August 11, 2004
Outrageously Cheap Tasty Local Restaurants
The Barking Crab
The name alone begs for fannish notice. Come home with a souvenir T-shirt that rivals Baltimore Worldcon's "I've got crabs" T-shirt souvenir. Located on Sleeper Street on the Boston waterfront, around the corner from Rowes Wharf, over the antique Northern Avenue pedestrian bridge and across the street from the New Federal Courthouse. Closest T stop is Aquarium (Blue Line) or South Station (Red Line) so far; sorry, Silver Line, the closest, is not slated to open until December 2004. On #7 bus line from South Station or Downtown Crossing area. Features fresh crabs, lobsters, clams, mussels, calamari, swordfish, clam chowda, and a goodly beer and cider collection. Menu features daily specials like red snapper, cod, lobster roll. Check out their New England Clam Bake, complete with lobsta or crab, corn on the cob, corn bread, mussels or steamers (local clams). The harbor view isn't bad either. Dinner is at huge communal wooden tables and benches (perfect for large groups of fen) in the traditional New England shore shack mode. Many dinners also feature a live band and no cover charge. The crowd is a cross-section of business and convention attendees, the college-age crowd, families with kids, big dig workers, band groupies, and visiting sailors (Navy and otherwise). They are also open until at least 11 p.m. on weekdays and until 2 a.m. on weekends. [Editor's note: I would call this moderately priced rather than "outrageously cheap", but I agree with the rest of the recommendation.]
Located a bit farther down Northern Avenue at Fish Pier (just beyond the sea cruise line terminal at the World Trade Center), this simple no-nonsence place located upstairs in the middle of the right-hand building has a great selection of fried or broiled seafood. The waitrons are a bit brusque, but the good food and cheap prices more than make up for it. [Editor's note: And if you can get a seat by one of the few windows, you can watch the seagulls trying to get at the crates of fish as the fishing boats are unloaded. Great entertainment!]
The Daily Catch
Three locations: in the New Federal Courthouse building on Northern Avenue (great waterfront view), Hanover Street in the North End (locale is a bit too hot and cramped on a summer day for some), and at Harvard Street (main cross street, nearer to Commonwealth Avenue in Allston Village, just west of Boston University). Italian-style seafood is their specialty, no frills. Featured foods: calamari in tomato and hot pepper sauce, squid ink pasta with clam sauce, catch of the day, swordfish specialty. Staff is attentive, but you may feel rushed, since locations (except Allston) are a bit small and the lines long. [Editor's note: I would call this moderately priced rather than "outrageously cheap", but I agree with the rest of the recommendation.]
This Harvard Square icon on Mass. Avenue (just south of the center of Harvard Square, near a lot of excellent book stores) offers a large and very tasty variety of burgers, many named after local and national political and comic celebrities. The place also features veggie burgers that are good. Burgers are huge, and home-made condiments at the table make them even better. Fries, fried fried sweet potatoes, and fried onion rings are superb. Good drink choices: the lime rickeys and the local milkshakes (called frappes in the Bay State; don't order a "milk shake," or what arrives at your table is this watered down, tasteless concoction which will have you running for the powder room). The one down side: this place features NO REST ROOM (really no frills), unless the back alley is your WC of choice. The local hotels and some of the book stores and theatres have "facilities" if "roughing it the natural way" is not to your liking. Seating is also a bit cramped; singles sit at the communal table, which is actually less cramped than their regular seating. On warm days, there is also some outside seating. Check out the political lampoons hanging on all the walls and ceilings, especially if you are one of the ones who confused Boston 2004 with Boston 04 and arrived more than a month after the DNC, feel lonely for the concurrent RNC events going on down in NYC, or are a bemused independent, libertarian or other pol member getting a giggle at Election Year. Loads of fun - as long as nature doesn't call!
The Chinatown Food Court
Love Chinese but don't have a huge pocketbook? Try out this neighborhood food court with booth after booth of Chinese and Japanese specialties located at the corner of Beach Street and Harrison Avenue (near Orange Line Chinatown, Green Line Boylston Street or Silver Line near the New England Medical Center/Floating Hospital stop). While there is no dim sum here, there are a variety of noodle dishes, rice dishes, Pho soups with meat, fish, and body parts that are highly-prized in the far east (that you probably don't want to ask about), and pu-pu platter items. Vendors change periodically, but the food is always good, plentiful, and cheap. Downstairs, there is also a Chinese apothecary, if fannish visitors are are into herbal and holistic medicines.
Dim Sum Places in Chinatown
There are a variety of excellent places in Chinatown (wedged between Downtown Crossing, the waterfront, and south Boston) that feature incredible Dim Sum, snack-like portions of Chinese food specialties such as: pork dumplings, mussels or clams in black bean sauce, chicken feet, tripe, shrimp cakes or dumplings, pork rolls or dumplings, sticky rice with Chinese condiments, bitter green cake, soups - a virtual exotic buffet of choices. The dessert custards are out of this world good as are the sesame sticky bubs and the coconut or mango pudding; steer clear of the jello desserts, which taste of food dye and have a plasticy after-taste. (Or alternately, stop by one of the many near-by sit-down Chinatown bakeries for a slurp of fresh soy milk and a piping hot from the oven Chinese pastry, custard, or moon cake). Dim sum venues that are particularly good are China Pearl (Tyler Street, open for dinner as well as the traditional 10 am - 3 pm hour), Dynasty, and Chow Chau City. A number of new places are opening up as this is being written, so other locals may have other recommendations. These places seat parties at huge tables, so this is good for large fannish groups who can split selections for lower cost between them. Food is obtained either via roving staff in different carts or via a hot table that one goes to with menu voucher in hand for stamping. Some staff, universally pleasant and accommodating, speak English and some not, but pointing usually works when all else fails. Fare is amazingly cheap and incredibly tasty. Be sure to ask for chrysanthemum or flower tea; the usual jasmine or black tea offerings are fresh-brewed and very good, but this variety is special for that very special convention occasion. A person in a small group can eat large for under $20.00; in a large group, the price of the meal may be $10 - $15. MMmmmmm Good!
-- Sally Mayer
August 09, 2004
Outrageously Expensive Gourmand Restaurants
Having reviewed all of the cheap eats in the Hub, here is a list of the outrageously gourmet high-end restaurants. If you want the best of the best of Boston fine dining while at the Noreascon4, check out this very savory short list that will launch you to the Moon and back several times over. Just put it on the credit card, don't think about the price, and worry about paying off the installments later. These places are SO worth it! The pleasure list begins immediately following this intro. Fasten your safety belts, put your seats into the upright position, open mouth, and initiate launch sequence to Phood Phantasyland..... This is science fiction, where everything is possible.
No. 9 Park
Located at Park Street, just below the State House (Herr Mitt's digs) and Beacon Street, this unassuming little place has some of the most amazing food in Boston. Choose from the fancier restaurant or the more casual café, which still has a breath-takingly-good menu. Cuisine is inventive American done in reasonable portions, including seafood, meat, veggie dishes derived from seasonably-available items. Service is very attentive and the martinis and other exotic drinks good. Desserts are not your mother's tried and true, but inventive combinations or great ingredients. Their chocolate flight is particularly good. The crowd is great fun as well.
French cuisine collides with Indian cuisine, and oh what what a lovely result. The place is located in an old Boston Bank building (historical tiling and vault accoutrements are still on view in the downstairs level near the restrooms and private dining area) on Temple Street, off of Tremont Street and one block over from Winter Street. It is at the end of the block, closest to the Macy's and Lafayette Place Complex. Closest MBTA is Green Line Park Street, Silver Line Temple Street stop, or Orange/Red Line Downtown Crossing. The restrooms themselves have a startling and hilarious secret practical joke for every visiting customer. Start with the pomegranite martini (you'll want 2), then try one of the light appetizers. Meals are inventive French, Indian or combo with a few other cuisine crossovers. The fannish phantom gourmet has tried nearly everything on the menu and reports nothing bad discovered yet. In between coarses, the staff tempts the palette with a tasty tidbit to melt in your mouth. Dessert is also a multi-cultural adventure; even if it sounds awful, try it. The pastry chef knows what she's doing. The crowd comes home happy every time. If you wish to stay over later into the evening, Mantra becomes a lively night club for the young and professional with good live entertainment.
So good it's almost impossible to get a reservation, so book very early. Located at 90 Tremont Street between Park Street (Green Line) and Government Center (Green/Blue Line) and not far from State Street (Blue/Orange Line). Located in a very swank boutique hotel. Features steaks, chops, fish all done with great sauces in an upscale atmosphere. Desserts are to die for, and drink menu good and lengthy. A once in a lifetime experience.
Located in Boston's South End on Tremont Street. Closest MBTA #43 Bus (leaves from Park Street Station, Cyclorama - Dartmouth Street stop), Silver Line (Washington Street stop at Union Park, walk 1 block north to Tremont Street) or Orange Line (Back Bay stop, walk south 4 - 5 blocks on Dartmouth Street until you get to Tremont Street). Fresh American ingredients make for some wonderful cuisine. Great things happen to game, seafood, and vegetables here. Wine list is very extensive and desserts are great. The Dalai Lama was spotted here last fall; other celebs may be seen here as well.
Located in Boston's South End on Tremont Street, a block or so west from Hamersley's. This place was voted one of Boston's Best Brunches as well as having great French bistro cuisine at other times. Start with a Lillet cocktail, a fabulous martini, or one of their many excellent wines. Everything from cassoulet to fish to their medium-rare filet is excellent. Top it off with a divine French dessert. Heaven doesn't get any better than this place.
Sel de la Terre
South of France cuisine from Provence is featured at this swank little venue located right across the street from the Aquarium (Blue Line) MBTA stop and only a short walk from the southeast corner of Fanuiel Hall Marketplace. Our Fannish Phantom Gourmet adores eating in the more interestingly-decorated bar. Start with one of the creative home-brewed martini concoctions, or sample from the long wine list. Suggested start: one of their paté plates, a soup, or any special pastry appetizer. The meals come with the place's other hit: their bread basket; skip the Atkins self-denial this week and sample the plain brioche, olive bread, date bread, or grained bread to your heart's content. Then try one of
their many day-boat fish specials or a cut of succulent filet de boeuf, or their daily vegan specialty. Finish with their sorbets, a peach tartin, artesanal cheese plate, or sinfully-rich desserts au chocolats and sip of cognac or port. This place was just voted Best French Restaurant for the second year in a row and is so good that restauranteurs flock here to dine on their off hours. Ooh la la, la la!
If you are feeling very venturesome, try out this nifty Charlestown locale located right at City Square (take the #92 or #93 bus from Haymarket station, get off at the first stop just over the bridge and cross the pocket park to the front door), or take the $1.25 ferry from Long Wharf (at Aquarium, across from the T stop), cross the length of the Navy Yard (taking a bow to USS Constitution along the way), proceed uphill, cross the main avenue (Chelsea Street) to the pocket park, and go as before. The meal starts with a dish of gourmet olives scented with flavored olive oil and the most delightful focaccia on the planet. Then choose from the many creative soups or appetizers, or proceed on to the many gourmet fish or meat dishes or try a pasta. Olives has two signature desserts, which are a "must try" that need to be ordered at the beginning of the meal: vanilla bean soufflé with crême anglaise (so light it melts in your mouth and floats away) or the molten choclate lava cake (a semi-sweet chocolate orgasm oozing with the yummiest, gooiest warm chocolate center know to creation. Other desserts are good too, but these rock, big-time! If you missed the last boat back to Long Wharf and the buses run less often when you leave, the walk over the ancient metal swivel bridge (with the cool scifi sound effect over the midsection, great for those fen looking for cool sound FX) to the North Station MBTA will help with your digestion.
Located in Harvard Square on Holyoke Street, just off of Mass Avenue near the Harvard Square MBTA stop (Red Line), this little jewel of a place features Alsatian French cuisine. Start with a refreshing vintage from the wine bar accompanied by escargots simmering in fennel-garlic sauce, a flammekuch (Alsation thin-crust pizza), or a refreshing salad. Then, pick an entré from a variety of fish dishes, viandes, or occasional vegan offerings (chef's specials are usually a good bet). Desserts feature a variety of mousses, tarts, or an artesanal cheese plate and are best accompanied by one of the many excellent dessert wines.
Bon appetit to all of those true gourmand food affciando fen! Don't forget to reserve early for reservations at any of these. (No maalox needed afterwards for any of these gems.)
-- Sally Mayer
Exotic Boston Cuisine
(Yes, we DO have exotic food in Boston):
Addis Red Sea (Ethiopian) - Tremont Street, South End (take #43 bus from Park Street Station to Cyclorama stop near Dartmouth Street) (Eat at authentic woven tables, listen to to authentic regional music, savor authentic dishes served by staff in authentic costumes. Spicy food is consumed with hands using injera bread (for the real deal experience, request the brown grain Ethiopian variety, not the white variety that is dumbed down for the hypersensitive American palate). Good bets: the rare beef dish, the vegetarian sampler, Tej Honey Wine and the Ethiopian red wines. Beer is NOT the best bet here. The next best thing to a trip across the galaxy.
Tibetan Café - Central Square, Cambridge on Magazine Street (between Mass Avenue and Green Street). Authentic Mongolean dishes, spicy beef, noodles. The beer and wines are very different. Indiana Jones could approve.
Green Street Café - Green Street, Cambridge, just across the street from the the #47 bus stop near the Central Square MBTA Station. Authentic Jamaican Jerk Cuisine, spicy goat meat dishes, conch with fruit compote. Live reggae and jazz on some nights.
Jumbo Seafood - 5 Hudson Street, Boston (in Chinatown). Chinese variety with an emphasis on exotic seafood such as abalone, shark's fin, sea urchin, oysters, jellyfish as well as the more prosaic for those in your party who are not into the exotic. They also have some fish specialties that resemble gagh (fictional Klingon specialty). Also features shrimp, scallops, beef, chicken and vegan fare. Good for group culinary explorations.
Lala Rokh - Turkish, 97 Mt. Vernon Street, just off of Charles Street (great hangout for Kerry fans exploring Beacon Hill). Tagines, soups, appetizers. Unique wine and beer selections.
Tangierino - Moroccan, located in Charlestown, 83 Main Street. Sample tartare tuna, foie gras, calamari, bedouin salad, and harira at its best. This new place, decorated in the very finest Arabian furnishings, is fit for the pickiest fannish belly dancer afficianados.
Bob the Chef's - Soul Food, Columbus Avenue, near Mass Avenue, in Boston's South End. Accessible on foot from the Sheraton-Hynes convention area or by the #1 bus that runs along Mass Avenue (get it at Hynes-Auditorium and along Mass Avenue). Black-eyed peas, chitlens, fried chicken, collard greens, some cajun. Certain evenings and for Sunday brunch, there is live soul, blues and jazz.
The Wine Bar (Fondue) - 30 Mass Avenue, a short walk along Mass Avenue (in the direction of MIT) from the Sheraton, Boston. Fondue - plain, fishy, crabby, Italian-style, and ostrich (yes, ostrich! tastes like beef filet but low in cholesterol). Check out the chocolate dessert fondue, a great fannish group activity. The ultimate fannish group eating activity. Yum!
Casa Romero - Spanish and Mexican, 30 Gloucester Street (entry behind at alley and down a set of stairs near Newbury Street, Boston). Variety of Spanish cuisine, including excellent ceviche, meats, salads, tapas. Great sangria (the real deal, not the dumbed-down Yankee variety that you get most places). Open for weekend bruch, too. Not your usual Sunday brunch
Bricco - Italian, beginning of Hanover Street (North End), Boston. Great unusual gourmet dishes. Pasta dishes with a twist. Kobe beef filet (house special, market price - be warned, it's high, so you might wish to share, but it is SO worth it for this special treat), zucchini buds with field greens and toasted ricotta cheese. Superb martinis and outstanding wine list.
-- Sally Mayer
Book Your Dining On-Line
A lot of places seem to get booked out way far ahead of time, especially on holiday weekends like Labor Day. www.opentable.com will let you book up to a month in advance (unless a particular restaurant says otherwise). Open Table, connected with the Boston Visitors and Convention Bureau and similar local city hospitality services in other cities, is a free service. All you have to do to sign up is give your name and email. You get 300 points for signing up and additional points for making and consummating a restaurant reservation. When you get 1,000 points, you qualify for a dining discount coupon worth some percentage off the dining bill.
To use it, just select your date, time, city, neighborhood (optional), price points (optional), and ethnic or other food variety (optional) from the scroll-down lists to see what is available. Make your selection, confirm your selection, and either print out your receipt now (or later) or wait for your email receipt to come closer to the booked event. This is a great service, especially for those hard-to-book places in Boston like Spire and Tangeirino.
For those located in the Boston Metro area who are around prior to N4, there is a special event taking place from 23 - 27 August called Restaurant Week. Special prix-fix lunches are available at $20.04 and special prix-fixe dinners are available for $30.04 (excluding tax, tip, and alcoholic beverages, unless otherwise advertised under the specials section). Some of the participating restaurants like Upstairs at the Square are extending their Restaurant Week special meals through 9/4/2004 (the beginning of N4).
-- Sally Mayer