March 16, 2006

Meaningful Bites in Boston

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“Through travel, I first became aware of the outside world; it was through travel that I found my own introspective way into becoming a part of it.” – Eudora Welty

Like any food-lover, my travels bypass ancient ruins, pieces of history and museums. In Paris, I ignored the Louvre and headed straight for the La Durée tearoom. In Prague, I breezed through Old Town Square and planted myself firmly in a bar that serves goulash. Last weekend, I left the restaurant scene in Ithaca and headed for Boston with one aim: to eat as much food as possible in the twenty-four hours of my visit.

I happened to descend upon Boston during the best time of the year to eat out: Restaurant Week. The twice-yearly Restaurant Week, funded in part by corporate sponsors, is gaining popularity in Boston, New York and Washington DC. Many ridiculously unaffordable restaurants boast a three-course prix fixe menu at $20 for lunch and $30 for dinner, not a bad deal, considering that one course at most of these restaurants runs from $25-$50 on a normal day. Diners get a chance to try new restaurants with little risk, and restaurants get a chance to attract new customers. Out of all the restaurants in Boston, I chose to dine at Sandrine’s, a French bistro on Holyoke Street in Cambridge. The pumpkin-butternut squash-lobster bisque was rich yet not too thick, warm in flavor and smooth in texture – it was served with a bottomless basket of warm, crusty French bread. The duck breast with cherry balsamic reduction tasted unlike any duck I have ever tried – this cut was lean and melted in the mouth. I finished the meal off with a brandied cherry custard soufflé. The soufflé itself had a rich, eggy, vanilla flavor and perfect consistency and was layered with a coating of dark chocolate. This wonderful meal was topped off with flawless service and a warm, inviting atmosphere – I would go back to Sandrine’s any time of the year.

How does an epicure spend a day in Boston? Food shopping, of course! Make sure to visit Cardullo’s in Harvard Square for the pinnacle of sweet indulgences. Cardullo’s probably carries just what you’re looking for: specialty jams, cookies, pastries, cheeses, hard candies and, of course, chocolates line the shelves.

Newberry Street is another popular shopping destination. Whereas most people venture into the Versace and Armani stores, foodies find other, more stimulating forms of entertainment. Boston’s most famous ice cream shops line Newberry Street. To maximize food capacity, hop into each and request a “taste” of an interesting flavor. JP Licks boasted “potato pie” ice cream last weekend. The ice cream itself contained hints of vanilla and cinnamon but contained mysterious crunchy bits, which turned out to be actual chunks of white potato.

Another favorite past-time of mine involves visiting each chocolate store I pass and ordering one truffle. Newberry Street’s Teuscher fit the bill with its white chocolate truffle. The exterior was smooth and not too sweet; the interior tasted almost like a cheesecake and melted on contact with the tongue.

Does anyone still have room for lunch? Boston boasts some great lunch spots – and some crummy ones. Don’t fall for the Quincy Market trap. Most of the food in Faneuil Hall is mediocre, with mayonnaise-drenched lobster rolls and floury clam chowder. But if this is your first visit to Boston, do not ignore the clam chowder in a bread bowl – just know where to buy it. The Blackstone Grill, near Faneuil Hall, and the Atlantic Fish Company on Boylston Street both serve this dish to perfection. The chowder is thick but not stagnant, and it’s chock-full of clams. The bread bowl itself is a work of art. Unlike bread bowls at Atlanta Bread Company, good “Boston” bread bowls are buttery and melt in your mouth in perfect harmony with the soup. Other lunch adventures include dim sum in Chinatown, particularly at the famed China Pearl. Make sure to allow enough time for at least a 30 minute wait – even though the restaurant has countless tables, it’s always packed.

Afternoon pastry is another favorite tradition of many foodie vacationers, and the best area in Boston for this treat is the North End. Mike’s is always crowded, but the line moves fast. Your reward involves a 20 foot long dessert case, 20 feet of dessert-filled shelving, six different varieties of cannolis and the most difficult decision of your life.

Boston is a city with a vibrant, eclectic gastronomy. Traditional New England fare co-exists with ethnic Chinese, Italian, Japanese and Korean, as well as nouveau experimental cuisines and of course, Dunkin Donuts aficionados. Most tourists attempt to “know” a destination by sightseeing and museum hopping, but the heart of any city contains its food culture. The next time you travel, delve deeper.

Archived article by Anna Fishman