A City Tasting Tour: Boston Food Guide
“Drink more of this wine,” reads the label of a Chenin Blanc from Farmers Jane Wine Co. in California. I’m at The Wine Bottega, a largely organic and biodynamic wine shop in Little Italy. Next to those lady farmers on the Bottega’s shelf is a 2011 bottle of zero sulfite Fiano from Harrington urban winery in San Francisco whose tag reads, “Get lost in the ether,” referencing the drug daze of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. I choose to follow the first instruction instead of harnessing my inner Hunter S. Thompson, and after one smell of that peach-tangerine nose and a few sips of the crisp and light white later that night, I’m happy I did.
The hip Wine Bottega represents what Boston is becoming—a juxtaposition of working-class roots, local pride, a sense of community, and growing affluence. As the city grows up, it has no patience for condescension. A meal at a fancy restaurant ends with a slice of humble pie, delivered by a server who’s professional without the least bit of pretension. Into the Boston soup throw students on a budget, a large financial district, Italian and Asian immigration, and suddenly there are a wide range of off-the-beaten-path food experiences not to be missed. Here’s how to do, see, and eat it all:
From the Wine Bottega, walk down Little Italy’s main drag, Hanover Street, past the beckoning squid ink pasta with glazed calamari and brown butter panko at semi-permanent pop-up restaurant, Whisk at 351. Turn left at Bricco restaurant and wine bar to the hidden panetteria around back. Pass the flour sacks and descend the stairs to air teeming with wild yeasts, sweet gluten, and the smell of freshly made ciabatta, olive loaves, baguettes, and miches. Listed on the wall are the simple but sacred base ingredients: sea salt, mother yeast, water, 00 flour, bran, olive oil, and passion. Word to the wise: arrive early before the prosciutto and Parmigiana loaf sells out.
Stumble into the Salumeria Italiana while the owner is butchering a whole lamb for a customer’s Easter order, and you’ll get dinner and a show. The former, a mixture of the house-made antipasti displayed on the counter: heaping piles of grilled peppers, eggplant, artichokes, and zucchini coated lovingly in olive oil, plus olives, cheeses, marinated squid, and potato salad; the latter, an artist at work.
EATING AT THE MARKET
Plan to be in town on a Tuesday or a Friday to take in the Copley Square Farmers Market. A world apart from touristy Quincy Market, the Copley market features stall after stall of heirloom tomatoes, rainbow carrots, watermelon radishes, scarlet turnips, and unique varieties of apples including Cameos, Cortlands, Spencers, and Honey Crisps. There are fresh mozzarella sandwiches and cranberry pecan rolls from Iggy’s bakery, apple pie jam, foraged Matsutaki and Hen of the Wood mushrooms, and the Cape Cod Fish Share, a sustainable fish co-op with grey sole and haddock. There are also more than thirty types of handmade ravioli (truffled mushroom; brandied lobster; roasted pear, prosciutto and gorgonzola), fresh pasta (regular and a small selection of gluten-free), and canned “red gravy” (what Bostonians called tomato sauce) from Valicenti Organico.
A TASTE OF ASIA
From the market, walk east to Chinatown where you will find Shojo. There, it’s a choice between a menu of Asian tiki bar specialties and well-made classic cocktails (they chisel a large block of ice for an old fashioned, making for less dilution). Bar manager/rum lover, Marcus, pushes the Scorpion Jar for Two (plantation and Santa Teresa rum, amber cognac, almond syrup, and citrus), but you can trust Reuben to make something special for you. Or just ask him for his signature Greenmarket with, counter-intuitively, yellow chartreuse. Covering a lot of ground, Shojo also has one of the better sake lists in the city. And where else pulls off an international charcuterie board of headcheese, duck rillette, kimchi, longanberry compote, and fig mostarda?
THE MORNING AFTER
The next morning, grab a juice at Juice Bar Boston. A blend of ginger, lemon, kale and green apple will help get the last of the scorpion out. The tiny space in the Back Bay T station is more South American juice bar than California, but there are plenty of superfoods (maca, cacao, bee pollen), kombucha, and greens on the menu to bring out your inner west coast zen. For anyone not detoxing, they also sell Peru’s favourite eerily yellow soft drink, Inka Cola. Down trendy Newbury Street, across from Boston Common is DeLuca’s. The fine grocer has been around for over 100 years, and the shop just north of America’s oldest park houses everything you’ll need for a picnic in the nearby public garden. Cheese, charcuterie and breads line the shelves, a second room has a sandwich counter, and the basement wine room is an oenophile’s dream come true: a $350 USD bottle of Ridge 1991 Monte Bello (it’s wine critic, Robert Parker’s, favourite 1991 California cabernet) next to a relatively affordable $225 Philip Togni 1993 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Remember to breathe when you see the 1978 Chateau La Mission Haut-Brion Bordeaux, which weighs in at a lofty $650. Then head down to the lagoon in the Public Garden where you can dream of grapes while watching the swans glide along the crystalline waters below weeping willows.