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Big Apple/Beantown Dispatch Final 4: Bon Chon, Da Gennaro, Meritage & Taranta

I’ve been home for nearly a week; Denveater, however, seems to be suffering from jet lag. I’m thinking the cure’s a whirlwind trip down memory block (lanes being few & far between in the big bad city), just oohing & aahing & drooling at all the highlights.

***

Bon Chon’s 1 of the 2 New York chains that has put Korean fried chicken smack in the eye of the urban culinary map over the past couple of years. The 2nd-story space on 5th Ave. is suspiciously louche—primarily a lounge, it may look sleek in the dark, but by day it looks like a lawn-furniture floor show, not least for the fact that our server clearly could have been a part-time model.

Then again, the signature spicy chicken looks like just the snack for kicking it poolside. Tasted like it, too—moist, greasy, slow-burning, with chilled daikon on the tongue like an ice cube to the brow.

BCchix

***

Small plates are generally the stuff of the casually convivial—your tapas bars, your enoteche, your izakaya. Opening as an extension of the Boston Wine Festival in the Boston Harbor Hotel a few years back, ultramodern Meritage is an exception among elegant exceptions, with what amounts to a DIY pairing menu composed of small plates categorized by the types of wine they’d go best with (e.g., light whites, robust reds, etc.).

In short, it’s not the kind of place you’re supposed to lean back in your chair, thump your gut & bark, “Man, I’m backed up.” But after 3 courses each featuring the likes of foie gras, ostrich & sweetbreads, plus

Meritageamuse2 Meritagesweets2

an amuse bouche of exquisite wild mushroom broth with a diamond touch of truffle oil, plus also an array of sweets like this caramel-filled chocolate cup with the check,

what would you say? Exactly. (In fact, you’d say something even coarser—I know you! Come on, you can tell me.)

Picking a highlight’s a toughie, but I find myself oddly leaning toward a dish I wouldn’t have ordered had it not come recommended: the pan-seared diver scallops with corn & chardonnay cream—a sweet, sweet field-&-sea-breezy surprise.

Meritagescallops2

***

Without marvelous chef & consummate host José Duarte in the house (he was off leading a culinary tour of his native Peru) to ply us with off-menu nibbles & knock back a little wine with us & pick the Director up off the floor & swing him around (José’s a long tall guy), Taranta just wasn’t the same. Moodwise, that is—foodwise, it was as stellar as ever. Since the Director called shotgun on my eternal fave, the signature yuca gnocchi in green lamb ragù spiked with chicha de jora (Peruvian corn cider),

Tgnocchi

I more than made do with a special of porcini ravioli with, um, smoked pancetta in parmesan cream?

Travioli

I kinda don’t remember, having been well into our 2nd bottle of wine as I was. I just remember it was amazingly delicate & precise for being so rich & messy—a nifty, typically Duartean paradox.

***

From Boston’s Little Italy (i.e., the North End, my old nabe) to New York’s: it was nearly 1am, cold & drizzling when the Director & I, stumbling starved in the dark streets surrounding our Soho hotel after making an obligatory appearance at a midtown work event, accidentally landed on the doorstep of Da Gennaro, the only place through whose lit windows we could still see diners lingering. (Maybe the city that never sleeps finally OD’d on Restalex?)

As we approached to ask if they’d serve us, we caught a glimpse of the cooks & servers all digging into their staff meal & almost turned away. But the owner beckoned us in, & though we caught the flicker of dismay in one dark young gent’s eyes, it vanished as he smiled kindly, waited on us calmly & even encouraged us to take our time when we assured him we were trying to hurry.

For that grace-imbued reason alone, the whole meal couldn’t have tasted better. Though stereotypically ginormous (trust me, perspective aside, it was twice the size of Taranta’s counterpart above), our gnocchi with pesto

DGgnocchi

was atypically painstaking—sparkling to mine eye like unto

2871_big

shards of a malachite geode,

each dumpling—chunkling—actually wafted upward to the bite. They were so light they’re actually still floating around my brain cavity, I think.

But the ultimate find was the dipping oil that came with the bread.

DGbreaddip

I’d have loved to see the seething vat in back—the line cooks must be high 24/7 from the sheer everlasting stench of years of batches of garlic, parmesan & red pepper–clogged olive oil. If that sounds pejorative, it ain’t. Hell, I’d have loved to skinny-dip in that vat. I’d love to have never come up for air. (Meanwhile, of course, parsley smoothed it all out a little.)

We were so heartened by our intimate little experience that we returned the next, our last, night in town. Was it that good, objectively speaking? No. Were we fully aware it wasn’t that good, objectively speaking? Sure. Would we go so far as to call it a tourist trap? Not me; I wouldn’t. In my book, tourist traps manufacture hospitality while spitting out edible formulas people with gullets where their palates & senses of poetry should be can regurgitate. This place was suffused with genuine heart—not a perfectly calibrated hand, to be sure, but genuine heart. If I’m wrong, then I’m a staunch sucker.

On that note, fuck highlights, here are the lesser but still lovable dishes we downed:

DGmozzincarozza

Mozzarella in carozza (we ordered spiedini, but this is what we got, it was halfway to dawn, they were technically closed, who were we to complain, especially about accidentally getting fried cheese with olives?)

DGpepper

Peperoni ripieni

DGlasagna

Lasagna

DGantipastodimare

Antipasto di mare—so garlicky it was almost bitter, so lemony it was downright sour, both in the best way

Ciao, Signore Gennaro. Fino a quando si ritorna.

***

And ciao to you, too, MC Slim JB, who led us so debonairly through downtown’s secret catacombs; Kimberly, with the giggle that never ceases to cheer me; Honor, who chose brain freeze over leaving half the contents of her chilled cocktail glass (that’s my girl!); Beth, who led me down the righteous path of high-noon debauchery; & so on. I’ll see you soon.

Da Gennaro on Urbanspoon

Big Apple/Beantown Dispatch 3: Eastern Standard & the decline of Western civilization

With every drink you die a little more inside, lean a little more hellward.

That’s the moral to the story of Eastern Standard in Boston’s Kenmore Square, where celebrated young buck of a bar manager Jackson Cannon is the devil with whom you strike a Faustian bargain—the tenderest cut of your soul for but a sip of bliss, believe you me.

But hey, moral, happy ending, same difference. Especially in the light of day—midday, to be exact; nothing like a few vodka cocktails over a 3-hour-long lunch in the company of old friends to feel, in Stephen Dobyns’s words, your “great red soul
trembling like a cubic meter of raspberry Jell-O.”

Or frothing like a Russian Tea Room.

ESKbeetmartini

This slug of beet-infused Christiana vodka, shaken with just a touch of yogurt & citrus, went down like a borscht slush, & so did the 2nd one, & the Earth & Brine—

ESKearthbrine

combining Reyka vodka with celery-infused vemouth & bitters to create what was indeed less a dirty martini than an earthy one—went down just as easy, & so did the conversation, veering from extreme shepherding to Incubus, a 1966 horror flick in Esperanto starring William Shatner. I love my weird friends.

And so, on that note, did the Heather in Queue—a “riff on a gimlet” with gin, vermouth, Fernet Branca, orange liqueur & a flamed orange peel—which just happens to be named for the friend, an ES regular, who told us about the neon sheep & also about bookending a single meal at Osteria Marco with orders of burrata on a recent visit here to Denver. Such is the stuff that makes a legend of a girl.

ESKheatherinqueue

All the while we noshed on the likes of deep-fried sweet Maine shrimp—their season so short, their memory so fresh in its lingering—

ESKfriedshrimp

& the house charcuterie plate, which Chef Kickass Jamie Bissonnette made famous before decamping for the Oringer Empire & which the current crew has kept up to snuff: this one boasted smoked sausage & the most luscious mortadella, chunky with cubes of pure fat & pistachios.

ESKcharcuterie

And steak tartare—to my tastes a little overworked, its strongly seasoned add-ins obscuring rather than enhancing the flavor of the meat,

ESKtartare

but given that it came with a side of shoestring fries all had to be forgiven, if for no other reason that it, an appetizer, came with a side.

ESKfries

That’s my kind of generosity. Hey, could I get a side of sandwich with that salad? Does that soup come with a side of cake?

Meanwhile, Yumyum—a longtime regular on Chowhound’s Boston board to whom Boston Magazine recently gave cred for expertise where it was overdue, as well as to my old pal MC Slim JB et al.—shared her schnitzel

ESKschnitzel

along with her right-on opinion it needed more lemon. The breading was ideal though.

And so on, & so on—the Director knocked back a couple of Medjool date–infused bourbons; dear Michael, dreamy Dasha & stunning young Elizabeth shared various green things & discussed Dasha’s recent work on an energies calendar, which I really don’t know what that means other than something breathtaking (& purchasable here, along with numerous other beauties):

Work_128_2009_Sept

And Lisa & her beau, who stopped by just to say hi & then plopped down for lunch after all—because that’s what my friends do best, is surrender to indulgence.

Talk about setting the eastern standard.

Eastern Standard on Urbanspoon

Big Apple/Beantown Dispatch 2: Neptune Oyster in a class, in a post, in my heart by itself

Straight from Boston’s South Station to Haymarket & on into me olde stomping grounds, the North End, the Director & I, luggage in tow, reached the Neptune Oyster entrance at 11:30 am sharp, just as owner Jeff Nace was opening the door. He gave me a hug. The staff proffered hearty hellos. Our server welcomed us back

NO3

at the bar

with flutes of prosecco. We were home.

And home was better than ever.

Last summer, upon our very first return to my all-time favorite restaurant since both I had left for Denver & the original chef, David Nevins, had left for Norwalk & Osetra Sono, I felt the oh-so-slightest of letdowns—if the magic wasn’t gone with new chef Nate Nagy, it would never again, I feared, be quite so blinding, grinding, hot-spellbinding.

I feared wrong. Following closely in Nevins’ madcap footsteps, Nagy has nonetheless clearly hit his own stride. The proof, first & foremost, was in the pudding of pan-roasted Island Creek oysters,

NOoysterroast

a gorgeous glimpse of which got me so spasmodically jazzed I accidentally dipped my sleeve in the center shell before taking this pic. Then I deliberately dipped my face in the plate & shook it, you know, like a bachelor bashgoer at a stripper’s bosom.

Per Rowan Jacobsen’s handy-dandy Oyster Guide, Island Creeks are “salty as all get-out,” as well as firm, clean & buttery. Hear, hear to the latter trio, although these particular babies didn’t strike me as the former—& all the better for that, given that they sat atop dollops of house-deviled ham, which could have been overkill. Instead the combo was electrifying & soothing by turns as the flavor of what was called cucumber crème fraîche, but seemed to be paprika-spiked crème fraîche with squirts of cuke smoothie all round, percolated through. Truly a dish for the ages, along with Neptune’s other forever-&-a-day-worthy contributions to the canon: pickled beef tongue & fried oysters piled high with gruyère, sauerkraut & Russian dressing; short rib carpaccio piled higher with fried onion on a bed of garlic mayo–drizzled mâche; braised baby octopus over black polenta with slow-roasted tomatoes…

You see, for me, this tiny place inheres in reverie—sometimes, granted, as romantic as it is culinary (as an old Chowhound thread still embarrassingly reveals); the Director & I have spent countless hours there doing just what we did on this visit—reveling in each other’s boozy company & marveling at most every bite. Something about the misty aura—the etched glass & chalked-on mirrors, the marble & subway tiles, the embossed tin & ice-covered raw bar—invites rapt contemplation as much as the scattering of little gems like this yellowtail tartare with a salad of baby greens & sunchoke chips as well as daubs of ginger-pear vinaigrette—lovely accompaniments all, but then that hamachi could have come covered in mud & still sparkled through.

NOtartare

Would you believe this open-faced sardine sandwich was light?

NOsandwich

Well, okay, me neither. Not quite. But Nagy & crew (of 1 or 2 at most) certainly handled it more elegantly than most kitchens would or could, frying a fresh, hence just this side of mild, filet to a delicate gold, layering it along with a mound of frisée & a sunny-side-up egg onto a toasted slice of brioche & spooning round a maple-bacon vinaigrette that actually was a subtly flavored dressing, not a viscous mix of syrup & drippings.

Of course, we couldn’t leave before we’d sopped up Neptune’s superb, pickle-heavy tartar sauce with a few fried clams.

NOclams

Of course, we could hardly leave, period. Wistful backwards glance, bittersweet belly rub.

Neptune Oyster on Urbanspoon

KO KO: Bissonnette knocks us out (Boston)

Hitting KO Prime for the first time in a year, I came, I suspect, as close as I’ll ever come to celebrating the Saturnalia without actually traveling back in time to inhabit the body of a Roman slave, packing a week of howling, chest-pounding debauchery into an evening (that, granted, began around noon with lunch & cocktails at dante, continued with more cocktails at UpStairs on the Square & still more cocktails plus apps at Hungry Mother, & ended with a nightcap or two at No. 9 Park). As promised here—where the pics below of chef Jamie Bissonnette’s signature bone marrow & surely-soon-to-be-signature calves’ brains piperade (essentially a Basquaise sofrito, heavy on the peppers) 1st appeared—what follows is a montage that, I imagine, speaks for itself, albeit in a slur devolving into a series of grunts.

KOamuse

ceviche amuse

KOham

house-cured Bayonne ham, jamón ibérico & Cape Fear country ham with pickled lily stems & truffled aioli

KOmarrow

marrow strewn with pickled shallots over oxtail marmalade

KOseabass

pan-roasted sea bass over heirloom corn relish

KOtomatosalad

heirloom tomato salad with crottin (an aged goat cheese from Vermont) & a brushstroke of avocado

KObrains

delicious, creamy-as-pudding BRAINS sprinkled with fried capers

KOsteak

Kobe flatiron with grilled onions & romesco, professedly, though I remain confused by the profession; although almonds and stale bread are key in traditional recipes for the Spanish sauce, so are red peppers—sweet & dried chile—& tomato, & the color of the final product generally reflects as much.

KOsoup

lobster bisque with a touch of sauternes

KOdessert2

absolutely no recollection. cocoa-dusted cheesecake? semifreddo? with mint coulis?

KOdessert1

essentially a blueberry muffin top with chocolate gelato shaped like a daisy-sprouting egg. How adorably like the whole thing was transported in a time machine made out of a vinyl beanbag from the patchwork-filled kitchen of a free-love commune circa 1972 & not at all like something you could order in a postmillennial steakhouse & lounge is that? The sauce should spell out “war is not healthy for children & other living things.”

Dispatch: The Other Boston Marathon, continued

To pick up where we left off here: Actually, I wish they’d mixed crumbled bacon into the yolk mixture instead, though yumyum’s comment does endear them to me more. Otherwise they just seemed like fairly straightforward deviled eggs, not that that’s a bad thing. But the owners are cool, so I’m glad the place is beloved among people I belove, especially now that
I’ve read the justification for its goofy christening on the website. Next time I’ll have to have the warm tongue canapé.

But this time, I held that tongue, awaiting an imminent rendezvous with the reigning offal master: Jamie Bissonnette, chef at another of Oringer’s outposts, KO Prime. There we hit the variety-meat jackpot, tripe coiling into the coin return.

I’d never had bone marrow and it was really, really good. At least I remember these lovely bones standing end-up.

KOmarrow

Mostly, though, I remember that the bartender [the awesome Asher] reminded me of Andrew Novick, aka Karen Carpenter K-Sum, aka KC Kasum, and I spent probably way too much precious drinking time explaining the Warlock Pinchers to you.

Yes, thanks to your rambling, I know Novick now owns Denver Japanese novelty shop Gimme Gimme Pillow Toast—and speaking of toast, the marrow comes with some, atop dollops of oxtail marmalade.
Preposterously rich as that pairing may sound, marrow’s flavor’s always much
gentler, subtler than I’m expecting it to be—especially when it’s coming from
a big bad tattooed young gun who once told me he was just a redneck punk
rocker—but who’s in fact as thoughtful a chef as he is brazen, much like the
aforeworshipped Nevins. Mind you, this Bissonnette is a man who once served beef-heart
sliders to the swells at the grand opening of a jewelry store. We also had—among many, many other things (I’ll compose a photographic ode to this meal in a subsequent post)—the brains piperade, which tasted so like butter. Butter that was thinking. Butter that was thinking of iron flowers.

KObrains

So after KO Prime we tilted toward home and sleep. Immediately upon waking,
though, we wandered over to Scampo, which I think is in an old prison, no?

Um,
actually, after KO Prime we had a nightcap at No. 9 Park, where you killed some more people and painted their corpses. But then, yes, Scampo’s in the Liberty Hotel, which
was once the Charles Street Jail—hence the names of the bars on the premises, Alibi
and Clink. What a clever inside joke to make ex-cons feel welcome.

Well, they’d have felt comfortable with the service, all “here, we’ll throw you this tomato soup but you can’t have a spoon.” The burrata BLT was pretty damn good though;

Scampoblt1

I’d actually forgotten “wicked awesome” was a useful descriptor until speaking with the bartender.

Useful or just used? She meant well though, in fact we got a kick out of her snark, & the sandwich was lovely, as was my basil oil–speckled salade Niçoise—all I could stomach at this point. After all, we’re just offering the tiniest taste of all we tasted, a drop of what we sipped. Here’s a complete list:

Best Little Restaurant: the remainder of 3 family-style dishes plus our very own order of squab, 2–3 glasses of wine
Avenue One: 2 drinks each
Neptune Oyster: 2 glasses of wine each, 8 oysters split, 1 entree each. Oh, & a bowl of oyster crackers
banQ: 1 cocktail each, 2 appetizers split
Toro: 1 cocktail each, 1 small plate split
Kingston Station: 2 cocktails each, 1 sandwich each
dante: 4 cocktails each, 5 if you count the granitas (of which there were 3 to an order, so I guess that’s really 7);

Dantegranitas

3 entrees split


UpStairs on the Square
: 5 cocktails split. Had to show the Director the interior wackiness that is this Harvard Square fixture:

UpStairs1

UpStairs2

Hungry Mother: 1 cocktail each, 2 appetizers & 1 entree split. Oh, & those terrific little preacher cookies that come with the check—uncooked cubes of cocoa, oatmeal & ¡peanut butter!:

HMcookies

KO Prime: X drinks, X dishes—we lost count. Suffice it to say my original post title was a conservative estimate. (What’s more, I completely forgot until this moment that we were there 2 nights in a row, the 1st just for 1 cocktail each)
No. 9 Park: 1 cocktail each
Scampo: 1 cocktail each, 1 entree each
Then we went to that wedding where the barbecue was piled high & the booze flowed, followed by a send-off brunch. None of this counted in the estimate

& then there was Legal Sea Foods.

As a Bostonian, I could take or leave this sprawling local chain. It didn’t suck, in fact it had its merits—including a way-better-than-it-had-to-be wine list, thanks to its beverage czar, Wine Master Sandy Block—but it never felt special like my funky indie seafod faves. As a nostalgic Denverite, however, I found myself sheepishly thrilled to belly, oh so painfully literally, up to the Legal bar in Terminal B at Logan & order 1 last glass of wine (okay, 3)—

a lovely way to slant our way out of town

& 1 more kettle of fish, namely the really rather refreshing seafood antipasto with grilled shrimp & calamari, marinated clams & mussels, rolled slices of provolone & greens in a tomato vinaigrette. Does anyone ever describe tomato vinaigrette as anything but zesty? Not this one, I bet, & that’s a compliment.

Legalsalad

& that’s a wrap. Thanks to all who kept us going—9lives, yumyum, gini, niblet, MichaelB, heathermb, lissy, striperguy, Alcachofa, Francine, Honor, Kimberly, Tamara & Brock, Scott et al.

Dispatch: 3 days, 14 restaurants, 28 dishes, 32 cocktails, precious little memory (Boston)

Since neither of us remember much of our whirlwind tour through my old hometown, we’re knocking our heads together to shake out the bits & pieces. Meet, finally, the Director.

Ooof.

A man of few words but much insight. Unless he’s too drunk to see straight. Last night I woke up splayed, fully clothed in a silk sheath, across a hotel bed in Providence (the original purpose of our visit was the Rhode Island wedding of a dear friend & awesome mag editor) & looked around to find the Director conked out completely naked & upright in an armchair, remote control in hand.

Yes, well, that’s because I left Denveater for a tad to go tobacco hunting downtown and ended up wandering for a while around some late-night festival where the locals light the river that runs through town on fire. Eventually I got back to the room and knocked…and knocked…and knocked until the door opened, but not our door, the neighbors’ door, with a sleepy/cranky/crazy woman telling me to shut up, so I had to go back down to the reception desk and convince the clerks to give me another key to the room. When D says “across a hotel bed” what she really means is “leaving no room for the Director in bed who therefore must sleep in a chair.”

Whatever. So you’ve already gotten a small taste of Best Little Restaurant (ex-Ho Yuen Ting) the eve we arrived & a bigger taste of Neptune Oyster the morning after. Between the 2 were cocktails at Avenue One, a hotel bar boasting rather attractive arrangements of foliage—bamboo stalks & something that looked like a broccoli-Chia Pet hybrid & so on—but the opposite-of-boasting an enclosed patio that gini had heard might be kinda private, & was, insofar as “private” can be a euphemism for “no one wants to come here because it’s some chairs surrounded by cement.” Anyway, after that, the 1st place we hit was the unfortunately named but gorgeously appointed banQ in the South End (the Boston equivalent of the Highlands).

Let the debauchery begin. We had been told the night before not to expect too much, but I really liked this place, from the beautifully curved ceilings to the beautifully curved company. There was food, too.

Banq

Baby! It’s true, I have a mesmerizing parabola of a gut. Anyway, the eats were surprisingly fine, among them an appetizer from the seasonal Spice Menu, any order off of which is accompanied by take-home packets of spices. Delicately fried squash blossoms were stuffed with scallop mousse & perched atop cylinders of sundried-tomato pesto spiked with miso & cumin that, for all its punchiness, didn’t upstage the starring item; neither did dollops of sambal paste.

Banqsquash

From here we moved on to Toro, which I’m told is one of the favorites in the Ken Oringer empire. It’s a small-plates place with a not-small wait, unless you’re willing to shove yourself into a corner and fight the bar crowd.

Sadly, the absence of the freakishly talented former chef de cuisine John Critchley was palpable; these chicken wings, supposedly finished with rosemary brown butter, seemed mostly just smothered in duck sauce mixed with catsup or something. It was partly my fault, as I wanted to try something new instead of introducing the Director to neoclassics like the salt-cod fritters with fried lemon rings & grilled corn with squiggled aioli & crumbled cojita.

Torowings

They were the low point of the trip, I’ll admit. All the better reason to head on over to Kingston Station for a drink I’d never had.

That drink would be absinthe, done right with a sugar cube & a water back.

KSabsinthe

Yeah, and it was good, but I liked it more for the processes involved than the taste: lighting the sugar on fire and waiting for it to melt into the drink, slowly pouring water over the remaining sugar and ice until the drink turns a cloudy, pale green. I was really hoping that I’d go instantly crazy and kill someone or paint something cool but neither happened so I switched to scotch.

Actually, you did both. You painted the corpse of the sucker you blasted while I picked at my tuna burger, underseasoned & hence, even despite a smear of wasabi mayo, unfortunately lost between the halves of its oversized bun like one of those skinny fellows getting squeezed between 2 fat ladies in red dresses & hats with daisies sticking up until his spectacles pop off in an old cartoon.

KStuna

Good, crispy, salty hand-cut chips though. Anyway, you came to the next day over lunch at the lovely dante,

Dante

where we had a steak the size & shape of a Sasquatch footprint.

Dantesteak

Ah, yes, but before that arrived we had alcoholic slushies and no fewer than four cocktails. Per person. Four.

So we did. (Which reminds me, in case anyone’s wondering how that diet I mentioned a few weeks back is going—not so well.) The steak was proper, charred on the surface & pink within, but the best part was the veggies it came with—spinach and chanterelles sauteed to a golden-green shimmer in olive oil and accompanied by gorgonzola cream, so you could mix and match all these earthy flavors and textures.

Dantemushrooms

At this point things started to get fuzzy for me, which was bad because it was only about 1:30 in the afternoon. We next headed to a place called Hungry Mother whose deviled eggs I had heard about and desperately wanted. They were delish, with little sails of bacon poking up in the middle. I could have eaten a dozen (the Whistler understands). “Sails” is the menu’s description, not mine. I didn’t think it looked like a sail at all, just like bacon sticking up.

HMeggs

Bacon sticking up always makes for a good stopping place.

***TO BE CONTINUED***

Topping the roster: Neptune Oyster (Boston)

Melancholy descended before we did. Though Denver is not yet my home, one glimpse of the skyline from the plane window confirmed that Boston no longer can be.

Not that melancholy isn’t its own form of joy. Especially under the spectacular circumstances: the Director & I shot straight from Logan into Chinatown & The Best Little Restaurant, where we caught the tail end of a raucous party of dear old friends from chowhound.com, who plied us with leftovers—unbelieveable fried squab (is a pigeon just 1 big liver? Something of that rich iron savor seems to suffuse every inch of its flesh), eaten with squeezes of lemon & sprinkles of salt & pepper from a finger bowl; braised duck; deep-fried garlic spare ribs—& whom we plied in turn with booze until the movements of at least 1 of us began to resemble those of some sort of cross between a squid & a corpse. & I’m relieved to say for once it wasn’t me. As far as I recall.

From there we hit the poshest sack I ever did hit: the apartment of 1 said hound, whose terrace affords (definitely the right word for it) a nonpareil view of much of Boston proper & its landmarks—the Pru & the Citgo sign beyond the Common to the west, the capitol dome & the brownstones of Beacon Hill to the north—

Capitol

Boston

while the couch afforded an even more stunning view of Sam, landmark of his own domain, totally as wide as he is tall:

Sam

Next morning, after coffee on his freakin’ great yacht, moored at Commercial Wharf on the harbor, the same hound showed us his lobster traps

Trap

which were however filled with crabs, apparently too small for good eating, so he stabs them with a nail & makes bait of them. This one made a break for it to no avail. Hypocrite that I am as an insatiable carnivore, I couldn’t watch but I think the Director couldn’t not.

Crab2

& then it was time to meet yumyum for lunch at the eatery that I will forever hold dear above all others: Neptune Oyster.

The moment I crossed the threshold of Jeff Nace’s wee seafooder in the North End 3 years ago, all of a block & a half from my then-apartment, I knew it would be my place—clean & well-lighted indeed, from the pressed-tin ceilings & the subway tiles to the etched glass & the mirrors lettered with the names of the oysters of the day—

NO1

NO2

which are also listed, complete with the most charmingly precise tasting notes (Katama Bay, MA: “briny, buttered popcorn finish”; Kumamoto, WA: “plump, creamy, hints of cucumber”) on the slips of paper on which they record your order—& the Director & I record our memories of each visit:

Photo 20

What I didn’t yet know is that my place, low-key & laidback as it appeared, would introduce to me a chef whose culinary style was so startlingly bold & intelligent as well as just plain fun as to be, I dare say, absolutely original in a field where most so-called creations are really just reactions, variations. David Nevins has made many of the best dishes I’ve had in my life: a salad of salt cod & crispy lamb with parsnip puree; smoked salmon mousse with roe, kiwano melon & horseradish croutons; above all those unforgettable fried oysters with pickled beef tongue, gruyère, sauerkraut & Russian dressing—which, for me, truly expanded the horizon of a single plate—& on & on.

4 of the last 5 meals I had before moving to Denver were at Neptune; so genuinely broken up was I about saying goodbye that it wasn’t until I heard Nevins had left to open his own place—Osetra in Norwalk, CT—that I could genuinely say I’d done the right thing by moving halfway across the country to be with the love of my life. Sure, the Director’s my soulmate, but Nevins was my soulchef.

I trusted, however, Nace’s savvy, & imagined he’d hire someone who’d follow in Nevins’ footsteps—however wildly, wonderfully all over the place they may be.

& so he has, though I can’t say from 1 meal this Nate Nagy fellow is quite Nevins’ equal.

NObass2

On the flavor spectrum, the Director’s pan-seared bass with succotash & a mussel vinaigrette (they were out of the razor clams they usually use) ranged from bright to brighter.

NOoctopus

Octopus salad with fennel, green apple & citrus sparkled too; still, I couldn’t help but dream of how Nevins’ version might have looked (especially given that the menu at his new place boasts a braise of octopus with chicken, of all things. Another dish combines caviar & bone marrow. The mind boggles).

NOtrout

Cornmeal-crusted fried trout & crab hush puppies with blueberry brown butter & parsnip puree was the most like it, veering from sweet to salty & back again.

As always, we were treated with tender care by servers highly seasoned for their youth; complimentary welcome-back glasses of brachetto d’acqui ended the meal, & we knew they wouldn’t be the last. Neptune will always be my first Boston stop, if never again my home away from home.