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Dish of the Week: Eggplant & Tofu Bánh Mì (& then some) at Strip-T’s, Boston

Technically, it’s in Watertown. Historically, Strip-T’s was your basic neighborhood hash house—long-standing, fiercely local—but its future is unfolding as a local-boy-makes-good game-changer involving the owner’s son, a David Chang protégé by the name of Tim Maslow. And truthfully, I was led there by culinary Pied Piper MC Slim JB last week—but there’s not a chance in a million I’ll encounter a dish as satisfying as this one in the next few days. Behold the eggplant bánh mì.

What a category-defying thing of beauty. Layered on a crusty-chewy, locally baked baguette were spears of Japanese eggplant roasted to a near-spreadable goo & squares of now-crisply golden, now-pillowy tofu; though garnished in classic Vietnamese fashion with pickled carrots & cilantro plus a smear of spicy mayo, the sandwich as a whole triggered a cascade of sensations that seemed to come out of nowhere. Its combinatory powers were its own.

And the duo that followed was very nearly its equal. Roasted cauliflower’s verging on cliché these days, but Maslow could single-handedly pull it back from the brink. Both his technique & his creative process were beyond me: How did he brown the cauliflower so deeply & evenly while upholding its essential cruciferocity? How did these unlikely ingredients come together so seamlessly? But they did: smooth & smoky chorizo puree, salty crumbled cotija, & sharp, bright pickled red onion somehow made thoroughly savory sense.

Likewise cut from whole cloth, a special of pickled, fried mussels topped with deceptively airy, cool dollops of coconut mousse & accompanied by lightly charred stalks of asparagus & green onion had buoyancy & zing to spare. One can imagine Maslow nodding ever so slightly to the New England classic of fried shellfish with tartar sauce on the one hand & Southeast Asian seafood curries on the other, but his imagination transcends his influences.

With one seeming exception: interestingly, the only slight disappointment was also the least original dish. It came almost as a relief to Neptune Oyster’s #1 fan (that would be me) that what appeared to be an homage to Michael Serpa’s buttermilk johnnycake with smoked trout tartare, honey butter & caviar didn’t quite achieve the same multilayered harmonies. The johnnycake, here made with blue corn & figs, was just too dense & sweet for its topping of sliced, delicately smoked rainbow trout with crème fraîche & trout roe; neither flavors nor textures were fully integrated.

Still, at this level of unabashed playfulness, the guy’s allowed an oops or two. I’d say run don’t walk, but you’ll have to drive or take a bus, then wait around a while for a table. Worth it. (There’s a liquor store on the corner, & the front seat of a car doubles as a perfectly acceptable barstool.)

Strip-T's on Urbanspoon

Dish of the Week: Braised Pork Buns at JoJo TaiPei, Boston

So much & so little has changed since I left my dear adopted hometown 5 years ago for rockier, mile-higher climes. Return visits to Boston never fail to yield delightful surprise after delightful surprise, & this one was especially fruitful—every other thing I stuck in my mouth could qualify as Dish of the Week (as you’ll see in posts to come). For sheer hidden gemminess, though, I’ve got to hand it to JoJo TaiPei.

Back at the turn of the millennium, when I lived there, Allston was—to put it mildly—no great culinary shakes. But what a difference a decade makes, eh? On a drive-by tour, pal MC Slim JB pointed out all the Burmese & Afghani & Korean & Pakistani joints that would’ve eased so much grad-student agony had they existed then, in place of the sticky dives & greasy pizza parlors. Among them, this lovely little Taiwanese storefront honored me with a farewell meal to remember.

I knew what I’d be having before I even got through the door, thanks to a chalkboard marked with the daily special: rabbit with chestnuts. That’s it on the left: a clay pot chock-full of bone-on bunny chunks & soft, chewy whole chestnuts, strewn with scallion tops, fresh ginger slices, dried chilies & star anise in just enough of your classic brown stirfry gravy to recast the usually delicate meat into something darker & richer without blurring its essence.

But I also knew I’d be having something else, & the options on the long menu nearly broke my heart for lack of time & gut space. Salty duck with “special sauce” & roasted beef-scallion pancake. Three-cup cuttlefish & pork-stuffed eggplant. White-turnip pastries &, of course, all the dumplings you could shake your rump at. Finally, I closed my eyes & pointed to something called “braised pork with steamed bun tops with peanut powder.” What I got, pictured on the right, were like nothing I’ve ever quite tasted before.

Beautifully moist & robust shredded meat in a spongy steamed bun is one thing—easy to come by, easy to crave. But these played a whole new ballgame—or bao-game—with the inclusion of crushed peanuts & a mysterious garnish of sauteed, chopped dark greens that utterly transformed the humble little pockets into things of multifaceted grandeur, at once tart & sweet—if they weren’t sprinkled with both vinegar & sugar I’ll eat crow (especially if prepared by JoJo).

So there you go. So entranced was I by the whole experience that I wound up craning my neck around the room to see what I could get to go—& bingo. Ever had mofongo?

Well, the fried or boiled & mashed mound of green plantains served in various Latin American contexts looks like this—& so, almost exactly, did the beglazed cylinder I saw on the table behind me. My server called it “bamboo-cap rice pudding” (which turns out to be a thing); I called it mine. Granted, it didn’t look as pretty in its takeout form. Nor was it quite as intriguing as the preceding dishes, bite for bite. Once you got past the crunchy browned exterior, it was pretty much a monochrome of broth-enriched sticky rice in a sweet & spicy tomato-based sauce.

Still, I’ve not only got no regrets, I’ve got a jo-jones for the place right this second.

Jo Jo Taipei on Urbanspoon

Peking Duck & more (& more, & more) at China King, Boston

This, in a head-on, crackling mahogany nutshell, is what brought me & my old Chowhound crew in to China King, based on a rave from critic-ever-in-the-know MC Slim JB.

And this is what kept us there, long after the other diners had disappeared into the neon-smeared Chinatown night: toothy, slurpy, deeply saucy Shanghainese chow mein with shredded pork;

crisp-bottomed potstickers that slid down with only the slightest jaw work & weighted with perfect, juice-squirting little spheres of more ground pork;

thick yet bouncy—more flaky than eggy—wedges of scallion pancake;

soup dumplings filled with, you guessed it, more pork, compliments of the patient-&-sweet-as-could-be house;

& then some, including snappy gailan (Chinese broccoli) & brothy bok choy.

Still, the centerpiece was just that: an imperial succession of duck parts in all their gilded forms—

from the ribbons of browned skin, glistening with mouth-filling oils—the fatty bits melting practically on contact—& wrapped with smears of hoisin & stalks of fresh green onion in crêpe-thin pancakes boasting just the right amount of satisfying chew

 

to the meat shredded fine & tossed with crisp-tender bean threads, carrots & scallions in an authoritatively simple stirfry

to the…oh wait. To the palate-cleansing soup with its carcass-based broth, I’d say, except we’d already stuffed ourselves so silly we didn’t actually make it to the final course; that went home with the others as takeout.

‘Twas well over a decade ago that I first dug for ducky treasure at King Fung Garden; that the former owners are leading new expeditions to glory, with as much aplomb as ever, at their latest haunt is solid proof of that most comforting of adages, plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. 

China King on Urbanspoon

The Soul of a Chef: Poe’s Kitchen at The Rattlesnake

The soul of a chef, to use Ruhlman’s phrase, is in many ways like that of a writer—shaped by the drive to create & to destroy in the process; swollen by success & punctured by failure; pulled this way by the desire to please, that way by the lust to kill, in still another direction by the exhausted wish to be left the hell alone with one’s tools & toys. Most chefs I know, like most writers, are cauldrons of ambivalence, bubbling with passion as the black smoke of bitterness curls ever upward.

But there are exceptions. Brian Poe of Poe’s Kitchen at the Rattlesnake is one of them. I’m sure he has his dark moments, but only a dogged optimist could walk into a collegiate, nacho-clogged watering hole with 20 years of notoriety behind it & class it up the way he has, maintaining his sunny sanity amid the skepticism that’s slow to dissolve. Straight up, over the past 2 years, Brian’s become a friend of mine. So you might be all the more doubtful about the dissolution of my own skepticism & its replacement by admiration, which I dare say peaked with my most recent visit. What to do? Keeping in mind that I’d have spared my pal any embarrassment by writing nothing at all if I’d been unimpressed, you’ll have to judge for yourself whether the Latin-inspired kitchen just keeps getting better & better. Do report back on your findings.

Actually, the prosciutto-wrapped, blackened tuna stuffed with queso fresco over creamed corn isn’t a new dish—it’s a signature of Poe’s extra-bold style. All 4 elements—salty cured ham; strong, oily, yet still clean-tasting fish; fresh white cheese; & sweet, rich puréed corn—hold their own, each complementing the other. The use of creamed corn as a sauce rather than a side strikes me as an idea whose time has come.

So does the pairing of pork with finfish rather than shellfish; by contrast, given jumbo sea scallops, Poe eschews the usual bacon or ham in favor of seared chunks of foie gras, & the flesh of both—one firm & clean, the other meltingly fatty; each sweet & delicate in its own way—marries surprisingly well. Combined with acorn squash puree & sundried strawberry–arbol chile salsa, along with sauteed greens & a dab of avocado cream, it begins to sound like a puzzle with one too many pieces—but it doesn’t taste that way; the fruity & funky notes are in harmony, the crispy & smooth textures likewise. When you think about it, this is the kind of balance among a multitude of ingredients achieved by a great salad, say a Cobb, after all. No reason it can’t happen on a hot plate.

The same could be said of this off-menu dish, in which Poe paired a hefty piece of cilantro-&-asiago-grilled swordfish with the truffle risotto, pumpkin cream sauce, chunky pumpkin salsa & fried chard that usually distinguish his Vermont quail tacos. The substitution made sense—the flavor of swordfish has more in common with poultry than with most other fish, really—though I can see how roast game bird works even better amid all those warm, earthy flavors. I tend to prefer risotto that’s a bit creamier than this was, but since it was layered directly over the sauce, its grainier quality worked, preventing too much of a mishmash.

Braised in tequila with chipotle & cascabel chiles, this giant pork shank—Poe’s portions are generous almost to a fault—may be my current fave, however.

Smoky & perfectly tender alongside an almost spoonable slice of polenta topped with smoked-tomato grits, it’s comfort food brought into focus by the touch of bitterness provided by more fried chard, the way a draft of cold air emphasizes how good it feels to be curled up under blankets (I think I stole that realization from Moby Dick’s Ishmael).

Unless my fave was the mixed grill of silk-skinned wild mushrooms in soy-ginger sauce with tomato-ginger chutney. Sheer umami shot through with brightness.

The biggest surprise, however, was the pecan tart with black lava sea salt caramel sauce & cinnamon-sugared vanilla ice cream. More like a sandie than a slice of pie, it was rich, buttery, nutty & creamy-sweet without being cloyingly gooey. I suspected dessert would be an afterthought here; I was wrong.

I know what you’re thinking: Sure, when the chef’s taking care of you, he’s personally guaranteeing everything’s just peachy. That may be so; I don’t know how the kitchen operates when Poe’s not around, because I don’t go unless he is, with the express purpose of seeing him. But he’s so kind-hearted & easy to get to know that you could give hands-on treatment a shot—literally: invite him out to the bar for a jigger of killer ghost-pepper tequila.

Soon enough, I bet, you’ll be back to shoot the shit—& he, in turn, will be keeping a characteristically enthusiastic eye on your table.

Neptune Oyster: The Everlasting Shout-Out (UPDATED 7/2012)

***Adding on to my last post; the old one begins with the next trio of asterisks.

Neptune’s long been the clown car of North End eateries, but these days the emphasis is on “clown,” with goofballs galore spilling in & out merely to check the “Ben-Affleck-sat-here” box on their tourists’ to-do lists. The Director got hilariously livid watching one woman attempting to impress a date by choking down raw oysters with more cocktail sauce than there was meat.

But I can’t really gripe too much that our place has become everybody’s place—it’s as deserving as ever, from the extremely patient servers to the ultra-talented kitchen helmed by Michael Serpa. The fried clams are still up there among the best on either the South or North Shore;

the sandwich-mounted take on vitello tonnato—which replaces the tuna-mayo sauce of the original with tartare & spicy mustard cream—still a startling treat;

& the sweet nothings Serpa sends out for a poor old fanatic like me still fantastic—behold “eggs & eggs,” combining the creamiest, most precisely cooked omelet the Director & I have ever had with a dollop of caviar. (Chef, if you’re reading this, he’s too embarrassed to ask how you did it. Call me maybe?)

Of course, after a year-plus away from my favorite haunt in all this world, there was plenty on the menu that was new to me, albeit fitting the classic Neptune mold—veering from the wispiest delicacy to the funkiest concoction.

At the ethereal end of the spectrum, this bronzino crudo with lemon yogurt, parsley & gray sea salt was like eating the sighs of the lovelorn. Take that, sadsacks.

At the bold end, take this pair of appetizers:

On the left, perfectly tender calamari braised in a robust combo of tomatoes, broccoli rabe, green olives, and banana peppers; on the right, one of the highest, lightest highlights of 2 highlit meals: yellowfin tartare enriched with avocado & citrus aioli atop a slice of locally baked baguette. So much messy fun.

Also beautifully realized was an entree of seared scallops and duck confit atop crumbled blue cheese, caramelized brussels sprout leaves & a smear of pear butter. If that sounds over the top, you’re clearly a Neptune newbie—its great gift to gastronomy is remarkable balance among ingredients that shouldn’t work together but always do.

As a Buddhist, my mother likes to say that there is no such thing as home except in the here & now. I beg to differ. For me, Neptune Oyster is home.

 

***
Have I mentioned how I adore Neptune Oyster like no other restaurant on earth? Oh, I have? Well, it’s always worth reiterating. Over the course of 6 years, despite 2 kitchen shake-ups & the sort of explosive popularity that usually leads almost as soon as it begins to backlashes & downslides, owner Jeff Nace has kept his head & remained true to his vision of a seafood bar extraordinare—low-key & intimate in feel (no small thanks to loyal, smart, affable servers like Dan & Vinny), yet inimitably bold in its culinary approach (realized with aplomb by head chef MIchael Serpa & crew, busting their chops all day every day in a kitchen the size of a large couch).

That said, I’ve been lavishing praise on Neptune so often for so long—in print, in person, in-ternet—that there’s not much more I can possibly say. Just take it from an original regular: go in the off-hours between lunch & dinner; stay as long as you can; & eat & drink as much as you’re able. With the strongly recommended assistance of equally voracious, boozy & appreciative chums, following a round of oysters, your meal might go something like this:

crudo of bay scallop so firm yet so paradoxically tender as only scallops can be, pink & white as peaches & cream, you’d be forgiven for fantasizing you’re eating chunks of human baby;

brioche toast rubbed with pork fat, topped with white anchovies & slivers of air-dried tuna, then sprinkled with diced pineapple (such startling combos, which jar the brain but mesmerize the palate & raise the bar on contrasting flavor profiles, have always been the kitchen’s forté);

yellowfin tartare on a baguette slice spread with roast tomato jam & dunked into a pool of warm brandade—you know, the emulsion of salt cod with olive oil, milk or cream, & sometimes garlic that’s like the chocolate to fresh tuna’s peanut butter;

OMG johnnycake—aka a flapjack of cornmeal & buttermilk that’s griddled to a crisp (look at that symmetrically charred edge!) yet fluffy within, topped with a cylinder of smoked trout–honey butter—you read that right—in turn topped with a dollop of Little Pearl roe, which OMG softens & spreads over the surface to yield what’s basically a fishy dessert, OMG take that!;

Serpa’s signature dish, “Neptunes on piggyback”: fried oysters & pulled pork. With golden raisin jam & pistachio aioli. On toast. An edible roller coaster that starts on your tongue & ends in your belly;

a little something unexpected which by the time we got I was too muddled to get the full scoop on, but it was basically a layered patty of braised pork shank & smoked salmon spiked with “some sort of mustard dressing,” per Serpa via Twitter—he can’t quite remember either, which goes to show the value of becoming a regular (here or anywhere): you get to be a guinea pig (who sometimes even gets to eat guinea pig, but that’s another story, involving another area chef, that I was long ago sworn to secrecy on). The point is if I’d been presented the dish in a void, I’d have known it was Neptune’s, the pairing of meat & fish being its most obvious hallmark. If you want to get a clear sense of what the place is all about, dishes based on such pairings are a must;

Wellfleet littlenecks steamed in Vermentino, garlic & parsley—a few such simple, subtle, soothingly aromatic selections are always sprinkled among the more provocative concoctions, filling the bill when I’m not up for a blowout, which is never;

& a salad of grilled octopus with chorizo, green apple, shaved fennel, & mâche in citrus vinagirette of which I have no photo & almost no memory.

So I compensated for the oversight by returning 2 days later—straight from brunch at Coppa—for the Sunday special of fish tacos.

Sigh. Until next time, old friend.

Neptune Oyster on Urbanspoon

Coppa’s Cornucopia

Hell, I already blew my wad regarding Coppa in a single Tweet. It went something like this: “I was among the 1st to write about @Jamiebiss’s way with offal, & when lesser fat-storers keel over, I’ll be the last.”

In 2005, I met Jamie Bissonnette for the 1st time in the lobby of a local cable TV station; due to an article I’d written for Stuff, we were there to discuss on air the nose-to-tail charcuterie with which he was just beginning to make a name for himself at Eastern Standard. I liked him immediately—a young, big, beefy, strawberry-blonde, tattooed up to here, with an equal taste for punk & pork.

Since then, I’ve proudly watched him kick oxtail & take names at KO Prime, Toro, & now Coppa, his joint venture with Ken Oringer. That I didn’t go for dinner is one of my deepest regrets following this particular trip to Beantown, because I tend to behave better at brunch.

Still, pal H & I did okay for relatively sober people.

Warm salt-cod crostini. Well, would ya look at that. I’m guessing, what a full cup of the stuff atop a whole piece of grilled toast?

The world’s most famous salt-cod spreads—Provençal brandade de morue, Venetian baccalà mantecato—can vary widely, from rough to creamy, via any combination of milk/cream, garlic/onion, potatoes, herbs, olive oil & lemon juice. This one let the fish do most of the talking—flaky, funky, but still very much itself given all it had been through: salting, drying, rinsing, toasting, broiling, I don’t know what all—enhanced by the crunchy chew of the bread.

Cauliflower marinated with thyme, shallots & sea salt. H & I didn’t know how brilliant we were, really, ordering this at the same time as the salt cod. ‘Twas the perfect foil: served cold & crisp, lightly tangy, simple & fresh.

Rabbit porchetta. Usually, coniglio in porchetta is a dish of rabbit stuffed & roasted in the manner of a whole pig; here, it’s served terrine-style with whole-grain mustard. Again, the emphasis is on the flavor of the meat itself, midly salty-sweet & cutting like butter.

Wood oven–roasted pig’s tail with mostarda glaze. Classic Bissonnette. The meat just slid off the bone in rich, tender, pungent chunks; the mostarda di frutta, which we were told was made from jars of “ghetto fruit salad,” was its ideal match, sharply bright & sticky-sweet.

We ended with a toasted Nutella-banana sandwich—perfectly fine, but hardly representative of Coppa’s repertoire. Next time, I’ll go for the gold—spaghetti alla carbonara with sea urchin; wood-fired pizza with burrata & chili oil; smoked beef tongue with anchovies & almonds (sigh). Until then, though, I’m glad I got to experience the place at its least chaotic; after all the reports of hour-plus waits, we walked right in on at noon on a sunny Sunday. Something to consider if you’ve been avoiding the crowds thus far.

Coppa on Urbanspoon

Myers + Chang: Dim Sum to Dispel Gloom

It was a gray, bitter Saturday afternoon, & I’d been cold & hungry a long time, when I walked into Myers + Chang with a twofold agenda: 1) to interview the ever-scintillating Christopher Myers for an upcoming piece in Stuff & 2) to thaw my bones & down dim sum with my pal T until my face fell off. I achieved it all with aplomb, if I do say so myself.

Of course, as Myers’s guest I can’t in good conscience call this a fair review. If you want a review uncomplicated by questions of special treatment, countless other bloggers have weighed in on Urbanspoon, Chowhounds have done their dissecting bit on the Boston board, & so on. Without trawling through them all, I’ve been in this business long enough to bet big bucks that the most glowing of them confirm the graciousness, talent & passion for excellence of the almost disgustingly golden couple that Myers & Chang are, separately & as such—that much has been well documented for going on a millennium—& that the most skeptical of them say things like “Go to Chinatown for the real thing” (granting that many of those same people will also add “in San Francisco”). I’ve also been in this business long enough to believe that graciousness, talent & passion for excellence are the real thing. Having dim sum at Myers + Chang is not like having dim sum at Winsor Dim Sum Cafe or Hei La Moon, nor should it be. It should be like having dim sum at Myers + Chang. And it is! In fact, it’s textbook Chang (with a nod to her exec chef Matthew Barros): vibrant, cheeky, highly personal.

Meanwhile, I don’t bite the hand that feeds me; in cases in which I’m a guest, if I haven’t enjoyed my experience, I keep my trap shut about it. In this case, I liked most everything; I adored many things. The latter I can present to you below in good conscience. So take this in the spirit in which it’s intended: not as an actual review but rather a likewise highly personal recap of one fine meal from the perspective of a food writer who wants you to know, if she were returning, say, this weekend, in disguise, what she’d order again.

Hakka eggplant. Not at all spicy, but rich, sticky & soulful.

Asian pickles. Part on fire, part on ice—a mixture as fresh & bright as fresh & bright can be, with the vegetables shining through the chilies & brine.

Pan-fried dumplings with shiitakes & Chinese greens. We also tried the lemony shrimp version, but these were my faves, from the glistening, thin dough to the filling, akin to that ofclassic leek or chive dumplings—slightly bitter, earthy-sour, oh-so-juicy.

Sweet potato fritters with Chinese sausage. The photo speaks to the crunchy exterior; inside is basically a warm, thick sweet potato puree, at the center of which is a daub of sausage that’s practically melting. Totally unexpected.

Fried oysters with fermented black beans, pickled bean sprouts & fresh herbs. Eat these the moment they arrive, because they won’t hold up long. But hot & fresh, they’re pungent little suckers, dripping with funk.

Tofu, celery & sesame salad. Crisp, cold & mild, this is quite the palate cleanser before dessert.

Lemon-ginger mousse with homemade fortune cookie. Because you do have to have dessert—it’s Chang’s world, after all. And this one, bursting with the zing of its namesake flavors to balance the almost puddinglike, dense creaminess, was easily one of the best 4 or 5 things I ate over the course of my 6-day reunion tour—

no small triumph given that I sampled more than 70 dishes. Burp & thank you.

Myers & Chang on Urbanspoon

A Doozy of Meze at Istanbul’lu

After wine o’clock, a place that doesn’t serve booze has to be pretty special for me to spend precious time eating there that could be spent drinking & eating somewhere else. Promising me Somerville Turkish café Istanbul’lu was just such a place, a couple of pals took me for dinner—& they were right; it’s lovely, with smiling service as open-hearted as the cooking is soul-warmingly homey & honest. Is it better than Brookline Family Restaurant or Sultan’s Kitchen? I haven’t been to either in some time, but assuming they’re as good as ever, & I might be mistaken in assuming they are, I’d be hard-pressed to rate one over the other; each has its own strengths. At BFR, for instance, there’s the lahmacun; at SK, the doner kebab. At Istanbul’lu, if we’d stopped at the warm, focaccia-like bread with what I believe is called acili ezme, or maybe biber salcazi (both are vibrant red-pepper spreads of the sort that abound in the Balkans, from avjar to lutenica)

& the remarkably expressive, funky & sour, yogurt-enriched, lamb-chunked soup called paca,

I wouldn’t have been happier.

What these & all the other appetizers we sampled revealed was the extraordinary way in which Levantine cookery milks so much flavor from plants as such—vegetables, legumes, nuts, herbs; fruits like pomegranates, lemons & olives (including the oil); spices like sumac—along with yogurt & fresh cheeses, while meat tends to play a lesser role. The overall profile of the cuisine is utterly luscious yet still fresh, sun-drenched with bright-tart accents.

For instance, under all those tomato slices (which really could have been worse given that it’s winter; at least they had a little juice) there was a meaty, zesty, simple salad of white beans & red onions.

There was haydari, a thick, mildly tangy strained-yogurt dip much like Middle Eastern labne.

And the famous imam biyaldi, eggplant stuffed with a mixture of onions, peppers & tomatoes, then baked; this wasn’t one of my favorites, however, as the eggplant was still a bit woody & stringy, a little bitter.

Borek stuffed with feta were also slightly disappointing, especially in light of my fond memories of the same dish at Sabur just across the street—the phyllo was flaccid, not crisp.

For that matter, the mucver—zucchini fritters with carrots & herbs—weren’t as crisp as they look either, but for me their softness was a plus, making for a sort of melted zucchini pudding in the mouth. (Not sure my pals agreed with me on that point, though.)

And if they’d been slightly hotter, mercimek kofte—red lentil cakes—would’ve been terrific: earthy & nutty, sprinkled with bits of tomato, green onion & parsley.

Groaning as we already were, we skipped entrees & went straight to dessert. Kadayif—essentially baklava made with shredded phyllo—was a little tough, but the flavor was textbook.

Of the 2 puddings we tried, the soothing sutlac—rice pudding (pictured)—was the bigger hit, the keskul (almond pudding) being rather bland.

In short, nearly everything had its flaws, its imprecisions—& yet, somehow, the whole was all the sweeter & more charming for them, the sum greater than its parts. Now if only they’d spike that sour-cherry juice with a little somethin somethin.

Istanbul'lu on Urbanspoon

Citizen Public House & Oyster Bar: Like Franklin Café, Only Different

Ha, these titles are funny ’cause they’re true. The original Franklin Café was a gastropub way before there was a word for such a thing. Now, its Fenway sibling Citizen is the latest word in such a thing. Piggy logo? Check. Piggy dishes? Check. Raw bar? Check. Raw bartender, too adorably young to know his ‘stache makes him look like Meathead from All in the Family? Check. Fernet on tap? Check. Wait…Fernet on tap?! Industry alert, check.

It’s all so of-the-moment it’d already be over, if David Dubois weren’t the sort of seasoned vet who knows how to make a good thing last. Since he is, he does, so it’s not. Over. It’s only just begun.

Granted, my own meal began with a misstep on my part. You know how sometimes a menu is so appealing, & everything sounds so good—like roast pork loin with cranberry beans, applesauce & melted cabbage; pig’s trotter schnitzel with smoked chickpeas & tartar sauce; or a fish & chips special wherein the fish appeared to be near-whole filets—that your brain starts to short-circuit & you wind up spastically ordering something accidental? So it was with peel & eat Old Bay shrimp—a classic, to be sure, done handsomely with a garlicky, spinach-&-tomatillo-based green sauce, but I wished I’d had the forethought to set the tone with something a bit more signature.

I got my act together after that via pungently salty-sweet, rosemary-whipped lardo with “breadsticks”—aka grilled crostini—which was so light & airy I could almost pretend I wasn’t eating entire spoonfuls of pure pork fat, especially since the bitterness of the accompanying dry-cured olives cut through it pleasingly.

There was, however, no pretending the giant carpetbagger steak wasn’t over the top—rare & juicy, topped with a fried oyster & served over spinach in a red-wine sauce.

It was a natural alongside a bottle of Robert Foley Franklin Cuvee, a soft, round, house-label Petit Sirah. What wasn’t so natural was the fact that pal T & I managed to follow it up a plate of sticky toffee pudding (unpictured), textbook except for the fact that it stood at least 6 inches high.

All of which goes to show why the draft Fernet is making such a splash; after a meal at Citizen, you & your digestive system are gonna need it.

Citizen Public House and Oyster Bar on Urbanspoon

Dirty Laundry List 2011: Every Single Thing I Tasted in Boston Tuesday-Sunday

Can you guess where I’ve been? Cocktails not included, ditto bread baskets.

oysters on the 1/2-shell (x4)
fried oyster sliders
pancetta-crusted broiled oysters
oyster stew
clam chowder (x2)
razor clams with bacon
lobster roll
cider doughnuts with caramel sauce
Caesar salad
antipasto salad
whipped lardo with crostini & olives
peel & eat Old Bay shrimp
carpetbagger steak
sticky toffee pudding
acili ezme
piyaz salat
paca
mercimek kofte
imam biyaldi
sigara borek
mucver
haydari
burma
keskul
sutlac
za’atar pita
tahini toast
oyster crackers
bay scallop crudo
buttermilk johnnycake with smoked trout tartare & caviar
anchovy & air-dried tuna on pork-fat toast
Neptunes on piggyback (big hint)
steamers
pulpitos alla plancha
smoked salmon & pork shank rillettes
yellowfin crostini with brandade
pepperoni pizza
spinach-ricotta arancino
chocolate-peanut butter bar
Asian pickle sampler
shrimp-jicama rolls with chili-peanut sauce
crispy spring rolls
fried oysters with fermented black bean sauce & pickled bean sprouts
green papaya slaw
5-spice grilled tofu bao
potstickers with shiitake mushrooms & Chinese greens
potstickers with lemony shrimp
tofu, sesame & celery salad
hakka eggplant
sweet potato fritters with Chinese sausage
lemon-ginger mousse with homemade fortune cookie
coconut cream pie with lime whipped cream
prosciutto-wrapped blackened tuna with queso fresco
pancetta-wrapped figs stuffed with blue cheese
grilled Caesar salad with corn salsa
grilled mixed mushrooms (yellowfoot, chanterelle, white trumpet) with tomato-ginger chutney
pan-seared scallops with foie gras, avocado & acorn squash puree, & sundried strawberry-arbol salsa
tequila-braised pork shanks with white corn polenta, smoked tomato grits, & fried chard
grilled swordfish with truffle risotto, pumpkin cream sauce & pumpkin salsa
pecan tart with black lava sea salt caramel
roasted pig’s tail with mostarda glaze
salt cod crostini
marinated cauliflower with thyme
rabbit “porchetta”
fish tacos
yuca gnocchi with green lamb ragù
crab-potato causa
lasagna (I woke up with it next to me; vague memories of the counter at Vinny’s Superette. Otherwise a mystery)
+ 1 banana

***Disgustingly full reports to come.***