Below is a transcript of part 2 of a live online panel discussion on some of the best individual food dishes from Boston-area and New England restaurants, which took place on Tuesday, January 6, 2011 (part 1 took place on December 7, 2010). The panel included several panel members, including area food writers and bloggers. The hour-long chat included a continuation of talks with the panel on some of the best dishes they have had in Boston-area and New England restaurants, and also included viewer participation. [Note: The original discussion can be replayed at the following link: http://www.hiddenboston.com/online-discussion-0111.html and please go to the restaurant discussions link to check out our other chats.]
Marc H. (hiddenboston): Hello, all! Welcome to Part 2 of a discussion on some of the best individual food dishes from Boston-area and New England restaurants.
Marc H.: This is our eighth discussion, and as mentioned, the second part of a talk that we started back in December (the transcript of that chat can be found at http://www.hiddenboston.com/transcript-1210.html). And once again we have several people on our panel who you might know of. Before we start, I'd like to introduce the folks on the panel. I'll begin--I'm Marc, the founder and owner of Boston's Hidden Restaurants and the news-based blog Boston Restaurant Talk.
MC Slim JB: MC Slim JB here. I review budget restaurants for the Boston Phoenix, cover fine dining restaurants for Stuff Magazine, and blog about the Boston food/drink scene at http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/
NorthShoreDish: Hi Marc, Kristen from North Shore Dish here.
RichardPF: Hi Marc, Richard from The Passionate Foodie is here.
Marc H.: Hey, all! We're still waiting on a few more folks. While we're waiting, any recent Anthony Bourdain sightings in the Boston area? :-)
MC Slim JB: I've actually lurked at a couple of places I thought he might show, but no dice.
Marc H.: It looked like he may have been at Rondo's in South Boston yesterday for his live feed, and he was definitely at The Galley in Southie.
NorthShoreDish: Is it just me, or was he looking a tad old mannish in that cardigan yesterday?
Marc H.: Heh, you aren't the first person to say that.
Lingbo Li: Hi guys
Marc H.: Hey, Lingbo! Feel free to introduce yourself!
Lingbo Li: I blog at LingboLi.com and have freelanced for some other Boston publications. I also run the Harvard Culinary Society.
MC Slim JB: Mr. Rogers, ready to eat offal.
Marc H.: Hah! and on that note, why don't we start? We're still waiting for at least two others, but they can catch up later.
MC Slim JB: Bourdain has been spotted at Scampo, Clink (he must be staying at the Liberty), Brasserie Jo, Murphy's Law, Quencher Tavern, and L Street Tavern.
Marc H.: I heard he was indeed staying at the Liberty, which is why he may have gone to King and I.
MC Slim JB: I hope that was a drunk-food spot; it's not among our great Thai restaurants.
Marc H.: OK, so today, we are going to continue focusing on some of the best dishes you have had at Boston-area and New England restaurants, with several categories being covered. For each topic, tell us about a specific item, meal, etc., that has more or less knocked you for a loop, and tell us exactly why you fell in love with it. I'll attempt to give my own picks as we go to help get things started.
Marc H.: For each topic, we will talk first with the panel, then we will open up the topic to our viewers, who will have the chance to answer the same question. One note: As always, I'd like to try to keep the focus on lesser-known restaurants in Boston and elsewhere in New England, but in this case, since we are talking about favorite individual dishes, this may not always apply, which is totally understandable.
Michelle: Hi, my name is Michelle and I write a food blog (Fun and Fearless in Beantown) and am also on Twitter (@funfearlessbean)
Marc H.: Hi, Michelle! Welcome!
Marc H.: Let's start today's chat off with drinks that are particularly memorable, whether they are alcoholic or non-alcoholic. I'll go first, and this one is rather obscure, I admit. Many people know about the wines at the Nashoba Valley Winery in Bolton, and some may also know about the spirits there as well (and the apples at the orchard, of course). But Nashoba Valley Winery also has some terrific microbrews made in small batches, including an outstanding German-style wheat beer called Wattaquadock Wheat that has a complex mix of banana, clove, and lemon tastes, and is great if you aren't into the more hoppy, bitter beers.
Marc H.: And for non-alcoholic, I really like the "bubble teas" at Pho 2000 in Dorchester. So refreshing, and such great fruity tastes for each one. Perhaps a better drink for the summer, however.
Lingbo Li: I had a lovely drink at Journeyman recently, nonalcoholic, that was made with apple juice (?) and chocolate bitters.
William: Sorry I am late. William, The Boston Foodie here
Marc H.: Hi, William! Welcome to the chat!
MC Slim JB: In cold weather, I start dreaming about the Tom and Jerry at Drink in Fort Point. Kind of like a hot egg nog, served in vintage mugs, an amazing winter warmer.
Marc H.: Journeyman and Drink are two places that I really want to get to. Drink particularly interests me, as I'm starting to get more and more into interesting cocktails. Lingbo, about the Journeyman drink, I'm also getting interested in the use of bitters. Does anyone have any favorite drinks that include bitters?
RichardPF: Apfel Eis, an apple ice wine made in Harvard, is top notch. Great dessert wine which is not overly sweet.
Marc H.: Where can you get that, Richard?
Michelle: I'm a big fan of the Apfel Eis apple ice wine from Still River Winery.
Marc H.: Oh, oops. Great minds think alike! :-)
Michelle: Ha! Great minds think alike Richard :-)
RichardPF: Numerous local wine stores do carry it now.
Lingbo Li: I also had a good durian bubble tea at New Dong Kanh in Chinatown, although I really like the red bean and jackfruit bubble teas at New Saigon, which are made with real beans/fruit.
MC Slim JB: I'm thrilled and amused that The Citizen Pub and Oyster Bar, a new place near Fenway from the Franklin Cafe folks, serves $3 shots of Fernet Branca... on tap!
Marc H.: Eatboston had a classic post on Twitter about the Fernet. It went something like: "Uh, guys? The Citizen has Fernet on tap. I repeat...on tap."
William: I spent a night with bloggers enjoying the Elm Street Rum punch at Foundry On Elm recently. Very refreshing, light drink.
Marc H.: One of our panel members from a past chat works at Foundry (and I know him from long ago when we were kids). That place always seems packed these days.
NorthShoreDish: A recent rave was Sean's Manhattan at Tryst in Beverly, which includes Knob Creek bourbon that has had dried cherries steeped in it for 6 weeks. Not too sweet, but layered and complex.
Marc H.: Tryst in Beverly? Any connection to the one in Arlington?
NorthShoreDish: Nope, totally different resto. Not sure which one opened first, but I think the one in Beverly.
JMH: Citizen Pub also has a great whiskey menu.
MC Slim JB: Todd Maul at the bar at Clio does a huge menu of terrific craft cocktails, many featuring bitters. One I like is called The Last Drink on the Last Page: rum, Punt e Mes (a fierce Italian red vermouth), lemon juice, OJ, apricot liqueur, bitters and nutmeg.
Michelle: The Conquest cocktail at Church is also nice but not overly sweet. It has bourbon-barrel aged tequila with agave nectar and rhubarb. I'm not a big tequila drinker but the bourbon barrel-aged tequila was so smooth.
MC Slim JB: Scott Holliday at Rendezvous in Central Square does great cocktails with Cynar, an Italian apertifi amaro (bitters).
Marc H.: So do any of our viewers out there have any favorite specific drinks from Boston-area spots? We're about ready to move on to our next topic, by the way....
Palo Alto: A non-alcoholic drink which is good both in warm and cold weather is a vitamina de abacate (sweet avocado shake) from any good Brazilian bakery such as Pastelaria Broadway in Somerville. On the alcoholic side lots of great options, BYOB chinese with a decent Brachetto D'Acqui ... La Campania or Il Capricco both for great wine service in the burbs.
Marc H.: Hi, Palo Alto! I was in East Somerville last night--if only I had known about that drink!
MC Slim JB: Il Capriccio has one of my favorite sommeliers in Boston ever: Jeannie Rogers. I think she's moved on after many years.
RichardPF: Yes, Jeannie is no longer there. She is just running her wine import company now, Adonna Imports.
Palo Alto: ... but what is even better is you can get Jeannie Rogers wines at Gordon's, Central Bottle, Wine Bottega, etc.
Marc H.: Let's talk about cold-weather foods, that is, comfort foods that are particularly good when you're chilled or perhaps aren't feeling all that great. For me, soups obviously come to mind, and my favorite may be the curried mushroom soup at Strip-T's in Watertown. The soup is so rich and hearty, and has such a deep flavor from the mushrooms and spices, that it could easily be made into a meal. It was perhaps one of the five best individual food items I had in 2010, by the way.
Lingbo Li: Hot chocolate from Burdick's is also a classic cold weather food.
Marc H.: The hot chocolate from Burdick's could be in any number of "best of" categories.
NorthShoreDish: LOVE Burdick's hot chocolate!
MC Slim JB: How anyone can finish more than a demi of Burdick's hot chocolate is beyond me: so amazingly rich!
Michelle: Nothing warms me up better than the ridiculously rich creamy roasted garlic soup at Grotto in Beacon Hill. Love the toasted croutons that come with it too.
Marc H.: Yes, that soup is so incredibly good. Perfect for a chilly day like today.
RichardPF: I love the soup dumplings at Gourmet Dumpling House. Plus the Shepherd's Pie at Stearns & Hill in Melrose is awesome, maybe the best I have had in a restaurant.
Marc H.: A lot of people seem to rave about Gourmet Dumpling House. I tried to go recently, but was short on time and had to get a quicker meal at Taiwan Cafe.
William: Agreed on Burdick's pudding-like hot chocolate.
MC Slim JB: Cold weather makes me crave veal gulyas and chicken paprikash at Jasmine Bistro in Brighton. A little-known place, about the only Hungarian restaurant in town, plus it does very nice French bistro fare and some dishes from the owner's native Baluchistan.
Marc H.: MC, Jasmine Bistro is one of my favorite places in all of Boston, and believe me, I'm not the only one--have heard this from several folks.
MC Slim JB: Another one I have to get at least once every winter is the veal scallopine with cauliflower/potato gratin at Metropolis. Just that side dish makes me happy.
Lingbo Li: I love the spicy fish slice stew at Gourmet Dumpling house with white rice. Nom.
MC Slim JB: I think I might have steered you to Jasmine, Marc. That makes only about 49 I owe you to get even for all the great places you've steered me to.
Marc H.: Ha ha! Well, there are a number of spots I have gone to thanks to your reviews (I think Scups was one). Jasmine Bistro was certainly one of them.
NorthShoreDish: The French onion soup at 15 Walnut in Hamilton is a great cold weather warmer. Also love to get the Toad in the Hole and sit by the fire at the Old Spot in Salem.
Marc H.: Nice to hear about a place in a town that isn't really known for its restaurants! Does Hamilton have any other decent spots?
RichardPF: Sounds like I really need to try Jasmine Bistro
Marc H.: Yes, you definitely do, Richard. Amazing place....
Michelle: Spicy food also warms me up. The Hunan crispy cod at Lin Garden in Dracut is really top-notch but you need to ask for it to be seriously spicy because they have lowered their heat level to sort of Americanize their menu. It is a whole fish so go with friends :-)
Marc H.: Lin Garden. Is that anywhere near the river? I think I know where that is.
Michelle: Yup, right on the river.
MC Slim JB: Kind of an old standby, but with good reason: turkey meatloaf with fig gravy at the Franklin Cafe.
MC Slim JB: Choucroute garni at Brasserie Jo or Sandrine's, especially the latter. Ost does a lot of those meats on top of the wine-sauteed sauerkraut himself.
Marc H.: Any viewers out there have any favorite cold-weather dishes?
Palo Alto: In cold weather I love Birria from Taqueria Mexico in Waltham, but haven't had that at Jalisco in East Boston which I heard could be better. I also go to Jasmine any time I find someone else willing. I was already a fan, but I think MC turned me on to their wiener schnizel which is another good comfort food.
Marc H.: I've been trying to get to Jalisco for awhile now, Palo Alto. Love Taqueria Mexico, by the way. It's nice to sit out on their little patio in the summer (wishful thinking, I know).
MC Slim JB: Agree about chili heat in cold weather. Makes me think of larb moo (spicy ground pork) at Dok Bua in Brookline.
Marc H.: Chili heat is definitely a good thing this time of year. The vindaloo at India Quality in Kenmore is hot enough to burn off a lot of this snow, but the dish is still very tasty.
MC Slim JB: Vietnamese soups always warm my bones. Banh mi bo kho (beef stew served with rolls, not to be confused with the simlar-sounding sandwich) at Xinh Xinh is great in winter.
@justincancook: The lasagna of the day at Anchovies in the South End is usually tough to beat on a cold day. It also seems to be one of the few restaurants that's more crowded during a snow storm than on a nice night.
Marc H.: Ahh, Anchovies. Another spot that I need to try. One of the last old-school holdouts of the South End, no?
The Food Monkey: My favorite cold weather dish is the bun bo hue; (spicy beef soup) at Pho Viet at the super 88
Palo Alto: The one complaint I have heard about Jasmine Bistro is someone on chowhound accusing them of upselling wine. In my experience they always want to suggest a different wine (and are sometimes hard to convince "no I want that choice"), but I have been given less expensive suggestions by them. So I say its just a cultural thing.
Marc H.: I've heard that as well, Palo Alto. And yes, it may be a cultural thing.
MC Slim JB: Two words for wine at Jasmine: Bull's Blood.
MC Slim JB: It's Hungarian, like a budget Bordeaux.
Palo Alto: I just wish Richard from Violette was still importing Eastern European and Greek wines. Jasmine would have a lot more to choose from.
MC Slim JB: Giorgianna's in the South End retails a nice selection of Greek wines.
@justincancook: Giorgianna's also makes a really nice, not greasy, gyro.
Marc H.: Let's move on to "salty" dishes. Most people seem to love salt (even though too much of it isn't all that good for you) and sometimes it's nice to get a dish that has a lot of flavor coming from the ingredients, thanks in part to the salt bringing out those flavors a bit more. One of my picks would be the Brussels sprouts sauteed in bacon from Lucky's Lounge in South Boston. The bitterness of the sprouts combined with the greasy, crispy goodness of the bacon are enhanced by the sheer saltiness of the dish, making for one of the best food items I've had in the past few months, actually.
MC Slim JB: Salty and amazing: lomo saltado at Rincon Limeno in Eastie. Basically a stir-fry of steak tips, fried potatoes, onions and tomatoes.
Marc H.: MC, you had me at the steak tips and fried potatoes. :-)
William: Tavalo also does a nice brussels sprouts and pancetta dish. The sprouts are sliced very thin
Marc H.: William, have you ever done the Italy "tours" there? I've been meaning to get to one of those.
MC Slim JB: I always grab a handful of salt caramels at the checkout at South End Formaggio. Clear wrappers with green trim. Love that sweet/salty thing.
Christine Liu: sorry i'm late to the party. let's eat! salt and pepper fried shrimp at peach farm is a classic.
Christine Liu: also enjoy salty lassis. recently had a yummy one at royal bengal (cambridge, near MIT, on mass ave)
Marc H.: Hey, Christine! I'm glad you could make it to the chat! Feel free to tell folks about yourself.
@justincancook: Can Island Creek Oysters count as the best salty food in town?
Marc H.: Sure!
Michelle: The jajangmyun at Buk Kyung in Somerville always has a nice salty quality to it - noodles topped with black bean paste sauce. I think they closed but Buk Kyung II is still around?
Marc H.: I think it is. It's on Brighton Avenue in Allston, I believe?
Christine Liu: buk kyung in somerville (union sq) is still kicking and delicious. wu chon is the one that is sadly shuttered.
RichardPF: I really enjoy the chocolate salted caramels at Chocolee Chocolates, with a gooey salt-laced caramel center.
Marc H.: Richard, hold that thought for our next topic as well. ;-)
MC Slim JB: The Gallows does a bar snack of bacon caramel Chex mix. I hate to use the word "addictive" (too Phantom Gourmet-like), but it's pretty hard to stop eating. Really good bacon in it.
Marc H.: As long as you don't say crispy on the outside and ooey-gooey on the inside....
RichardPF: Salt and chocolate just go so well together, likes the Vosges Bacon bar
Lingbo Li: Oh, bon chon chicken at that new Bon Chon place in Allston is fab.
Marc H.: Yes. Christine, are we going to Bon Chon at some point? I believe one of my food pals (Rich O, who couldn't be here) may want to go as well.
NorthShoreDish: To say french fries seems cliche, but Barry Edelman's pommes frites with basil garlic aioli at 5 Corners Kitchen in Marblehead are insanely good.
Marc H.: I really need to get there. Perhaps the next time I head up to Salem....
Palo Alto: Chicarron its one of those things where salt alone can be better than millions of spices. Rincon criollo in Lynn, Latino Restaurant in Chelsea, El Kiosco in East Boston, Fernandes Fish Market (torresmo saturdays but a bit more spices) in Cambridge all hit the spot. Lime on the side is nice, but if its freshly fried that isn't even needed.
NorthShoreDish: Richard, my daughter's fave is the Vosges Bacon bar - she got one in her stocking this xmas.
RichardPF: Kristen, she must have been a very good girl then
MC Slim JB: The shamday at Martsa's on Elm, an Indian/Tibetan sautee of beef and onions, is salty and really satisfying.
Christine Liu: vinegar and sea salt fries at deep ellum are alarmingly delicious.
MC Slim JB: I had a vitello tonnato-like dish at Coppa the other night that was astonishing: slices of sous-vide veal, unbelievable tender, a sauce based on anchovies instead of tuna. Wicked!
Marc H.: I need to add one more salty dish, and it's from a place with incredible views (and great atmosphere) about an hour and a half west of Boston.) Tavern on the Hill in Easthampton has an appetizer of baked brie puffs whose delicious saltiness is complemented by the sweet raspberry and apricot sauce that comes with it. A great dish from a really special spot.
Marc H.: I was hoping for two more topics, but we seem to be running a bit short on time, so let's go with a (usually) dessert-based topic, namely chocolate-based dishes. I believe I mentioned this one in the "best desserts" section of the last discussion--the churros with warm chocolate sauce at Loco Tapas and Wine Bar in Easton. The chocolate sauce is so rich and creamy that it makes you want to take a nap almost immediately, though the chocolate also keeps you wired (an odd feeling, really). Nice to hear that the owner of the place has decided not to sell the business.
Michelle: While I'm not the biggest fan of churros, I'll have to admit that the chocolate sauce at Loco was some serious stuff.
MC Slim JB: Olive oil chocolate mousse at Craigie on Main. Unusual and very fine.
Marc H.: That sounds really good. Perhaps I can get it after having one of their burgers with bone marrow. Are they still doing those, by the way?
MC Slim JB: The Craigie burger is indeed still on. Best chance to get it on any given night is to go early, I believe.
Christine Liu: olive oil chocolate salt cookie thing at sportello. life-changing.
Marc H.: Nice lead-in from the salt topic to the chocolate topic, Christine!
William: Not really a dessert but the chocolate croissants at Crema Cafe in Harvard Square just may be the best available in the Northeast and I am a baker.
Marc H.: The best in the Northeast? Uh, what's everyone doing after this? :-)
MC Slim JB: Sorta corny, but I really like the profiteroles at Brasserie Jo with the say-when pour of chocolate syrup. Excellent choux, good ice cream, great chocolate sauce.
Marc H.: I wonder if Bourdain tried it while he was there.
Christine Liu: It's a classic, but hot chocolate at LA burdick's is serious. like a chocolate bar melted into a mug.
Marc H.: Yes, you missed our Burdick love-in earlier in the chat.
MC Slim JB: Nobody likes Burdick's.
Michelle: No matter how many times I have had it, I always inevitable end up ordering the chocolate terrine with sea salt and Thai basil ice cream at Ten Tables.
Marc H.: Which Ten Tables, Michelle? The original?
Michelle: I've had it at both the original and the Cambridge location.
NorthShoreDish: The chocolate bouchon from A&J King Bakery in Salem is excellent; rich, dark and moist, but not overly sweet or cloying.
Michelle: The flourless chocolate torte from Bergamot is also worth licking the plate. It's made with Taza;s guajillo chile chocolate, milk stout ice cream, apricot caramel, and crumbled pretzels. This dish hit all the right notes of sweet, spicy, salty, crunchy, gooey, and creamy.
MC Slim JB: I love that they give you free Taza chocolates with your check at Garden at The Cellar. Great stuff. They retail it at the Mohr & MacPherson Cafe in the South End, too.
Marc H.: One other chocolate dish I just thought of is the chocolate fondant from Vecchia Roma in the Nonantum section of Newton. Sinful, decadent, and spectacular (I'm sure there are other adjectives to add here but I can't think of them offhand).
NorthShoreDish: Marc, you scheduled this discussion purposely just before lunch to make us all ravenous, didn't you?
Marc H.: Why yes.....yes I did as a matter of fact. and I'm kicking myself for bringing peanut butter today.
MC Slim JB: I skipped breakfast: mistake.
Christine Liu: dacquoise (sorry for misspelled) at flour is insane for lovers for hazelnut-chocolate fans.
MC Slim JB: I think you got that right, Trivia Girl.
Marc H.: So it's noon, which means we're about at the end of the chat. But before we end, do any other viewers have any favorite chocolate-based dishes in the area?
Marc H.: Oh, a quick note: Just before the discussion began, one of my Twitter friends suggested doing a discussion on the local beer and wine scene. What do you think?
MC Slim JB: I would be down with that, even if I'm not much of a beer geek.
Marc H.: I'm a total beer geek (the next beer I make will begin as soon as I can find a Norway spruce tree--'nuff said). So perhaps we can pool all of our knowledge together on this one?
NorthShoreDish: I think it's a great idea.
Palo Alto: That should be a BYOB event, just don't schedule it at lunch time during the week. Friday maybe... :-)
Marc H.: I like the way you think!
Marc H.: All right, so perhaps that will be our next topic. And it looks like we're done with this one. Thanks to all of you for participating today, and where are we meeting now--at Crema and LA Burdick? Wouldn't that be nice....
MC Slim JB: Great fun again, Marc; thanks so much for making this happen!
Christine Liu: i think a salty dessert crawl is in order...
William: Thanks Marc for a fun discussion.
Michelle: Thanks Marc! Have a great day everyone!