Boston

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.

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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.

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FlourCaseFlour Bakery's got everything, including things you didn't know you wanted from a bakery, like model sandwiches, classy salads, soup, pizza and quiche. There are, of course, things you expect to find like pecan rolls and cookies; cakes with carrot, fruit, chocolate and mousse; tarts with fruit and chocolate, gluten and nut-free meals, and pies. Today I see no cupcakes. You will not care.

Flour opens weekdays at 7 and goes through early dinner. Sometimes chefs work up front so you watch them assembling your lunch. If the counter's too tall, drooling on bakery cases is permitted but don't waste time because lines form quickly. If you insist, it's okay to eat dessert first and it turns out that Flour people think so too since it's their slogan: "make life sweeter . . . eat dessert first." We always see people who cannot wait and although we are not those people, we could be.

All four Flour's are noisy and fun: high ceilings, concrete floors left over from this Farnsworth Street's former incarnation, kids (those pb + j's and grilled cheese taste nothing like home), with a kitchen four times bigger than where you eat. Twenty people are waiting for their meal. This is how it works: Step up, give your order to a friendly server of which there are at least 10, go through the line which moves right and pay. Gather napkins, condiments and straws before they call your number. My friend Ed worked nearby and he said seats were hard to come by but it turns out today Kim and I get a table.

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changmyers 1We're at the popular "funky indie diner with interpretations of Chinese, Taiwanese, Thai and Vietnamese specialties." It's Myers + Chang in Boston's South End, a place we've been wanting to try. Friendly help seat us at a sunny table overlooking Washington Street. It's cozy, evoking a nice diner, and we like the zippy tunes. The bar shows lots of sake and Asian teas.

I'm up for Chinese chicken salad which now makes all other salads with mayo ho-hum. Who doesn't love cashews, orange and crispy wontons piled high with citrus vinaigrette? It's nuo'c cha'm sauce with heat. Our wait person is pointing out which items are three star, meaning really hot. The health coach wants Thai chicken salad with lemongrass, mint, cilantro and rice noodles tossed in fish sauce and lime dressing. This one has toasted rice, nothing like breakfast cereal because it's very crunchy. Both salads carry one-star heat and they're just hot enough to be fun.

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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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