Monday, 7 May 2012

Three days of lobster

Lobster roll and sea food chowder at Quincy Market

I'll start with a disclaimer. There won't be any recipes at the end of this post. This will just be a incoherent rant about all the wonderful things I ate on my recent trip to Boston. I promise, a recipe of some sort will follow shortly.

So, I recently spent a few days in Boston. I was there primarily for work, but luckily I also had time for my favourite travel hobby, playing food tourist. I have been to Boston quite a few times because of work and I really love the place. It holds wonderful memories for me, both professional and personal. Although it has been a while since my last visit, I felt almost like home as soon as I landed at Logan.

Boring sentimental rants aside, and on to the actual interesting bit. To me, foodwise, Boston means seafood. Above all, lobster. Every day. You can't go to Boston and not have lobster. And clam chowder. And prawns. And mussels. It's funny, living on an island myself you would think there would be plenty of fresh sea food. But no. Sea food in the UK is... How should I put it... Let's just say suboptimal. The seafood in Boston... Well, now you are talking!

Quincy Marker (if you didn't figure it out already...)
Cooooookies!!! At least as big as your head. You wouldn't
 believe how many of these I managed to eat in three days...

One of my favourite places for eating in Boston is Quincy Market. Yes, it's touristy and crowded and cheesy, but I'm a tourist, so get over it! Quincy Market is one of three historical old market halls next to Faneuil Hall. Today it houses loads of small stalls selling all sorts of food you could imagine. Seafood, pizzas, roast meat, salads, bagels, ice cream and the most amazing baked sweet heavenly things from cookies to cakes to pastries and fudge. Why anyone would want to have pizza or bagels when there is seafood around will remain a mystery to me, but who am I to judge... Usually, after a walking up and down the length of the hall a few times and feeling overwhelmed by all the choices, I end up having clam chowder. Not very original, but hey, I'm a tourist after all. This time I had a lobster roll and some chowder. I love it how you get fast food with lobster! I wonder how long I would have to live in Boston to get fed up with lobster? Probably I would go bankrupt before I would get tired of it to be honest. However, as much as I love lobster, I have to note that in my personal opinion, lobster has nothing on freshly caught Finnish crayfish. That has, and probably always will be my number one favourite water dwelling creature (on a plate that is). The traditional crayfish parties with piles of those little red bad boys, and the schnapps and schnapps songs (Finnish-Swedish tradition of singing short songs before drinking a shot of schnapps) and then then tedious labour of prying the meat out of various places of the crayfish are such happy times. But back to lobster rolls and chowder. I love getting the little tray with the food, then fighting my way through the masses of tourists up to the second floor, and trying to find somewhere to sit down in the beautiful space under the huge dome in the ceiling. Then I enjoy sitting there, resting my tired legs and people watching while happily tucking into that juicy lobster meat. I know it doesn't take much to make me happy (in fact all it takes is good food), but sitting there with that lobster roll is just a little piece of heaven. One thing that annoys me to no end though is the styrofoam plates. Why, oh why haven't the Americans learned to use paper plates? That would be so much more environmentally friendly. I shudder at the though of how much energy is wasted producing all those disposable plates and bowls. One more reason to have your chowda in a bread bowl. Talk about rationalising... Eat carbs to be environmentally friendly! I like to finish off my meal with one of those 'larger than your head' cookies, or some sweet pastry of which there is an overwhelmingly huge selection. Talking about desserts, one more American thing I really don't get is peanut butter. It's everywhere. Cookies, brownies, PB cups... and it's not even that good. I mean if you want to go for nut butters, almond or macadamia nut butter taste much better and have much better nutritional profiles as well. Although talking about nutritional content seems a bit silly of course when it's combined with a bucket of sugar, butter and flour. But it was hard to find a brownie sans PB. So I thought I'll give it yet another shot in the form of a Reese's cup brownie which was the size of my two palms... And no, I still don't like it that much. I guess it's one of those things you have to grow up with to appreciate. But apart from the PB lurking everywhere, Quincy Market is a very, very dangerous place for a carboholic.

The seating area of the food court under the beautiful dome.
Chowder in a bread bowl. Ecological and yummy.
The PB cup brownie. I should have added something for scale, but trust
 me, it was at least as big as my hand from palm to the tip of my fingers.
One of the new food finds this time around was Olé, a Mexican restaurant on the Cambridge side of the river. When I heard we were going to have Mexican, I was thinking tex-mex which is not exactly a favourite. I arrived at the restaurant with much skepticism which wasn't eased by the sight of an oddly pink strange little building. Well, you shouldn't judge a book by its cover. It turned out to be one of the best meals I have had in quite some time, and authentic but contemporary Mexican and nothing like the Tex-Mex which so far has been the equivalent of Mexican to me. The starter was guacamole and tortilla chips. Boring you say. Well, the guacamole was prepared right by the table, you could see the avocados being peelef and how they were perfectly ripe without a single dark spot on them. The avocado was smashed up in a quirky big heavy stoneware bowl, mixed with fresh tomatoes, herbs and a bit of sour cream. It was possibly the best guacamole I ever had. The main was lobster meat (of course), scallops and prawns cooked in a garlic and guajillo (mild chilli pepper) cream sauce, and served with spinach, white beans and polenta. The sauce was not too creamy and the guajillo was mild enough not to overpower the taste of the seafood, which was cooked to perfection. The meal was rounded up by something called deep fried cheese cake, basically a cheese cake filling deep fried in a batter. It was rather heavy, but very good together with cinnamon and the vanilla bean ice cream it was served with. I was in a very happy state of food coma after that meal. Some of my colleagues enjoyed a selection of tapas style small dishes, which all looked delish. Particularly the Scallops Al Ajillo got much praise.

The next morning, after working off a fraction of the calories from last nights Mexican feast at the gym, I was ready for a lazy (and calorie-loaded) brunch. Browsing Yelp, I settled on a place called The Paramount. I absolutely love Beacon Hill with the beautiful red tile townhouses, and I headed off with my good friend quite early on a Saturday morning. Well, it proved to be a good idea to be there early, as the place is really popular. And I can see the reason. It's a traditional diner type of place, but you won't get served at a table, just join the queue, order at the till, and despite the fact that the place was full when you got in queue, somehow the waiter manages to seat everyone pretty much as soon as you get your food. The menu contains everything you could ask from a brunch, from omelettes and sandwiches to pancakes, french toast and waffles. The food is cooked to perfection right in front of you from fresh ingredients. Me and Friend couldn't decide between buttermilk pancakes and French toast, so we decided to have both and split. So after queuing for about 10 minutes we had the freshest pancakes with whipped butter, strawberries and maple syrup and cinnamon French toast with banana and caramel in front of us. In addition, Friend had an omelette served with hash browns and toast, and I had a bowl of fruit. There couldn't have been two happier faces than ours when we dug into the feast. I can totally see why people are queuing for this place. Make sure you are early if you want to beat the queues, which often stretch outside the restaurant.

Right across the street from my hotel was a place called Sweet, which had a cute pink sign with a cupcake. Being the uncureable a carboholic I am, of course that raised my curiosity. It turned out to be an adorable little cupcake shop, with a huge display full of different cupcakes, and big fluffy pink(!) sofas for relaxing and enjoying the goodies. I couldn't resist, so I got a cheesecake cupcake and a dark chocolate and caramel cupcake. The cakes were perfect, moist and fluffy with the right amount of buttercream on top. I also loved the genuinly friendly service. In my (maybe somewhat cynical) opinion, truly friendly service is not all too common in the US. Sure, you get the forced smiles and polite phrases as waiters rely on your tips to make a living (and undoubtedly work very hard for that, don't get me wrong). But you can feel the difference when you get service with a genuine smile that reaches all the way to the eyes. Maybe partly because of this, and of course because the cupcakes were amazing, I couldn't resist the temptation when another Sweet happened to be on my shopping route the next day... Particularly, the Boston cream pie cupcake was to die for, light sponge cake filled with pastry cream and topped with chocolate ganache. I felt very guilty afterwards, and ended up spending a fortune on new running gear (for any runners out there, if you haven't heard of LuluLemon, check it out. The most amazing running gear. Feel great, look great!!). Unfortunately, I might not be able to squeeze my ever expanding butt into said new clothing, but might be forced to hit the road in my old scruffy kit trying to work off all that cupcake-induced blubber.

Lemon and raspberry cupcake and Boston cream pie cupcake.
My last night in town, I met up with a local friend, and he took me to a wonderful little sea food restaurant called Barking Crab (a restaurant with the motto "Because everyone should have crabs". Classy...) It was an absolutely lovely little place, and our waitress was a scarily happy young girl (ok, not scary as in I'm going to have nightmares-scary, but she did smile a lot...). I felt so lucky having a local guide, as the restaurant was a bit off from where I usually hang out, so I wouldn't have found my way there on my own. The menu had every kind of seafood you could imagine, from lobster, prawns and mussels to various fish. We ended up having mussels steamed in a wonderful spicy broth with veg, and Mexican type seafood stuffed parcels and peppers. For the main, we had fried scallops. And I must admit, my friend was right when he said they sure have worked the art of deep frying to a perfection. I'm having a hard time choosing which scallops were cooked closer to perfection; these or the ones I had in the mexican restaurant. I think I have to settle for saying its a tie, they were both so perfect. I also ended up eating way too much, and thought my stomach would explode on our walk back to town. I have to learn my limits when it comes to eating or I will simply explode one fine day. Again, this is a restaurant I will definitely visit again the next time I'm in town. Actually, my list of restaurants I want to visit again next time is growing worryingly large... Hopefully it won't be too long until I'm back for another calorie loaded visit.

Mussels in steamed with chilli and veggies at Barking Crab.

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