…on the way to Thanksgiving in Maine
Since son Brian moved to Southern France six years ago, we’ve met in Europe for our family get-togethers – except for son Eric’s 40th birthday in 2004, celebrated in New Hampshire and Maine. This year, it was great to get reacquainted with Boston friends and spend Thanksgiving with friends and family in Maine.
We touched down in Boston about six o’clock Friday and checked into the Millennium Bostonian Hotel, tired and hungry. If you’ve lived in Boston, you don’t return to Boston without dinner at Legal Seafood. We didn’t even take the time to unpack before walking through Faneuil Hall Marketplace to State Street and across the “Big Dig” park. It was plenty cold for us Californians – about 25 degrees – but we were comfortable in our saved Boston overcoats… until we turned the corner onto State Street and the wicked wind cut through our woolens like a serving spoon through soufflé. The lights of Legal warmed our soul and a few steps later; the blast of warmth from the vestibule took care of our bodies – quickly followed by a Macallan and Manhattan, which provide their own kind of heat.
Sooner than expected, we were escorted from the bar, through the busy and cheerful dining room to our table. We ordered the quintessential Legal Seafood antipasto: cup o’ chowdahbucket o’ steamers and , to be dipped in broth and/or melted butter before dropping the morsel in to one’s mouth, open like a baby bird’s, to receive it. Yum. That’s livin’.
As entrees I had the Scrod and Carol a big ol’ Crab Cake. What a lovely welcome to New England.
My morning routine when traveling is to leave the room early for a wake up walk and find some coffee to take back to the room.
I walked around Faneuil Hall Marketplace in the sunny, crisp and cold morning – recalling the early 70s when I was project architect for FHM as an Associate at Benjamin Thompson Associates – and stopped for coffee in the Quincy Market Building.
The view from our 7th floor hotel room presented a panorama of the North End – Boston’s Italian ghetto – beyond a linear park where the tangle of steel comprising the Central Artery used to be before the Big Dig. Closer, at the base of the hotel, the Haymarket was beginning its day.
Boston’s Haymarket is the place where Bostonians shop for cheap meat, fish and produce in the daylight hours of Friday and Saturday, rain or shine, every week of the year. It’s a colorful and authentic market with shelter appropriate to the season thrown up helter skelter.
We had breakfast in the Hotel – didn’t know what else to do… didn’t see a breakfast place on my walk. Your basic hotel breakfast, convenient, overpriced and okay, would suffice. We’ll have to find a suitable breakfast place.
We were scheduled to have lunch with Tom Green – a colleague at BTA. We walked through Government Center and up over Beacon Hill to meet him and see his apartment at 41 Beacon Street before he moves to Maine after the new year.
Once over the top of the hill the sun radiated from the stately Beacon Hill houses to our right, the Boston Common tumbling down to the Frog Pond across the street where kids were ice skating. It couldn’t have been more lovely. Of course Tom’s apartment is fabulous, very modern and comfortable, filled with impeccably tended plants and first quality art – his partner, David, owned a gallery in Provincetown for many years – that brings a calm beauty to the place. Unfortunately, one must climb 79 steps from the street, a fact that will cause him to move after over 40 years in the city. But that’s for another story.
We walked down to Charles Street for lunch at Beacon Hill Bistro on Charles, a charming and cozy place.
I had the Onion Soup, with a Ham Slice on the side, good bread and butter, a perfect warming lunch on our first cold day in ages. After, Tom took us a block further up Charles to the Liberty Hotel, a very cool renovation of the Charles Street Jail, once the most decrepit, filthy, overcrowded jail in the state. Holy cellblock Batman! its now an upscale hotel with two first class restaurants.
It was an easy subway ride to Boston’s new Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA), designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro, cutting edge architects.
We had a limited time in Boston, so we scheduled tightly, wanting to see folks whose kids grew up with our kids… people that we’ve seen rarely or not at all since we moved to San Francisco.
Carol and Tod picked us up at the hotel and took us to the Leather District for dinner at Les Zygomates. Carol did retail leasing for FHM and our kids were high school friends.
The Leather District is a small but growing sub-neighborhood between Chinatown and the Financial District. Located between Dewey Square and Kneeland Street, the Leather District is a nine-block area noted for its 19th century brick warehouse structures. These historic buildings were constructed primarily during the 1880s, with a design focused on efficient and economic manufacturing. The leather industry and related wholesalers required space for display, offices and work areas, thus, huge, ground floor display windows don these buildings, set in sturdy cast iron columns – a unique signature of the Leather District.
In the 1980s and 1990s, the Leather District grew as a mixed-use area, filled by a variety of commercial and residential tenants. Restaurants and shops fill the high ceilinged ground floors, while loft condos occupy the upper floors. (Boston Redevelopment Authority blurb)
Up a few iron steps, Les Zygomates is comprised of two large rooms separated by an enclosed staircase. A jazz band was doing its business on one side to the delight of a comfortably filled room, but we chose the quieter dining room, as we had a few years of catching up to do.
Our first courses were House Salads and a Goat Cheese and Beet Salad.
When eating out, I like to order things I don’t or can’t make at home, so I chose a first course of Pate Maison and a main course of Tournedos. The others enjoyed Sole, Braised Short Rib and Roasted Rabbit. Les Zygomates has a location in Paris, as well, and the influence is palpable. Our waiter was strong, opinionated, helpful and especially attentive at the right times and we left having savored a special dining experience.
After inquiring with the hotel concierge, we learned that there are no good breakfast places around our area. So I went on my morning coffee walk to Dunkin’ Donuts, a Boston original that by now has wildly expanded just as Starbucks exploded from its Seattle roots. I ordered “a medium coffee, to go,” only to discover – back in the hotel room – that that meant “cream and sugar” to the Dunkin’ Donuts folks. I can’t drink such adulterated coffee, so I went back. I told them that what I wanted was a medium size cup of black coffee. “But you ordered ‘medium coffee,’ in these parts, that’s medium cream and sugar,” the counterman said. From my Boston days, I knew that “regular coffee” meant with cream and sugar. Oh well.
Bobbie and Paul – once fellow Newton Highlanders – came from Newport, Rhode Island and picked us up for brunch. They emailed that we would be going to Pomodoro in the North End. There’s a chain called Pomodoro in San Francisco – used to be Pasta Pomodoro – we’re hoping it’s not that.
Decidedly not, it’s a tiny place on Hanover Street with 16 seats, a charming hostess, and an interesting menu, but they don’t do brunch. Paul was upset, but I thought the menu was so good…who needs eggs?
We started with the Pomodoro Antipasti – featuring New England seafood as well as salumi. We decided to share dishes and Paul insisted that I order.
Seafood Fra Diavolo served with linguini. Yum.
Tuscan Beans served with penne. More Yum.
The food was simple and tasted as good as it looked.
What a great choice of restaurant.
We got a tiny tour of the North End as we went to find the car after. We could have easily walked back to our hotel, but we didn’t know that.
Sunday afternoon slipped by in the warmth of our room – in front the Patriots Dolphins game on our big TV – while we worked our way through the Boston Globe and New York Times.
The Riverside Line of Boston’s T to Eliot Station was familiar territory, even though 15 years has passed since I last rode it. I wanted to walk by our house at 48 Harrison Street, but it was cold and dark and we didn’t know if the short cut was still at the end of Harrison, so we stuck to the streets.
We had drinks at Hope and Dewey’s house. Hope and Carol were partners at The Preschool Experience for 15 years. With that kind of history, words poured like wine, through the hors d oeuvres, in the car to Newton Highlands and on into the restaurant.
They chose 51 Lincoln, a newish chef-driven restaurant in the space occupied by Cantin’ Abruzzi – a red Italian place – in our day. It had a spare, comfortable look and super good food, presented artfully, but food like.
I started with the Butter Lettuce Salad with Roasted Beets. The lettuce leaves were loosely stacked on one side of the plate and sprinkled with walnut halves through the stack. On the other side of the plate, a stack of sliced, roasted beets. The dish was dressed with a blood orange vinaigrette, and a tube of spiced mayonnaise. This is what I call a “good idea” dish… simple ingredients, exquisitely presented… one just has to think of it.
We shared an order of Fried Calamari… your basic fried calamari with a very light batter. It was accompanied with a light honey mustard sauce and tomato jam. THAT was great! I asked how to make the tomato jam – fresh tomato, sugar, pepper. It was jammy with a few pieces of tomato and tasted very fresh. How do they do that in Newton in November? (I tried it with some very late early girls when I got home. Needed work… I’ll revisit in the summer.)
My main course was another appetizer, Charcuterie Platter. A thin slice each of beef, pork and duck pate, served with long hand-cut toasts, cornichons and grainy mustard. It was all I could have hoped for. Carol had the Saffron and Shrimp Risotto.
That was a very fine restaurant experience… beautiful, imaginative and tasty, with just the right portions.
Marge – a former neighbor – met us at our hotel and we walked through the North End to Pizzeria Regina for lunch. (note the Italian flag in the parked car.)
The walk was fun, due in a great part to the beautiful, sunny day. We shared a lovely Sausage and Mushroom Pizza and it was just right, tasty thin crust with the proper amount of tomato sauce and cheese, not overburdened by the sausage and mushrooms. Was it better than Amici’s East Coast Pizzeria in San Francisco? Well… DUH… Amici’s is a decent copy of Regina, but a copy, nonetheless… and it can’t begin to match the atmosphere of Pizzeria Regina’s North End location. (Pizzeria Regina has other locations in Boston, which can’t match their North End location, either.)
With no plans and no guests for dinner, we headed toward the North Street Grille, a burger joint in the North End, for a change o’ pace. Well, that was closed on Monday. A few doors beyond, I saw a bright sign, HOT TOMATOES. I loved the audacity of the sign, so I walked in and asked the waitress if we should eat there. She grinned and said, “Yeah, you should,” with another grin and a wink. She had me at the first grin of her gamin face behind clear-framed glasses.
Another pizza joint, but it had some charm. A storefront room with about six plain wooden tables with wooden chairs – about half occupied – and an open kitchen in the back defined the restaurant. One waitress, Sam, and one guy in the kitchen were there to serve us. My Pepperoni Calzone came with a big bowl of chunky HOT TOMATOES sauce for dipping. Yum. Carol had what she always has, the Ruben, with lots of hot corned beef.
Through our banter with Sam, we discovered a couple from Newton Highlands and a couple from San Francisco and had a good old time. Small world. We went home in the crisp, clear evening with joy on our faces and in our bellies.
The next morning as we packed, it was pouring rain. We took a taxi to South Station to catch our 11 o’clock bus. After days of sunshine, it rained hard during our entire ride to Belfast.
Sounds like a terrific trip! My mouth is watering…(looks like you had spectacular weather as well).