eating in boston, new england

before going away i always spend some time researching the food options for the place we are visiting. our recent trip to boston relied on recommendations from friends and chow and as a result we ate some excellent food.

green street grill was our first stop and this funky restaurant/bar was a great way to start. we shared a large plate of grilled calamari with a beautiful pale green and delicately flavoured fennel puree, pine nuts and parsley. david moved on to an excellent double cheeseburger with smoked bacon but i lucked out with my choice of spicy clam stew. the local wellfleet clams were huge and very delicious, their salty sea flavour contrasting wonderfully with the spiciness of homemade fennel sausage. add haricot beans, wilted spinach, barely cooked tomatoes and delicious croutons and it was a dish which welcomed me to the city with a hug, providing ample reward for our decision to head out and explore as soon as we arrived.

parish café was our location for lunch the next day, chosen so we could sit outside and enjoy the warm sunny weather, although i have to admit that the enormous bloody mary’s which were being served to at least half the tables was the clincher in choosing to eat here. the sandwich and wrap menu had great variety and david’s zuni roll – smoked turkey, spring onions, cheese and cranberry-chipotle sauce – was delicious. i had a very simple beetroot, walnut and blue cheese salad.

mamma maria’s in the italian north end of the city was my friend ian’s choice for our first meal with him and his lovely girlfriend julie, who came up from new york to say hi. mamma maria provides italian food old style and upscale – the perfect place if you want to impress (it has prices to match). david and i shared a platter of antipasti which i followed with a luxuriously rich and indulgent lobster ravioli dish with black trumpet mushrooms and crumbled gaunciale (this was new to me, apparently it’s pork jowl cured in the style of pancetta). david’s orrechiette with broccoli and sausage was much lighter and fresher and more of an everyday choice. julie’s starter is worth mentioning – bibb salad. this was a lettuce wedge served with a lemon pistachio dressing. apparently this is a common starter in italian restaurants in the states but it’s something new to me and seems odd as a result.

lala rokh was suggested by a friend as a good source of home-style persian food and this was confirmed by an iranian friend of ian’s who said the food reminded her of her mum’s cooking.we shared a selection of mezze to start which were all fabulously fresh and flavoursome. our main courses included three stew-type dishes which, although different in flavours (my lamb was packed with herbs and dried limes whereas david’s veal was sweetened with dates and currants) had very similar textures and appearance which made the meal seem less special, although it may be this approach which makes it home-style persian. the puddings were again delicious – my rose, cardamom and pistachio-scented milk pudding (fereni) was beautifully delicate and the saffron ice cream (bastani) and baklava were excellent.

on sunday we experienced an american brunch. however, we eschewed the traditional approach and opted for the east coast grill with its strong mexico-inspired flavours and its make-your-own bloody mary bar. this was one of my favourite meals of the trip as the atmosphere (noisy, buzzy, busy) and approach to food are so different to anything you get in london.david ‘s cuban reuben was enormous and delicious – a huge toasted sandwich (“pressed” in american lingo) packed with smoked sliced brisket, curtido (a cabbage salad), jack cheese and chipotle aioli. i took a more breakfasty approach and had an omelette which was filled with avocado, black beans & jack cheese, served with over salsa verde and salsa roja, queso fresco (a mild crumbly white cheese) & guava paste. to accompany this we also ordered a portion of corn bread – warm, slightly sweet, served with alime butter – and fried plantains. these side orders were both delicious but entirely unnecessary!

bin 26 enoteca is a sleek and sexy wine bar and restaurant which we called into before eating at lala rokh (they are owned by the same people and a few minutes walk apart) and i was determined to eat here. david and i had a very lovely evening sat at the bar, trying wines by the glass and working our way through the menu. we started with appetisers of saffron risotto balls (every time i try arancini i am underwhelmed but never remember not to reorder them) and a gorgeous richly braised oxtail bruschetta with caramelised onions. starters were calamari with chickpeas, tomatoes, nicoise olives and rocket plus a watercress and romaine salad with pancetta crisp, roasted red pepper and shaved manchego. the calamari was disappointing as the flavours were all a bit muddled and there was no hint of freshness (lemon or fresh herbs would have really lifted the dish) but the salad made up for this.david’s main was lamb with mint pesto butter and grilled asparagus – all very lovely. my main course was the reason i wanted to eat here – cocoa tagliatelle with porcini mushroom ragout scented with nepitelo (a herb which is described as a cross between oregano and mint,aka nepitella and calamint). exciting eh?!? the dish is bonkers – i had a first mouthful and burst out laughing as i tasted the hint of mint and chocolatecombined with the earthy mushrooms and an abundance of garlic. it was incredibly rich and would, i think, work better as a starter as it’s a bit overwhelming - i left over half of it. interestingly, david didn’t pick up on the mint chocolate flavours, only really noticing the garlic.we shared an entirely unnecessary pudding – threeramisu, which was tiramisu served three ways (an ice cream, a frappe (milkshake) and the classic version). david adored this but i was too full and didn’t really pay much attention so we’ll have to take his word for it. if i lived in boston, bin 26 would be a regular haunt of mine, for the food, for the wine and for the beautiful shadows cast by the wine bottles on the toilet ceiling.

bean leaf café in rockport provided lunch on our final day – if you visit boston i really recommend that you get the commuter train from north station out to rockport so you can see the beautiful little towns along the coast with their clapboard houses and beautiful harbours. rockport is an artistic community and we must have seen over 30 galleries and studios which were selling a wide range of creative wares (we very nearly came home with several professional photographs). this little café overlooks the water and serves a good range of sandwiches, wraps and soups – i had a mild and creamy new england clam chowder and david had a honey ham wrap.

craigie on main was the source of our final boston meal. craigie’s has a great reputation and i was really drawn to the chef’s whim menu which is served mid-week after 9pm, offering 4 courses for $40 (there is also a six course option). the restaurant is a little formal but the whim is served in the adjacent bar where the setting is more relaxed but equally buzzy. we started with an amuse bouche of salt cod brandade before quickly moving on to deep fried clams with squid ink achoide, purple long beans and pickled peppers. the clams were wonderfully fresh and the depth of sea flavours which came from them and the anchoide was really delicious. i also like the contrasting little pieces of preserved lemon that were scattered throughout the dish. lemon made another appearance in our next dish, this time having smokey flavours as a result of being placed on a grill, which worked well with the sea trout, herbs and butter bean puree with which it was served. this was followed by a creamy asparagus soup which was served with a rabbit crepinette (described as a sausage without a casing) which was utterly delicious and david’s favourite dish of the meal. our final savoury course was a very delicious and well balanced dish of confit of duck with plum and a rough mash of sweet potato. to finish we were each given a different dessert – peanut butter parfait for me which was a delicious ice cream sandwich (a cookie layer acted as the “bread”) although the sangiovese foam that accompanied it was awful and quickly scraped aside; grits with red fruit and ice cream for ian which was very similar to a fruit crumble; and an incredibly rich chocolate mousse with walnut puree for david. we left sated and very happy to have concluded our boston eating experiences with such a delicious and imaginative meal.

green street grill, 28 green street, cambridge

parish café, 362 boylston street

mamma maria, 3 north square

lala rokh, 9 mt vernon street

east coat grill, 1271 cambridge street, cambridge

bin 26 enoteca, 26 charles street

bean & leaf café, 12 bearskin neck, rockport

craigie on main, 853 main street, cambridge