We ate well in Boston!
Lobster rolls, lamb chops, and Black Sea cornbread... PLUS: lots of links.
Hey A.G. newsletter fans,
I’m on an airplane flying back to LA after ten days in Massachusetts!
The first half of my trip, as you may remember from Thursday’s newsletter, took place in Concord, where Craig is in pre-production for his next feature. I was going a little stir-crazy there — as much as I’m Craig’s muse, I’m no Julia Fox — so on Wednesday, I took an Uber down to Boston to meet up with food writer Tucker Shaw at a restaurant called atlántico.
Tucker’s quite accomplished in the food world — he's the former editor-in-chief of Cook’s Illustrated, Cook’s Country, and America’s Test Kitchen — and early on in my career, he gave me a boost by writing positively about my blog in The Denver Post. Recently, Tucker had a Twitter thread go viral about hearing a young guy on the train talk about AIDS as a galvanizing force in the gay community, without acknowledging the pain and suffering that those who lived through it endured. Now Tucker has a new YA book coming out called When You Call My Name that tackles the subject. We talked all about it, plus lots of other stuff, over croquetas de bacalao…
…and various other nibbles (including a wonderful Cubano sandwich), along with two glasses of white wine (Vinho Verde for him, Albariño for me). It was so lovely to finally meet Tucker and I can’t wait to read his book (available for order here).
On Thursday, I had lunch at Saltie Girl — the exquisite lobster roll that you see at the top of this post (I prefer it cold with mayo; but they also have it hot with butter), plus a bowl of clam chowder with fried clams that I got for free because it turns out that one of my Instagram followers, Ben Sidell (a successful LA baker), is the son of the owner of Saltie Girl and he was following me on my journey. Thanks, Ben! Fried clams in clam chowder is a baller move and it totally works.
Now for the three dinners that I ate on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights in Boston, all of which were special in their own ways.
Best Overall Boston Meal: Pammy’s
When you see a restaurant pop up on every best-of Boston list, and everyone you ask tells you to go there, you have to pay heed. So it was with Pammy’s in Cambridge.
The moment Craig and I walked in, the energy was infectious. It had that same indescribable buzz you get at restaurants like Prune in New York and Bavel in L.A. It felt exciting to be there and, more importantly, the people working there seemed excited to be there too. Like the bartender we spoke to while waiting for our table: with great sincerity, he told us that one of the drinks on the menu — the 18th Parallel North with coconut-washed rum, curry leaf, and lime oil — was one of “the top five cocktails I’ve ever had in my life.”
The drink lived up the hype: it was sort of like an old-fashioned that traveled to Southern India and had a midlife crisis, reinventing itself and coming back better than before.
The menu at Pammy’s is genius: $69 a person and you each get to pick three dishes. (I wish more restaurants adopted this strategy.) Everything that we ate was glorious, but my favorite bites were the lumache with bolognese and (shockingly but also brilliantly) gochujang.
The pasta was perfectly al dente — I meant PERFECTLY — and then the heat from the gochujang was a delightful surprise, but not overwhelming. I’m going to try it at home next time I whip up some bolognese.
Craig and I both had the lamb chops with cilantro pesto and buttered-apple couscous.
These were impossible not to eat with our hands: dipping each chop into the pesto (which, actually, they described when they delivered it to our table as Zhug, so maybe it was that) and yogurt and each bite was succulent and meaty and gamey from the lamb. (I think lamb is my favorite meat and these were so expertly cooked.)
Dessert was this deceptively simple panna cotta with passionfruit; the passionfruit sat underneath the creamy mixture and then it was all topped with broken up meringue, which gave it a great texture.
Pammy’s isn’t just a good restaurant for Boston; it’s a good restaurant, period, worth a special trip just to eat there. I can’t wait to go back.
Most Electrifying Boston Meal: Sarma
Sarma was the other restaurant that everyone said I simply HAD to go to, only I couldn’t get a reservation. I tried every day, playing the Resy lottery (or was it the OpenTable lottery/), swiping down several times a day to see if a table opened up. It didn’t.
Then I tried a new strategy: I looked for a table for one. And, presto chango, a reservation showed up — a table for one at 7:30 PM on Thursday night. So off I went (Craig was working late anyway) and sat by myself in the dining room of the bustling restaurant.
Normally I’m self-conscious in a situation like that, but since it was Boston and I don’t really know anyone there, I just embraced the situation, pretending I was one of those chic world travelers who comfortably eat alone at a wide variety of restaurants (while clinging desperately to my phone the whole time because, oh my God, not looking at my phone would’ve been terrifying).
The food at Sarma was dazzling in ways that I’m still coming to terms with.
That Black Sea cornbread with feta? It was hot out of the oven, soft on the inside, zingy and sweet and crisp — almost like a savory dessert. The avocado muhummara left me shook, it was so unexpected a combination: imagine a silky avocado puree, topped with stretchy starcciatella cheese (almost like mozzarella), and then pummeled with crispy shallots and chili sauce and fried pistachios. It was a miracle of textures — truly one of the best, most astonishing things I’ve eaten in ages.
And the lamb manti with the smoky eggplant moray was like a plate of dumplings by way of Istanbul (which makes sense, because the cuisine at Sarma is “modeled after the traditional meyhanes of Turkey”).
You know that Coco Chanel advice about looking in the mirror before leaving the house and taking one thing off? The food at Sarma never heard that advice and it’s all the better for it. I mean these mushrooms had SO much going on, and yet they worked. Every bite was like 4th of July fireworks in the mouth.
If you’re alone in Boston for a night, my advice is to go to Sarma when it opens and sit at the bar. You won’t be sorry (and you can look at your phone the whole time like I did).
Most Iconic Boston Meal: No. 9 Park
One of the best chef memoir’s I’ve ever read is Barbara Lynch’s Out of Line, about how she went from an impoverished and crime-filled childhood as a “Southie” — she had real encounters with Whitey Burger as a kid — to running one of Boston’s biggest restaurant empires.
A huge part of her story is how she educated herself by reading cookbooks (I remember one of them was by Waverly Root, maybe The Food of Italy?) and earned her place as a fine dining chef. So of course, on this epicurean jaunt to Boston, I had to go to her flagship (and first) restaurant, No. 9 Park, to experience Lynchian cuisine. We got the tasting menu and I had them swap out chicken tortellini for Lynch’s signature dish: prune-stuffed gnocchi with foie gras.
The dish is a classic for a reason: you get the sweetness and the complexity of the prunes up against the richness and the livery funk of the foie gras.
My other favorite course that night was the rib-eye with artichokes and parsnips.
This rib-eye wowed me with its tenderness. Was it cooked sous-vide? I think it very well might have been: it cut so easily and didn’t have that crackly char you get when you order a ribeye at a steakhouse. I loved every bite.
The dessert — a chocolate torte, elegantly plated — caused lots of laughter because when I cut into it, the piece went flying across the room. (It was that crisp.) But once I mastered the technical skills required to eat it, I devoured it.
It’s worth mentioning that the atmosphere at No. 9 Park is not at all haughty and pretentious (Craig was wary of going when I told him it was “fine dining,” but he ended up loving it). So if you want an approachable, if expensive, classic upscale meal in Boston, this is your place.
And here, as always, are the food links that caught my eye recently:
Chocolate-matcha butter mochi cake — say that ten times fast (Bon Appetit);
Smitten Kitchen is raising money for World Central Kitchen, which is feeding people on the ground right now in Ukraine (Instagram);
Wait, there’s a bar in Echo Park that’s one of the world’s best bars and I didn’t even know it existed? Heading there first thing (LA Times);
Lisa Donovan’s chocolate cake that became a cookie (From the Hip).
That’s all for this week, folks!
If you’re not a paid subscriber, here’s what you missed last week: Ten Bonus Questions with Andy Baraghani (where he told us his favorite brand of olive oil and breakfast cereal), an essay about my marriage to Craig and sausage ragu (no, that’s not a gay thing), and a thread about the first episode of the new season of Top Chef where we all got to chime in about who we liked and who we didn’t and who we think is going to go home next.
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Until next time….