Boston is the birthplace of modern America. It’s stuffed full of historical sites and monuments to their fight for freedom. Like the rest of America it’s a real mix with strong Irish, Italian and Asian influences. Migrants brought their recipes with them and used the fantastic ingredients they found.
On the edge of Cambridge, the university suburb which is home to MIT and Harvard, Hungry Mother serves traditional southern fare with a modern twist. The restaurant is in a converted house, with lots of little rooms and corners to tuck tables in.
I had a delicious devilled crab starter – huge chunks of fleshy crabmeat, spicey rice and a lovely spiced sauce. It was elegant in its simplicity.
Next up was some fried catfish in a cornbread crumb with andouille sausage and a side of collard greens. The fish was beautiful, just cooked and wonderfully crunchy – the best fish finger ever! The sausage added some really nice spice to the dish. I was blown away by the greens – rich, garlicky and with little crunchy almond pieces. I could have eaten a bucket of the stuff.
Desert was a chocolate chess cake – thick, gooey chocolate ganache on crumbly pastry with a good ice cream to cut through the richness, very nice!
Diners are a staple of American life – like greasy spoons in the UK, they provide cheap, friendly meals for the masses. The Paramount, just off Boston Common has been serving patrons for decades. They operate an unusual service model where you place your order directly with the chefs, pay the waiters and then collect your food at the till.
Lilly’s Smoking Rack
Barbecue is traditionally a mans game – there’s something primordial about smoke, wood, fire and meat. Women are starting to make inroads and when I spotted one of the food trucks leading the charge in Charlestown I had to have a sample. The ribs were superb, dry smoked with heaps of flavour and just the right texture. A fluffy cornbread muffin topped it off.
Boston Beer Works
As the American love affair with craft beer continues, brewpubs are popping up all over the place. The Boston Beer Works is next to the TD Arena, home to the Boston Bruins. I popped in for a pint of their speciality Bluebeery Ale. They use blueberry juice in the brew and serve it with a handful of fruit, which bob mesmerisingly in the bubbles. It’s a lovely, light summery beer. I ago ordered a half portion of nachoes – what arrived can be best described as a bath tub.
Neptune Oyster Bar
Boston has excellent seafood – one of the most popular places to sample it is Neptune Oyster Bar. Situated on the edge of the Italian North End, locals will wait over two hours for a table. I managed to squeeze in early one Monday evening to see what the fuss is about.
They offer a huge range of oysters, each described in terms of size, saltiness and finish. Sampling a range, I loved the melon sweet Kumo-moto and the salty, citrus Pemaquids. They have a small menu of main courses, I noticed that at least half the customers were tucking into enormous lobster rolls, never to break with the herd I ordered one too. What arrived can best be described as a lobster avalanche. Piles of fresh, perfectly cooked lobster slathered in butter and served with superb skin-on chips. They’ve absolutely nailed the balance of crunch and colouring that so many other places seem to miss.
Sat with a pile of oysters, a glass of sharp white wine watching the world go by (and queue outside the window) – there aren’t many better ways to spend and evening.
Winsor Dim Sum Cafe
Boston has a small but proud Chinatown. Dumplings are a classic family breakfast treat in many parts of Asia – lonely planet reckoned Winsor did the best. The restaurant itself was very quiet at 9am, but it’s tatty chairs and battered tables were soon filled with hordes of punters. Picking from a laminated, photo menu always makes me nervous, but I shouldn’t have worried. The char siu bao were incredible, pillowy soft and with a rich, porky filling. The perfectly way to start your day.
Some people rate The Friendly Toast as one of the best breakfasts in the entire country. In the heart of the university suburb, it’s a quirky and eclectic diner. The friendly staff are as graffitied and interesting as the walls and they quickly provided me with some excellent French toast with fruit. All the bread is made on-site – I particularly liked their brown loaf, made with lumps of molasses which subsequently melt and provide a lovely darkness.
Making ice-cream with liquid nitrogen has become a calling card of the modernist food movement. The theory is simple – the quicker you can chill the ice cream base, the smaller the crystals will be and the smoother the texture. Very few things are colder than liquid nitrogen and it turns a chocolate custard into an ice cream in a matter of seconds. Plus it creates a huge amount of smoke which is always nice.
When I spotted a shipping container in Harvard Yard making it fresh for customers, I had to give it a go. The ice cream was delicious – silky smooth and with a really nice soft texture. They’re shipping a container to London in the next few weeks, so keep your eyes peeled!
Union Oyster House
“The Oldest Restaurant in America” or so claims the sign outside. Regardless of its age, Union Oyster House is one of the most popular in Boston. It’s beautiful wooden raw bar is the perfect place to enjoy a Sam Adams and a few oysters.
The main attraction for me though was their clam chowder. A New England icon – this creamy, seafood and potato soup is legendary. It’s certainly the perfect thing to warm you up after a cold day traipsing along the freedom trail. I particularly liked the cornbread it was served with – it added some nice sweetness.
When you combine New England’s world class seafood with Boston’s proud Asian heritage, the sushi ought to be special and O Ya do something spectacular. Taking traditional nigiri and sashimi as their base they garnish each piece with throughly modern accents – think squid ink foam and foie gras.
Situated at the north end of Chinatown in a beautiful converted building it consists of a lovely bar around the sushi kitchen and a few tables. It’s small and very intimate. The menu is available a la carte or as one of two rather pricey tasting menus. I opted to pick a range of dishes from across the menu.
This must be a vegetarian dream – you could blindfold someone and they’d think it was beef – deep, savoury and with a lovely texture.
Crispy, fried oysters add some nice texture to a superb bite. There’s so many flavours going on here and they all work beautifully. There’s a final lit hit of wasabi at the end that’s perfectly judged. The foam doesn’t add much to the taste, but it’s beautiful to look at.
Fatty tuna, seared with a blowtorch and served with sweet onions and crunch gobo (burdock) and foie gras. It’s soft, buttery, dark and delicate.
Salmon Belly with Hot Sesame Oil
My only sashimi dish – three buttery salmon slices with hot sesame oil and ginger. The fish had heavenly texture and contrasted nicely with the warm oil.
Soft Shell Crab Tempura
I adore soft shell crab and this must be the best I’ve ever had. Sweet, crunchy and with a clever sharp citrus note.
Porcelet with Foie Gras
The pork was nicely cooked and with the creamy foie gras made for a very rich dish. The Asian slaw wasn’t acidic, but brought some much needed vegetal freshness.
Raw cocoa gelato with moussey caramel, sesame and sea salt
The chocolate had real bitterness, offset by the sweet caramel. Foaming it was very clever, it stops it being too sickly or heavy. Little sesame and salt flakes added crunch. The meal finished with some beautiful chocolate.
O Ya is certainly not cheap, but the raw ingredients are incredibly good, the cooking is superb and they do something entirely unique. I’ve never had such good fish – every bite was incredibly complex, but managed not to smother the flavour of the main ingredient. Balancing two or three flavours is impressive, doing it with six or seven is just incredible. It’s got to be one of the best meals I’ve eaten this year.