Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Boston, 2008

Spending five days in Boston is always enjoyable. However, we ate out far less on this trip than we have in the past, which wasn't necessarily a bad thing. We stayed at our friends' condo the entire time, rather than at the B&B, so that made a difference – they had plenty of lovely breakfast foods on hand that we could help ourselves to, and we stayed in and cooked supper two nights out of four, which was fun and delicious. The third night we were invited to a seder at another couple’s home, which was also an amazing meal (which I will describe later).

That left us only one evening where we ate supper in a restaurant. Fortunately, it was a very good one: Café D, on Centre Street in Jamaica Plain. We had never eaten in JP before, and this was a most excellent introduction to the 'hood. Café D does not take reservations, and it isn’t very big, but we were fortunate enough to waltz in at 7 pm on a Thursday night and score a nice table for 4. Things got even nicer with the addition of a pomegranate martini, yummy and generously sized for the reasonable price of $9.50 (I’ve seen $13 martinis on Boston lounge lists). Sadly, Chris learned the hard way not to choose a beer based on its funny name – the Rogue Brewery’s Dead Guy Ale was too bitter for his liking. However, D's mango mojito went down smoothly and L enjoyed his glass of sangria.

Chris and I split the evening's featured salad, arugula with roasted golden beet chunks, walnuts and a smattering of blue cheese tossed with sherry vinaigrette. I would certainly have welcomed a few more hits of that nice blue, but it was fresh and tasty and whetted our appetites nicely. Fresh hearty rye bread came with some sort of red lentil hummus type spread in lieu of butter – very creative and fun.

We all chose something different for our mains and as usual, I went for the fish special. You had a choice of three kinds of fish, sauced and accompanied one of three ways. I selected the grilled trout with a Niçoise preparation of tapenade aioli, shaved zucchini salad and roasted vegetables. The two thin fillets came skin-on, stacked atop the roasted veg, with the salad piled on top and dollops of aioli in the corners. Despite the lack of a starch (which I didn't miss one bit) the dish was gorgeously balanced between sweet (the roasted chunks of tomato and eggplant), salty (the divinely rich and earthy black olive aioli), cool (the zucchini and greens) and warm (the perfectly cooked fish that flaked prettily off the skin and melted in the mouth). I’m dying to recreate this dish at home, which says a lot about how much I enjoyed it.

Chris had something of a house specialty, sliced Moroccan-spiced lamb with Israeli couscous, sweet and sour eggplant, almonds and a yogurt drizzle. He offered me a bit of the meat, which was perfectly medium and tender as can be. The rest disappeared too quickly to be claimed. L ordered a pork chop of some kind that isn’t on their online menu and I cannot for the life of me remember how it was prepared. It was large, I do remember that, and he said it was all right, but he is definitely the picky one of us four. D went for straightforward – a burger, with cheddar, veggies, fries and pickle. She proclaimed it very good indeed.

Each couple split a dessert – our friends went with a bread pudding with caramelized bananas and champagne sabayon, which they adored. Chris and I headed straight for the chocolate – an individual cake, deep and dark and just barely set, topped with a scoop of perfect chocolate mousse. A simple concept, but perfect execution.

My decaf coffee was hot and tasty (and I was offered a refill); Chris had a glass of port that he enjoyed far more than his beer. We left there feeling utterly satiated and pleased with every morsel we’d consumed.

Our only other serious dining-out experience this weekend (aside from a quick sushi lunch and a divinely good turkey-cheese-and-veg-stuffed crepe in Davis Square) was brunch on Sunday morning at Gaslight Brasserie du Coin, in the up-and-coming part of the South End on Harrison Ave. It’s relatively new, and D had been dying to try it, so we decided it was worth a shot. Despite its upscale look (subway and mosaic tiles, dark wood, high ceilings, zinc bar) its prices are reasonable and I thought the food was very good. My feta and grilled vegetable omelette was gorgeous to look upon – the perfect shade of yellow, unscorched, folded once over bits of melty feta, halved grape tomatoes, diced zucchini and chopped asparagus, all barely cooked and bursting with spring flavor. It disappeared in a haze of decaf café au lait and chocolate – oh, right, I forgot to mention the pain au chocolat I ordered on the side. (You can get plain or raspberry croissants or blueberry muffins, too.) My pastry was slightly darker on top than I like, but perfectly flaky, shattering into buttery fragments when bitten, oozing with dark chocolate inside. If I’d know the omelette came with fries (nowhere on the menu is this mentioned) I might have skipped it, but perhaps not – anyway, the others ate some of the fries, while I stuck to the sweet end of the spectrum as far as carbs go.

Chris had to get the vanilla French toast stuffed with sweet fromage blanc, of course, and it was divine: two pillowy squares of brioche stacked, with the creamy filling and real syrup taking the whole thing over the top. He got a scrambled egg on the side, for protein, and it was done to perfection.

D had scrambled eggs with smoked salmon and capers, which she enjoyed, and L had the caramelized banana crepes, which he said were fine, but not what he was expecting. He had a side of what he called "very bacony ham". (It looked awesome.) Service was prompt and courteous, and the bellinis (we didn’t indulge, but D and L did) were lovely as well. We’d go back in a flash. Free, plentiful off-street parking, too.

It’s rare that we’ve eaten less than stellar meals in Boston, and this trip was no exception. Of course, we have a list as long as our arm of places to try "for next time", whenever that is. One thing’s for sure: it won’t be too long.

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