Boston

taranta duarteIt's 100 degrees. There's Dead concert traffic choking the five o'clock crawl. We cross five lanes from Faneuil Hall to the North End to find a bad, as in not good, DJ holding forth at the Hanover Street fountain. Oh, for some peace and wow-ing.

With apologies to the chef, Gilbert & Sullivan, we find Taranta rah-worthy. Chef José Duarte was born in Peru, and moved with his family to Venezuela where he attended Universidad Nueva Esparta in Caracas. After earning an MBA in food service operations, Duarte opened Taranta in 2000.

Melding Italian and Peruvian flavors is new to us. We check online and it turns out that cilantro, huacatay (black mint), yerba buena (mint), albahaca (basil), orégano, paico (epazote), muña (mint), chincho (an aromatic herb), and aji panca peppers (of which there are 200 varieties) give Peruvian dishes their distinctive, addicting flavors.

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tremontpatio-diningWe wait all year for summer in New England. Sometimes I think we'd eat anything if you give it to us on a patio with a couple of drinks. No, but we can report it's cooling off for evening forays to places we missed earlier. Here's the plan: we're sitting out until it snows. Tonight, we're on the patio at Tremont 647 with 20 other lucky people and it doesn't get much better than this.

In another lifetime, I met owner Andy Husbands when he was putting together his hip New American space in 1996. And here he is, still holding the corner at West Brookline Street to the good fortune of his South End neighbors. It's prime for food and for people watching.

You have your usual Tremont characters thankfully hanging several doors down, dogs, a smooching couple, baseball caps, shorts on people who were never meant to wear them, more dogs and a ton of guys having a good ole time at the bar. I wish I could drink. When I walk back to see the grill, there's not a plate of anything resembling food on the bar, just glasses. Eat something already.

Lan and I open with Pimms cocktails. Our starters are two ice cold lobster tacos, the crispy shell kind and they're a special - sitting on a tiny mustard green salad - all for five bucks. (They do taco Tuesdays featuring six styles, of which this is not one, and more about this later.)

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Blue dragon 7When Ming Tsai opens a new place it's news and Blue Dragon is news. Esquire lists Blue Dragon in its annual survey of best new restaurants. Yes, he's in the right place with the ongoing Boston Harbor redo, or vice versa, without being on Northern Avenue's tourist mecca. 'A' Street's off Summer and to find it we use GPS and one of us, ahem, was born here. There's street parking on industrial blocks polished with big windows, loading docks and ceiling beams that tell of old brick warehouses and lofts even as renovators rewrite Fort Point Channel.

Blue Dragon: They do things uncommonly well; for one, there's a mid-afternoon menu along with lunch and dinner. And there's a lunch-to-go menu which means they only pack things that travel well like salad and bánh mì. Sidewalks are narrow for tables so they open windows and it's summer-friendly with street life from our window seats. They call themselves a gastropub. I would never say that; it sounds like something to see the doctor about, but I will go along with: "Ming's East West twist to many pub favorites."

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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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o-ya-boston-sign.jpgI get more excited about a meal at O Ya, Boston’s spectacular little Japanese restaurant, than just about any restaurant I have ever visited – which is rare for me, because as much as I love food, I usually save most of my emotion, as well as the bulk of my appetite, for dessert. O Ya loosely translates to mean “gee whiz,” a Japanese expression of curiosity. It is also the expression heard over and over on a given evening as diners search, but fail, to find just the right words to describe what is happening in their mouths when they taste chef-owner Tim Cushman’s beautifully inventive flavor pairings.

O Ya opened about a year and a half ago with little fanfare and gradually became a sensation. In March, 2008 New York Times restaurant reviewer Frank Bruni named O Ya the best new restaurant in the country outside of New York. Since then, reservations have been booked about two months in advance. In its July issue, “Food & Wine” named chef-owner Tim Cushman a Best New Chef 2008. And the accolades continue to pile in. For the record, those of us who live here did not need the national media to tell us what a gem we had, hidden away on an unassuming side street between the city’s financial district and its Chinatown.

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