Posts Tagged ‘Boston’

Christmas Means Chinese Food

December 24, 2008

When I was growing up back in Hull, there was no bigger treat than a late-night Chinese feast. I’d rip open the white carton containers and grab spare ribs and chicken wings straight out of the hot foil bags adorned with dragons as a fierce wind blew off the ocean and made the windows shake. I’ll be thinking of that memory as I eat my usual Christmas Eve Chinese meal tonight.

Back then the cuisine was what we called “Cantonese.” But it was really much more solid Americanized Chinese food than the food of any region of China. It came, as most Chinese food then did, with little dinner rolls and butter.  (I’ll explain the origin of that New England tradition below.) The restaurant that served the food, Hull’s Sar Ho Village, sadly no longer exists.

 

In honor of the tradition of eating Chinese food at Christmas, I’m going to list some of my favorite places in the area. I invite you to write in with places I may have missed.

All-Around Favorite

Chinatown. Stoughton, MA – When my father visited last month from Las Vegas, he said he hadn’t had a decent Chinese meal in years. I drove him right down to Cobbs Corner. This is a restaurant that has mastered the traditional favorites but offers a great variety of newer dishes as well. I think it excels in freshness and quality. It crosses generation divides. My father went ultra-old school, ordering beef chop suey and boneless spare ribs! The Fabulous Dana has newer tastes with a palate that prefers moo shu and chow fun dishes. I like everything.

Chinatown/Sea Food 

Several years ago I went on a quest for the best salt and pepper squid in Boston. That quest lead me to a basement restaurant in Chinatown, Peach Farm Restaurant. I’ve since had the whole fried fish, lobster, and scores of other dishes here and never been lead astray.

Chinatown/Fast Food

Chinatown Cafe.  262 Harrison Avenue. This place offers incredible value for the taste. I love to get the black pepper beef. It’s also great for the roast duck noodle soup with wontons, a dish that really hits the spot on a cold winter day. I consider this more a lunch spot. You order at the counter and wait for your number to be called.

Weekday Dim Sum

Chau Chau. Dorchester.  This place offers Chinatown-level food with the convenience of free parking and an easily accessible location. I go when I have  a dim sum fix, when I need Chinese food on my way to the South Shore, or when I’m meeting somebody from the Boston Globe. The location is the same one I used to frequent when it was Linda Mae’s.

Real Szechuan

Mary Chung. Central Square. Cambridge. This is the place to go for as authentic Szechuan cuisine as you can get in Boston. I had the spicy beef broth and noodles, a perfect treat for a raw day, and the Suan La Chow Show, a dumpling dish. In addition to the food, this restaurant brought me back to the old Central Square. I remember the Central Square of when my father first moved to Cambridge as a funky, eclectic locale filled with new ethnic restaurants catering to the student community of MIT. (Remember how many Indian restaurants there used to be!) Mary Chung still has that vibe.

Best Alternative to Golden Temple

Mandarin Gourmet. Putterham Circle, South Brookline. I’ve got nothing against Chef Changs on Beacon Street other than its too inconvenient for me to frequent.  No question Golden Temple has amazing quality. But the prices have gotten so out of control that even former Bernie Madoff clients can’t go there any more. I find that Mandarin Gourmet has solid quality for an array of Chinese dishes. The dinner dishes are superior to the luncheon specials. The fine owners of Mandarin Gourmet have more than lived up to the reputation of the predecessor institution, Ho Sai Gai.

Best Newcomer

Kantin. The food court at the Super 88. Packards Corner. Allston. This place offers all the dishes I like at the Chinatown Cafe only with a parking lot.

Now for a final observations and a story. I’m concerned that aside from Asian Americans — many of them foreign born students — I’m not seeing many young people eating Chinese food these days. I’m well aware of the popularity of Thai and Sushi these days, but I could see Chinese food going the way of print journalism in a few decades.

I’ve heard all kinds of people mock the New England practice of serving dinner rolls with Chinese meals. Even as knowledgeable a source and passionate Kowloon aficionado as Howie Carr stated his befuddlement at it — and Howie, for reasons I’ll enumerate, of all people should know better. Back in the early days of Chinese food in Boston, Chinatown abutted Italian bread bakeries. In fact, it still dies. Wedged right between Chinatown and the Boston Herald is Quinzani’s.  Somehow that proximity lead Chinese restauranteurs to buy dinner rolls along with their meals. A sign of how old-school a Chinese restaurant is in Massachusetts is if they still follow this practice. If anyone has any more detail on the origin of this, please let me know.

Merry Christmas and Happy Chanukah.

 

 

 

Arepas and Kabobs at Washington and Grove in West Roxbury

November 24, 2008

Ask most Bostonians about the Grove neighborhood of Boston and you’ll likely be met with blank stares. I didn’t know about it until I attended my first tree lighting with the city. This neighborhood — not to be confused with Grove Hall in Roxbury — constitutes the far west boundary of Boston at the West Roxbury-Dedham line on Washington Street. The closest landmark is the Dedham Mall.

Amazingly, this foreboding little stretch is blessed with wonderful food. I had been curious about Viva Mi Arepa for some time before checking it out a couple years ago. Over time, I’ve ordered the empanadas, arepas and even the roasted chicken the chef prepares. And, I do mean the chef. The owner-operator is a highly-trained culinary expert for emigrated from Haiti to Venezuela. While cooking at a high-end resort in Venezuela, he also picked up the national cuisine.

When my car was in the shop with transmission trouble at nearby Lee Myles, I gingerly brought up the subject of Viva Mi Arepa. I didn’t know what these old-school guys would think of this Venezuelan food. “That guy…” said one of the Lee Myles staff members somewhat loudly prompting me to worry that he was about to launch into a tirade. “That guy can really cook,” he concluded. He told me that Viva Mi Arepa even offers a special paella every Sunday for customers.

Just down the road from Viva Mi Arepa is the newly-expanded Cristelle’s Restaurant. From the outside this restaurant that now occupies the site of the old Sahara Pita Bakery, looks like an ordinary sub shop. Inside, it’s not just a sub shop but a Middle Eastern paradise. I’ve long been surprised that for a neighborhood with such a strong Lebanese and Syrian presence, aside from Samia’s in West Roxbury, which closes too early to order for dinner most nights, there’s a scarcity of Middle Eastern food. Until now.

Cristelle’s offers up not just outstanding hummus, baba ghanoush and falafel, it purveys the rarest of commodities, the classic Mediterranean breakfast. These are such dishes as a warm chickpea or lentil and olive oil foul, a flat meat-pie. Cristelle’s serves these with an array of pickles, radishes, hot peppers, tomatoes and red onion. Last time I stopped in around lunchtime, I saw a couple men gorging on delicious-looking kabobs on skewers. Unbelievable!

Don’t get me wrong. They sell steak and cheeses, pizza, and even pancakes and crepes for breakfast. But I believe their Middle Eastern food is really special.

Also of interest in the Grove is what is going on at Jeha’s Meat Market. Jeha’s is a great place to get beef or lamb sausages. He also offers hot sausages. For larger orders, I’d call ahead.

With the holidays upon us, I’ll be posting a little more on local food to provide a respite to those overtaxed with cooking festive meals.

Celtic Pride

June 17, 2008

I just returned from downtown. I met the Fabulous Dana at her office in the Bullfinch Triangle and walked across the Greenway to J. Pace.

Already 9 hours before the Boston Celtics face off against the Los Angeles Lakers tonight in an attempt to win their first championship since 1986, the whole area was buzzing. Green and white balloons adorned buildings and garages from the Garden to Haymarket.

We crossed the Greenway, where young people were arrayed on the grass sunbathing, and entered Pace, the salumeria and grocery, closed during the years of Big Dig construction. As excitement over the Celtics and the downtown revival hung in the air, I noticed the next customer wearing a nifty black Boston Celtics polo shirt. It was the man largely responsible for the resurgence of the Celtics, managing partner, Wyc Grousbeck.

I credit Grousbeck for putting together an investment team to buy the club, tapping Danny Ainge to serve as the general manager, and, most importantly, for having faith. At a time when I thought the teams fortunes were without hope, Grousbeck had the vision to see what the new era Celtics could become.

Grousbeck is also a philanthropist and a decent guy. He flew back to Boston between Celtics games in LA to attend his son’s graduation from the Perkins School for the Blind.

Nobody can predict what will happen in sports. I’m hoping that Celtics, who despite all their championship banners over the years, can earn their first ever rolling rally.

In the meantime, the city is in championship form.

Goin’ Back to Cali

May 31, 2008

Epic Foes

Now that the Boston Celtics have defeated the Detroit Pistons, it is only fitting that they face their historic foe, the Los Angeles Lakers. Just as in Greek mythology, where heroes had to vanquish great enemies before being allowed to enter the pantheon, the Garnett-Pierce-Allen trio must defeat Kobe and the team from the West. To get us ready for this tremendous battle, I’m posting some links.

1. Randy Newman singing “I Love LA.”

2. 2 Pac and Dr. Dre performing “California Love.”

3. Cool J’s “Goin’ Back to Cali.”

4. Kevin McHale taking Kurt Rambis down in the 1984 Finals.


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