April 3, 2012
That Time I Went to Boston 11 Months Ago
If you're wondering what to cook a lobster in, I highly suggest against this:
I mean, a clear steamer works, but it's also a sadistic viewing chamber into your lobster's final dance—or lethargic flails, more like—with death. Understandably. I too would flail a bit if I were being cooked alive.
And then one and a half hours later, we feasted on lobster rolls! Steam Chamber of Death was just a forgotten blip of the past! Yay!
But...let's go back in time a bit.
Last May I visited Boston with Kåre to visit Adelyn, one of our most favorite people in the world. I hadn't been to Boston in over a decade*, despite that it's close to New York City and seemingly every college student in the Tri-state area hops the Chinatown bus to Boston at some point to visit their army of friends who goes to college there. Of course, people also visit Boston if they don't know people there; it's a major city with...rich history...and stuff...to do.
* The last time I went to Boston (from New Jersey) was in 9th grade. ...To see a Beck concert. And to meet an Internet friend. To say I was a bit obsessed with Beck and the internet friend is an understatement. I thought I'd be a raging Beck fan forever and be friends with that person forever, neither of which happened. GUYS, REMEMBER HOW WEIRD IT WAS TO BE A TEENAGER? REALLY WEIRD. I AM SUPER GLAD THAT IS OVER.
But the main reason I wanted to visit Boston was to see Adelyn. I didn't care much about what else we did; we could hang out in a fetid landfill, and as long as Adelyn was there, it'd still be fun. (We did not hang out in a fetid landfill.) I didn't do much in the ways of food research, or, um, anything-not-food research.
Groupon helped us plan our first activity though: a trip on the Boston Lobster Tour. Adelyn found a nice deal where we could take the one-hour-ish tour around Boston Harbor for $90, 50 percent off the normal $180 price tag. Throw in the prospect of fresh lobsters—you get to keep whatever the captain pulls up—and it sounded like a fine deal.
Luckily, we also hit fantastic weather. THANKS, NATURE. Youdabes.
Our captain was great—very knowledgeable and friendly. Not that I could tell you what he told us since this was almost a year ago and I forget stuff that happened last week. Or this morning. But if we could go back in time to last May, then, boy, the knowledge I could foist upon you...would probably still be about the same.
He pulled two cages out of the water, catching three lobsters in all.
He broke out a ruler to measure the lobsters; small lobsters get returned to the water. Luckily (well, for us, not them), all the lobsters were large enough for eatin'.
But pregnant lobsters also get a second chance at life, and one of our lobsters was mega-pregz. Alas, "From every 50,000 eggs only about 2 lobsters are expected to survive to legal size." Whenever life is gettin' you down, just think, "At least I'm not a lobster egg. That would suck for many reasons, at least two of which are, 1) I would probably die before I could live, and 2) if I lived, I'd be a lobster."
Ah well; we only needed two lobsters to feed the three of us for dinner, and two lobsters, we received!
If you go on a Boston Lobster Tour and head to the pier where the boat is supposed to be, thinking, "Is there really a boat over here?" the answer is yes. You probably didn't need me to tell you that, but for some reason we weren't sure if there was going to be a boat at the end of the pier. It...it looked un-boat-ed from afar. You might have thought so too. Or maybe you have eyes that, like, see stuff correctly. Good for you.
We drove to Shaws to pick up lobster roll-making ingredients, but on the way we passed—or rather, were passed by—something we would would remember forever. A unicorn of the urban jogging set. A woman wearing headphones while pushing a double-baby stroller.
...Ok, "unicorn" is giving her too much credit; she'd also have to be walking a pack of dogs and talking on her cell phone to earn that title. How about...a pony? No. A pygmy goat? Eh?
So, back to my boring story. I first spotted Serious Jogging Lady when we stopped at an intersection not far from the bridge in the photo above. We managed to drive by her because, well, we were in a car and she was a mere human pushing two babies in a mega-stroller. Surely our modern gas-powered marvel of locomotive engineering would win the race that Serious Jogging Lady didn't know she had entered.
But as we stood on that bridge, stuck in a long line of gassy metal deathtraps ("gassy metal deathtrap" is my loving pet name for a car), we saw Serious Jogging Lady come from behind, and pass us on the other side of the barrier, and continue to jog down the bridge until she was just a bouncing lavender speck on the horizon, soon disappearing from our view (but not our minds) forever.
No...noooo! We weren't ready to let the memory of Serious Jogging Lady go! We had to know where she was going. Or at least make it up. Yes, that was good enough.
"If we're stuck here long enough, she'll make a lap around us."
"But before she comes around again, she's going to drop her babies off at home...and steal someone else's babies."
"Two babies. And then. More babies."
"She's going to jog around with that stroller and just keep stealing new babies. She can't jog without babies. Her house is going to be FULL of babies."
Making up stories about babies is fun. Especially stolen babies. A mountain of them. But hearing true stories about stolen babies is terrifying. Man! That's life. Yes, you may close your textbooks now.
Aaaaand we're back to the lobsters! Back to the scene of death-by-steam. Kåre was in charge of holding down the lid in case the lobsters got feisty, while Adelyn and I were in charge of standing a few feet away and unhelpfully uttering, "Auuhhhhh," or "Oohnooooo," or "Aauuhrrugugh," accompanied by sad faces. Yes, yes, it was dumb of us—we were going to cook the lobsters in some way or another, and there was no reason to get all sad face-y—but we couldn't help ourselves.
When the lobster was sufficiently dead/cooked, Adelyn and I let go of the wall we were clinging onto, remembered how hungry we were (on a scale of "not very" to "very," we were at "my stomach is kinda gurgly and I would love to eat now"), and went into lobster dismemberment mode.
Actually, I was useless and left the meat removal to Adelyn and Kåre. I mean. I was in charge of documenting it. That's sort of useful.
Five of the freshest lobster rolls we'd ever eat on buns pan-fried in butter (yeah, I know my pan-frying skills are bad) plus five ears of steamed sweet corn left us super stuffed and happy.
The next morning, we started our day at Mike & Patty's, highly recommended by fellow Serious Eater Carey Jones for good reason: They make awesome, comforting sandwiches; simple constructions handled with care. Also, the place is adorable and cozy (if I recall correctly, there's seating for 6 to 8 people) and charming and impossibly crams a truckload of stuff into a shoebox of a kitchen and is pretty much just what you'd want out of a neighborhood sandwich shop. All that.
I was plenty happy with my North South Classic ($5): egg and cheese with collard greens and peameal bacon on a toasted English muffin, plus a side of home fries ($2).
For Kåre, the breakfast grilled cheese ($5): white bread with cheddar and American cheese plush an overeasy egg. Kåre added bacon for $2.
For Adelyn, the grilled banana sandwich ($6.50) with cinnamon and honey butter on pain de mie.
Those last two sandwiches aren't listed on Mike and Patty's website—which says they're simplifying their menu—so I can't say for sure you'll find them there. But you should definitely go. Next time I visit Boston, I'll be there.
Chinatown was next on the to-do list. Highlights included shops rich with VCDs, DVDs, gifts, and goldfish...
This eroding restaurant signage...
And egg puffs. Because I can't not investigate a sign that proclaims the presence of puffed egg matter. Egg puffs, sold in New York City as Hong Kong cakes, are sort of like mini pancake or waffle bites, but sweeter and eggier. They make a great little snack when straight out of the pan, but they lose their appeal after they cool down.
After walking along the freedom trail and escaping the rain at the Hub Pub—where I displayed my affinity towards alcohol by taking a nap in a booth (I mean, Adelyn and Kåre were there too, chatting; I didn't lumber off on my own and fall asleep in the corner of an empty bar)—we returned to Cambridge, Adelyn's hood. I had my eyes set on one place.
Toscanini's, known as one of the best ice cream shops in Boston, once called home of the best ice cream in the world by the New York Times*. The world? Did you eat all the ice cream in the world, New York Times? ...Ok, maybe you did.
* Toscanini's is also home to the measurement known as the "microscoop." Surely not the only one. That's cute. But ye know what a microscoop is? That's one scoop, You know what "1 scoop" is? That's two flavors in one scoop, which is actually two scoops. I know this sizing structure is common in ice cream shops, but what's the harm in using small, medium, and large instead? Why does the scoop prevail when it means nothing? WHY DOES THIS BOTHER ME SO MUCH? You know what else bothers me? What, you don't care? I'm going to babble on anyway. When an ice cream shop's single scoop is a FUCKIN' HUGE SCOOP and they don't allow you to get more than one flavor even though making that one scoop takes like three scoops. ...You know what I mean? ....[crosses arms.] #firstworldproblems
While I can't tell you if Toscanini's makes the best ice cream in the world, I can tell you after two visits that Toscanini's is now one of my most favorite ice cream shops. I don't remember much about the maple walnut I tried, but their burnt caramel is famous for a reason. It's a punch of burnt caramel to your mouth, if something in sweet-n-smooth-n-creamy form had the ability to punch. ...Maybe that's more like a forceful hug.
Anyway, that's all I've got; this happened 11 months ago, ye know. (If I couldn't give you lazy descriptions, I'd just give you no descriptions. Admittedly, that might make the Internet a better place.) Go eat it. If you don't like it, I'll know not to trust you.
On my second visit the next day, I tried the B3—brown sugar, brown butter, and brownies—and Early Grey. Again, get these flavors. They do what they say on the tin by tasting just like what they're supposed to, but...better. Like awesome gelato in Bologna.
We ate dinner at nearby Rendezvous in Central Square. After dinner I realized we should've eaten at also-nearby Craigie on Main, aka Kenji's favorite restaurant in the world. I'll just tell myself we wouldn't have been able to get a seat.
Not that there's anything wrong with Rendezvous. It was good, it just didn't make me think, "I MUST EAT HERE AGAIN."
Best part of the meal: my Gascon-style duck three ways ($26) featuring sliced breast, garlic sausage, and confit leg.
The next morning during our stroll to Flour Bakery, we passed this epic cosmic moose fence. I'd tell you more about the fence if my googling turned up much, but it didn't. :C Head to the corner of Brookline and Franklin Streets for cosmic moose wisdom.
On to Flour Bakery, home of cupcakes, tarts, bread pudding, cakes, sandwiches, and other delicious gluten-laden things, the most famous of which is....
...the sticky bun slathered with a thick layer of sticky caramel goo/sauce topped with toasted pecan bits. To be honest, I don't remember anything about the bun besides that I ate it (this post is sounding more and more useless with each passing sentence); for a much better description, read Liz Bomze's post on Serious Eats.
Maybe I should've eaten the bun before eating my roasted lamb sandwich ($7.95) with tomato chutney and goat cheese. I saved the bun for later since I felt full after eating the sandwich. Dessert should come first.
We walked off the sandwiches by roaming around MIT's campus, the highlight of which was coming upon this wall of math graduate student seminar topics. It wasn't just the topics that made us go, "What the holy fugnut," but also the wide array of graphics chosen to represent the topics. Would you just look at these packages of mathematical whimsy? Example titles:
- Introduction to Symplectic Geometry
- Cohomological Induction for Beginners
- The Magnificent World of Complex Cobordism
- The Joy of Local Fields
- Spheres: The Final Frontier
- Etale Cohomology, Unplugged
- Courier Analysis: It's Not the Law, It's Just a Good Idea
- Can One Hear the Volume of a Drum?
I don't know what the hell any of that means, but I like knowing someone else does.
Related aside: I'm one of those people who actually enjoyed math growing up (it helped that I had great math teachers). The only reason I don't like it now is because I've forgotten so much—perhaps everything that came after 9th grade—that attempting to split a bill often makes me feel like an idiot. In 12th grade for my final semester calculus project after AP tests were over, I wrote a children's-style book about calculus, but reading it now, I basically look like this the whole time, just one of many colorful ways confusion manifests itself on my very smushable face. If I ever have kids, they'll have to explain it to me.
It was time for another ice cream break, this time at Christina's, another famous local ice cream shop. Unfortunately, none of us liked it as much as Toscanini's, although I've heard good things about it. Maybe we all ordered the wrong flavors? My coffee ice cream tasted alright, but if I recall correctly (and I very well may not be), the texture wasn't as agreeably creamy as Toscanini's. Overall, not bad, I just wouldn't feel compelled to go out of my way for it.
And after ice cream came...froyo! Adelyn directed us towards the Harvard Square location of BerryLine, a local froyo chain. My cup of plain froyo topped with mango chunks was some good stuff.
More good stuff was found at In Your Ear Records where, after flipping through hundreds of records that smelled of old, I was rewarded with Songs of the Humpback Whale. Sure, I could've bought it on CD so I could actually listen to it on my computer as opposed to owning a record that now uselessly sits in my closet at home in New Jersey because that's where my record player is, but there's no adventure in that. And if I know anything about humpback whales (which I don't), it's that they're all about adventures.
We roamed around Harvard a bit, making sure to check out that famous statue tourists rub for good luck and students pee on because they can. Oh, John Harvard, we relinquish the use of our modern toilets in your honor.
And back to Cambridge we went.
To end this post: After this trip, I shall always read "Alewife" as "Beer Wench."
I don't know when I'm going back to Boston, but I SHALL RETURN, and Adelyn will make sure my return IS AWESOME and FULL OF ICE CREAM.
Hing Shing Pastry
67 Beach Street, Boston, MA (map)
Posted by roboppy at 2:39 AM
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