On a recent work trip to Boston, I had the opportunity to sample many of the restaurants in that historic city. Here are my favorites.
I was very fortunate to have two good breakfast spots that not only were near the hotel but also on the way to work. Both are located on the east side of Boston Commons, along Tremont Street.
The Thinking Cup is a small coffee shop with a decidedly collegiate atmosphere. I was happy with the selection of pastreis, and some breakfast sandwiches were there as well. I’m not a coffee drinker, but my friends liked what they were serving. I did get the Chai Tea Latte and can recommend that. I can also recommend the breakfast burrito, which is exactly what you expect it to be. For dessert, I had the Boston Cream pie (I could not resist) and was quite satisfied.
The atmosphere, is pleasant and a bit laid back. The collegiate feel is established with appropriate decor, including a a chalk board and the table tops backed with old newspapers. This gives it quite the philosopher vibe. The food is nice, the service quick, and the prices reasonable. It’s definitely and good place to stop for a quick breakfast, and we went several times.
Also on Tremont and near the Commons, is another good breakfast spot called Explorateur. It is more of a cafe than a coffee shop, and has a very European, almost Victorian, feel to it. It is open all day, but I only had breakfast there. The food is a bit more expensive, but the quality is there to match. I had an omelet, which took a little while to prepare, but was cooked the way a like it: solid yellow with no browning. My travelling companion had an almond croissant, which he liked so much that he stopped by there every day to get one. The place has an elegant feel to it, quite distinctive and classy. It would be a good place to go before a show.
But Boston has much more choices for breakfast than coffee houses and cafes. You can also go to a laboratory. Clover Food Lab is a fast food chain started by MIT graduates. They serve all meals, but we were interested in their breakfast options. As the name and pedigree suggests, Clover likes trying new recipes, as well as constantly evaluating and tweaking old ones. This is driven by their embrace of social media and high tech (orders are placed using smart phones), an approach that has made the place famous. They are also an eco-friendly restaurant, serving fresh food in small batches with local ingredients. But they do this while still being fast. They are a fast food restaurant after all, and they take that seriously. In keeping with their lab image, the décor is a bit spartan, but they do have nice wooden looking tables that prevents that place from feeling too institutional.
I had the overnight oatmeal, a high protein breakfast with steal cut oatmeal, bananas and peanut butter. This made for a quick, hearty meal but the tastes didn’t really mix together well. My companions had the breakfast sandwich, which was served in a freshly made popover roll. They found it very good, with the only complaint was that the sausage was made with imitation meat. All in all, I’m not sure I would recommend this place for breakfast but it certainly is a good place to try new and interesting things.
We only went out to lunch a couple of times, but of the places we went The Friendly Toast was the standout. Located in Kendal Square, it is a short walk from MIT.
The Friendly Toast is an American style family restaurant, but with great ambience established by the vintage decor that infuses the place. The food was great, and the service was friendly and quick. From the bevy of sandwiches on the menu, I ordered the Ole Miss,
a sandwich made with cayenne-cheddar toast, topped with sausage (I opted for real), mashed chipotle sweet potatoes, two scrambled eggs & mango sour cream. It was every bit as good as it sounds. For the side, I replaced the customer order of fires with grits instead. The grits which were delightfully creamy and filed with a rich, cheesy flavor. My companions got burgers and the Irish Benny, an Eggs Benedict but with corn beef instead of Canadian bacon. Their meals were every bit as good as mine.
Another good lunch spot near MIT is Al’s Cafe, which boasts the best subs in Boston. I’m not in a position to judge whether or not that is true, but I will say that Al’s offers big sandwiches filled with meat and at reasonable prices. If you like subs, Al’s is a good place to stop. Choosing from the several steak options on the menu I went with the Sicilian steak sub, which lived up to its reputation.
In my short time there, I saw a tiny fraction of the dining opportunities in Boston. But in that time, I found some real gems.
As our hotel was right next to Chinatown, that was the logical place to go on our first night in the city. The place we chose: The Dumpling Cafe. The cafe serves all kinds of Chinese food, but it is its dumplings that it is famous for and rightly so. Its speciality is the steamed mini-bun (Xiaolongbao in Chinese). Also called soup dumplings, as they filled with a rich pork broth. While common in China, they are hard to find elsewhere. Quite delicious, they are the one must have item on the menu. I also sampled the other dumplings while my companion had the shrimp with asparagus. All were quite good.
The next night, we opted to try a steak place. An Italian steak house. Davios Italian Steak house is an upscale restaurant in downtown Boston, near the south eastern end of the commons. It is expensive, but the food is worth it. Starting with the scrumptious popover rolls, along with the truffle oil fries, the choice steaks (with n optional side of bay scallops, which I got because we were in New England) and ending with the to die for tiramisu, we thoroughly enjoyed the meal. This place is the place to go for a high class meal in Boston. There was one dissenter, who didn’t care for his steak. I will say that I did enjoy the scallops more than the steak, as the scallops were perfectly cooked: tender but not raw or rubbery. Props also to the restaurant for being able to handle a large crowd, without reservations, on a very busy night.
Having heavy meals the first couple of nights in town, we decided to look for a bistro or a cafe for a lighter meal. Luckily, there is a great cafe near the commons: the Parish Cafe. The cafe has a couple of different locations ; we went to the one on Boyleston Street.
The concept of the Parish Cafe is quite novel: they have a sandwich created by one of the head chefs from various restaurants throughout Boston. The list of sandwich origins on the menu reads like a who’s-who of the best restaurants around: Coppa and Toro, Chef Ostra, Lumiere, Shepard, and Bondir are all represented. Plus there are original creations from the Parish Cafe itself ,from owner Sean Simmons and executive chef Freddy Reyes. After much deliberation, I got the Dirty Pig burger. This is a spicy pork burger from the chef and owner of Sweetcheeks and Tiger Mama. The waitress highly recommended this, given my afinity for spicy food. I am glad I followed her advice. Companions ordered the BLT, from Lulu’s, the meatloaf club, a beef tenderloin sandwich called Le Mistral, and the tuna salad from Nebo. All had rave reviews. For dessert, I went with the freshly made ice cream sandwiches. This is ice cream sandwiched between two fresh cookies. This was quite delicious, but it was the cookie that really made the dish, as I found better ice cream elsewhere.
As you might have noticed, my plan for having a lighter meal at a cafe did not turn out. To remedy that, the next night we went out for tapas. There are many tapas places throughout Boston, but we settled on a lovely place called Dali, which is a short walk north of Harvard in Somerville. At this place we enjoyed a feast! We had 11 courses, along with a 2 litre bottle of Sangria and 3 desserts. All were fabulous, but highlights are the deep fried cheese drizzled with honey, chorizo a la plancha, seared duck in blackberry sauce, and the prunes wrapped in bacon. The deserts — churros, a flan with a clementine sauce, and an almond cake filled with dolce de leche ice cream (Dulce de Leche Pastel Helado) were all to die for. If there was one place in Boston I had to eat at, this would be it. And split ways, it was quite inexpensive.
We tended to have desserts at the restaurants we were eating at, but there were two exceptions that are worth noting.
The first is a food truck called Cookie Monstah. It specializes in ice cream sandwiches. This is the second place I had those, so I guess they are popular in Boston. The cookie choices include chocolate, double chocolate, sugar, caramel, red velvot, and butterscotch, while the ice cream flavors include the standard vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry as well as speciality flavors such as peanut butter, and coconut. In contrast to the Parish Cafe, the ice cream stole the show here, being very rich and creamy. The cookie tasted fine, but was not were good, but not quite as good as those at the cafe. I think I need to sample more from this place to truly appreciate their baking.
But the real king of ice cream in Boston is a parlor called Toscanini, situated between MIT and Harvard near Central Square. There you will find a dizzying variety of flavors of ice cream, all original, that is unmatched elsewhere. I went with the B3 (Brown sugar, Brown Butter, and Brownies). This was exquisite! I can honestly say that I have never had ice cream that tasted so delicious before. Toscanini knows how to make ice cream and make it well.
Whenever I travel to someplace new, I like to buy a cookbook that represents some aspect of the area. There’s a great used bookstore near Central Square called Rodney’s. They have a wide selection of books, include cookbooks.
Among these books, I found the Sherrill House Cookbook. Sherrill House is a nursing and rehabilitation facility, operating in a suburb of Boston. In 1980, they celebrated their tenth anniversary. To commemorate this event, the nursing staff put together this cookbook with recipes from residents, families, and friends. It’s quite an eclectic mix of recipes. Some ones I hope to try are: butternut soup, a “stone soup” ( sausage, lentils, plus vegetables), Avacado – Grapefruit Salad, Chicken Filipino, Chinese Chicken Wings, and Forgotten Cookies. As is typical of cookbooks from that time period, there are plenty of jello fruit salad recipes. The cusines are quite varied with recipes inspired by Asian, Greek, and West Indies cookie. And there are several of “Mom’s Favorite” dishes as well.