be inspired and we take your word for it.

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zasaladWe've had lunches up and down Third Street and we like eating outside. Le bébé is now a contributing eater and she gives Za her approval for whatever she got her hands on which was everything on the table. We agree.

Za's parent is EVOO, right next door. We sat outside for pizza and salad. Listen to this: tomatoes, cucumbers, kalamata olives, radish, feta, and oregano all on a bed of, are you ready, mashed potato. Who ever thought potatoes would outdo crutons; well, it's here and so full we nixed the dressing. Le bébé ate the olives and cucumbers; at this time of year, we agree.

Dilee created our pan pizza (not flat and not quite deep-dish) with bacon and carmelized onion and the 10" splits nicely for two ($10). You can have Black Forest ham, homemade sausage, picked hot peppers, onions, garlic, green pepper, anchovies, chorizo, potabellos and chicken on yours. Mac 'n' cheese pizza fans can roll in it with cream sauce and four cheeses (9.50).

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