Eating Through the Northeast
The pleasures of these five cities are in what you can eat and drink, as well as what you can see.
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Boston: The Big Dig-In
Boston, our Cradle of Liberty, is also the site of the Big Dig, which has revitalized the city and opened previously hard-to-access areas, notably the Seaport, to rediscovery and development. Driving up one Friday in late winter, we set our GPS for the luxurious new InterContinental Boston, on the waterfront at the gateway to the Seaport. Itself home to Boston’s only 24/7 brasserie Miel and the trendy Sushi-Teq (-uila), it was an ideal base for our own Big Eat.
We’d decided to crisscross the city sampling new and old, so after checking in we cabbed over to new Boston Public, an Asian-accented steak restaurant in Back Bay. Here we happily lunched on creative starters (sweet potato soup with pumpkin-seed oil, organic beet-and-goat-cheese salad) and big beef (half-pound Kobe burgers) in a stylish space carved out of a piece of old Boston, the landmark Louis Boston (formerly Bonwit Teller) building.
Another day, we’d tarry over our silky- smooth Boston cheesecake and our view of chichi Newbury Street, but we were exploring Boston’s food scene and next up was South End Formaggio, a gourmet shop filled with cheeses from round the world (and cheesy samples), unusual wines, vinegars, oils, etc. Between the shop’s savvy staff and encyclopedic labels we got an education in formaggio plus. No doubt, if we were locals, we’d be regulars.
Ditto for our nearby dinner destination, Icarus. In naming his restaurant, chef-owner Chris Douglass focused on the risk-taking, not the melting, part of the Icarus myth—opening a fine-dining restaurant in the then seedy South End in 1978 was risky business indeed. Today the South End is a restaurant mecca and Icarus remains an area favorite. We loved the updated classic fare, much locally sourced—grilled shrimp with mango and jalapeño sorbet, polenta with exotic braised mushrooms, sautéed salmon with blood orange beurre blanc—also the romantic, rosy dining room (with a statue of Icarus taking wing) and Friday night jazz.
Saturday we’d planned breakfast at the popular Paramount on Beacon Hill, but it was snowing so . . . new plan. Fortunately, 24/7 Miel (French for honey, a leitmotif here) offers a lavish weekend breakfast buffet ($24), complete with heavenly brioche French toast, charming Provençal decor and soothing water views.
Once the skies cleared we were off to graze in the city’s Italian North End, starting at newbie Neptune Oyster Bar, where the oysters and the lobster roll (Connecticut style, with melted butter) were beyond fresh—the lobster had just come in! From there we walked over to Pizzeria Regina, which claims to be New England’s oldest pizzeria, est. 1926. We expected greatness and Regina delivered—thin (secret-recipe) crust, spicy-sweet sauce, bubbling-hot cheese. How good is Regina’s pie? They say Pepe’s owner tried it and declared it “very good—but not as good as mine.” Your call, but no taste of Boston is complete without a Regina pie. And special thanks to manager Richie for recommending nearby Modern Pastry’s “lobster tail,” a flaky ricotta-and-pastry-cream-filled megacroissant. We got ours to go, since Beacon Hill was beckoning.
We’d heard about Charles Street’s Café Vanille and the artistry of chef-owner Bruno Biagianti, former pastry chef at the late, great Ritz-Carlton, now the Taj Boston. Reality exceeded expectation in his casual café, in the form of exquisite mini opera cakes and chocolate mousse cakes, rich-as-Croesus financiers and best-of-show berry-kiwi-poached-pear-and-pineapple tarts, all elegant accompaniments to our own Boston tea party.
By now calories were adding up, and we worked off some after returning to our hotel by walking over to The World As a Stage at the Institute of Contemporary Art, itself a showpiece of contemporary art. Then it was back to Charles Street to raise a glass with friends at funky new wine bar Bin 26. We’d have stayed for more of the 60 by-the-glass wines and tempting small plates but . . . we had a table waiting just across the Public Garden at that temple of haute cuisine, Aujourd’hui, at the Four Seasons.
And a four-star experience it was, from the gorgeous dining room overlooking the Public Garden to the flawless service to chef William Kovel’s brilliant French-inspired fare. Our tasting menu progressed from fluke sashimi to poached lobster with vermouth butter to roasted squab breast with seared foie gras to braised short ribs with mushroom ravioli (the most delicious in memory) to Valrhona chocolate soufflé with Grand Marnier crème anglaise. All in all, a grand indulgence ($110, with wines $182), but remember, life is short.
Sunday we eased back to reality via brunch at Stella, a hip new South End eatery where well-turned-out linguine carbonara with bacon-and-egg and eggs Benedict with home fries rang up at a crowd-pleasing $10 each, and the cannolis were worthy of the North End. Sorry we missed Stella at dinnertime, when we hear it gives off a South Beach vibe.
We’d eaten widely and well, but also missed nationally acclaimed O Ya, direct-from-Cannes bistro La Voile, Persian jewelbox Lala Rokh. . . . Next time.