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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libertyhotel.jpgI resisted checking out the Liberty Hotel when it opened last year in Boston’s former Charles Street Jail, despite rave reviews of its design and the hip scenes at its first restaurant, Clink, and the Alibi bar.

The idea of hanging out in the same place that had held many of the area’s most notorious criminals for as far back as I could remember (and then some) just gave me the creeps.

Then Scampo opened, with chef Lydia Shire in the kitchen, and my conviction started to waver. It’s not so much that I have to run to every new restaurant opened by all of the city’s ‘celebrity’ chefs. But Shire is one of my favorites.

I have been a devoted fan since she started cooking at the restaurant in the former Bostonian Hotel, more than 20 years ago, when I didn’t have a clue who was in the kitchen – just that I loved the food.

Still, I didn’t run to Scampo. I waited a few months. But I was pretty excited by the time I finally got there. And I wasn’t disappointed.

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playmepianoThings we like about Chinatown: it's close, you can park on the street and there's always adventure. This is one of those days: not only do we park but there's a piano on the sidewalk under the arch at the entrance. The Celebrity Series of Boston's placed 75 of them in Boston and Cambridge with an invite: "Play Me, I'm Yours." In 2006 there were cows everywhere and today it's pianos. No one's paying any attention so we toy with creating our own adventure like putting on a show: some song and dance maybe. Maybe not.

Where should we go? Oh, let's relive the '90s; to be clear, not my nineties and not Julie's either. She has stories about fun times at New Shanghai in the last century and you can never have too many stories when they're about someone else. So New Shanghai it is. Seems like old times with tales of old flames and late nights going way back to when this was the only gig after nine. That was Boston. (It used to be Faneuil Hall had two places and there was the No Name on the Fish Pier. We loved a Mexican bar in Cambridge beside the Orson Welles where someone stole the cash eight of us laid down to pay the check one night.) New Shanghai is still very good.

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jaes 4A long time ago, in the previous century before sushi was ubiquitous - although it was making headway piece by piece - I was introduced by my friend Liz to an up-and-comer named Jae who was doing Korean with sushi on Columbus Avenue in the South End. He then took it to the suburbs, similar but not matching, at the Atrium Mall in Newton where the crowd was nothing like Boston's. My friend Eddie, who was the Atrium store manager, would tell me about people who came without reservations and when they heard it was a 45-minute wait, were sad. But they waited, all right, yes, they did.

We had many meals at Jae's Atrium. It's where we learned how to drink as bartenders coached which wine went with everything. It's where we had our first bibimbap and kimchi. If we had colds we downed their radish, cabbage, cucumber, spinach, bean sprouts, scallions, garlic, chili peppers, seaweed, mushrooms and lotus root soup. My mother and I were there one Sunday at the bar eating sushi and just as she's asking for a fork, who walks in but Jae.

They're still rolling up fine fish on Columbus Ave. Julie and I are here for lunch. Everything is as we remember: artwork, aquarium, maybe Brazilian jazz, and bottles of Champagne along with smart, smart help. It's 90 degrees so we pass on the patio and eat ourselves silly inside by the window.

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butcher 3The Butcher Shop is a South End mecca for meat. It's part of Barbara Lynch's restaurant group that takes in B&G Oysters which is right across the street. This is a wine bar and a full-service butcher shop with beef, game, poultry, sausages and hot dogs along with prepared dishes from the kitchen. Butchers are hacking away and we see Monday is the day to stop in if you're a vendor. It's busy and so cold you could hang meat in here.

We're partial to places that cook better than we can and make things we never do and it is a long list. Why have out what you can make at home? The menu designates lunch by the month so today you can have antipasti, charcuterie, terrines, cheeses, and lots of Italian meats but no fish or salad so be meat happy.

TBS burger, with the onions but without the Cheddar, is good. . . and $18. As New York goes, so goes the nation, I guess. It's medium rare on a sesame seed bun with a pickle hat and a green salad, which isn't mentioned on the menu.

I'm grateful since something's got to duel the house-cured bacon or maybe I need to move in to this house. The bartender's cute asking: "Do you need ketchup?" and I say, "I better not." We laugh and we're hoping I'm right and I am: so rich when it's straight from the butcher.

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