Thursday, March 31, 2011

Barking Crab

We were in Boston recently and met up for dinner with the Haws family who were also visiting there from Redlands. They suggested we meet at the Barking Crab, 
located at 88 Sleeper Street, a restaurant they'd spied on the waterfront of Boston Harbor on their way into town. 
One of my food desires in visiting New England was to have some good clam chowder and some lobster. I'd had some good clam chowder and this was my opportunity to have some lobster.  My experience with restaurants and lobster is that they overcook it, particularly when it is grilled. Judy and several others opted for the grilled lobster. 
She confessed to me later that hers was not very good, it was dry (as I look on Yelp, I see others also complaining about their lobster being overdone). I opted for a 1.25 pound boiled lobster which meant that I needed to open up the lobster on my own. I told our waiter my concern about the lobster being overcooked and asked him to cook mine so that it was just beyond the point of translucence. 
The result was the best lobster I've ever eaten. If all lobster tasted that good, I would sit up nights drooling, just thinking about it. I first started with a claw and the nutcracker like device they gave me to open it up with (they give instructions where they talk about using a rock to smash it open, but there was no rock at our table - but I see on youtube where they actually do use rocks). When I crunched open the claw, a spray of beautiful lobster juice went flying in all directions, including a little in my face. I knew then that this was not going to be dry. The lobster claws were so nice and moist and limp, they just melted in my mouth with a tender sweetness. 
After eating both claws, I ate the rest of the large legs, then went for the tail. After twisting the tail off the body, it took time and effort to pull away portions of the shell and then the underside membrane. It would be so much easier with kitchen shears, you could just cut right down through the center of the shell. Finally, after freeing up the tail, I dipped it into the melted better and experienced nirvana. 
I still don't think it is as good as Alaskan king crab, but this lobster was close. With Andrew Zimmern of Bizarre Foods and his Maine lobster adventure running through my mind, I opened up the main shell of the body in search of edible bits. I found some nice morsels I would not have normally ventured to find, but was well short of a Zimmern experience, I'm sure. I should have put the lobster shell up to my lips and drunk the sweet liquid down, in true Zimmern style, but I could not get past the green color and let that sweet nectar go to waste. We also had some other food. I had some potatoes and vegetables. 
The vegetables were particularly good, especially the red pepper which was moist and sweet. We had crab cakes 
that were moist and seemed much healthier than most, less fried. We also had some sort of crab dip 
which I got a little of. I came away satisfied that I'd had a great New England lobster experience. In doing this post, I see that Adam Richman of  Man vs. Food, a Travel Channel show, did part of an episode at the Barking Crab. 

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Old North Church - Boston

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote the famous poem, "Paul Revere's Ride," which really addresses the greatest fame of the Old North Church in Boston:

   Listen my children and you shall hear
   Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
   On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five [1775];
   He said to his friend, "If the British march
   By land or sea from the town to-night,
   Hang a lantern aloft in the belfry arch
   Of the North Church tower as a signal light,--
   One if by land, and two if by sea;
   And I on the opposite shore will be,
   Ready to ride and spread the alarm
   Through every Middlesex village and farm,
   Then he said "Good-night!" and with muffled oar
   Silently rowed to the Charlestown shore,
   Meanwhile, his friend through alley and street
   Wanders and watches, with eager ears,
   Till in the silence around him he hears
   The muster of men at the barrack door,
   Then he climbed the tower of the Old North Church,
   By the wooden stairs, with stealthy tread,
   To the belfry chamber overhead,
   On the opposite shore walked Paul Revere.
   But mostly he watched with eager search
   The belfry tower of the Old North Church
   And lo! as he looks, on the belfry's height
   A glimmer, and then a gleam of light!
   He springs to the saddle, the bridle he turns,
   But lingers and gazes, till full on his sight
   A second lamp in the belfry burns.
   The fate of a nation was riding that night;
   And the spark struck out by that steed, in his flight,
   Kindled the land into flame with its heat.
   It was two by the village clock,
   When he came to the bridge in Concord town.
   And one was safe and asleep in his bed
   Who at the bridge would be first to fall,
   Who that day would be lying dead,
   Pierced by a British musket ball.
   You know the rest. In the books you have read
   How the British Regulars fired and fled,---
   How the farmers gave them ball for ball,
   Chasing the redcoats down the lane,
   Then crossing the fields to emerge again

General Thomas Gage had plans to send troops to arrest John Hancock and Sam Adams and capture rebel ammunition and stores in Concord and Lexington. The rebels uncovered the plot and developed their own plan to give those in the countryside fair warning. The poem memorializes the events that happened as a result, which were the beginning of the Revolutionary War. 
The Old North Church was, and still is, an Episcopal church, 
and ironically its parishioners were mostly sympathetic to the British cause. For example, see the memorial to Major John Pitcairn of the Royal Marines
 who was killed at the Battle of Bunker Hill two months after Paul Revere's ride, whose body is interred beneath the church. Pitcairn was in command of the advance party of redcoats when the first shots were fired at Lexington. In fact, the king of England gave the church the silver used at its services and a bible. This helps underscore the bravery of Robert Newman, the sexton of the Old North Church, who lit and placed the lanterns in the steeple. The revolutionary foment came primarily from members of the Congregational church, originally a nonconformist movement in England who were early on called separatists or independents. In fact, Paul Revere himself, was a Congregationalist. 
Old North Church, officially known as Christ Church, 
is in the North End of Boston. It was built in 1723, the architecture inspired by Sir Christopher Wren.
 It is now the oldest active church in Boston.
Its original steeple, the one that held the two lanterns, 
was destroyed by a hurricane in 1804 and a replacement designed by Charles Bulfinch was also destroyed by a hurricane in 1954. The current steeple is 16 feet shorter than the original and has design elements from the first and second steeple, but does retain the original weather vane. 
There are walled in pews, with doors, and seats inside, 
most with brass plaques noting their early 1720s benefactors. I love the fact that it is still a practicing church 
and that members of the church still sit in the pews, listen to music from the organ, 
and visit parts of the church 
that are otherwise off-limits to tourists during other parts of the week. Because it is a practicing church, it is not eligible for government grants that help in preservation and restoration efforts. 
A bust of George Washington was presented to the church by its warden in 1815. 
Nine years later, in 1824, when Lafayette returned to the U.S. for a visit, he saw the bust and said it looked "more like him than any other portrait." 
Obviously, the congregation had come around to the successful rebel cause by that time! 

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Taim Falafel & Smoothie Bar

While in New York City recently, Judy and I met with my sister-in-law, Mary, and we took the subway to Greenwich Village to go to Taim Falafel & Smoothie Bar located at 222 Waverly Place, between 11th Street and Perry Street (phone: 212-691-1287), a restaurant recommended in a guidebook for having amazing falafel. 
The restaurant was tiny, large enough for a couple of people to stand and order and about six people to sit on bar stools pulled up to a ledge table beneath the front window. I've never been particularly wowed by falafel, I've tried it several times and it is okay, but not something I would generally order because I like it. However, I've now found a place where I would actually buy falafel because I do like it. We ordered the mixed falafel platter with three kinds of falafel: the first kind was green (traditional) which is garbanzo beans or chick peas mixed with parsley, cilantro and mint; the second kind was brown or Harissa (mildly spicy) with Tunisian hot chili sauce, including piri piri chili peppers, serrano peppers and olive oil; and the third kind was red (mild), with roasted red pepper. 
The three kinds of falafel looked different on the outside and inside and tasted quite a bit different from each other. The platter also came with hummus; tabouli, made of parsley, mint, onions and tomatoes; Israeli salad made of tomatoes and cucumber; 
two types of sauce, a green hot sauce and a yellow amba, which is spiced mango chutney; and fresh pita bread. 
I stuffed at least one of each kind of falafel in the pita bread, added some hummus, tabouli and Israeli salad and a little of each kind of sauce. 
It was really excellent. I liked both the Harissa and red falafel better than the green. We also got two types of home-made lemonade, one with brown sugar and one with ginger and mint, which was the best. As I'm doing this post, I find that Taim is ranked number 35 out of 6,958 restaurants in New York City on Trip Advisor and it gets 4 1/2 stars on Yelp. 

Monday, March 28, 2011

Cabby Shack

We visited Plymouth, Massachusetts recently to see the celebrated Plymouth rock and the Mayflower. Although well past the middle of March, the temperature was in the low 30's and we were getting rain and slushy snow and the wind was finding chinks in our armor of coats and chilling us to the bone. I came to New England with a determination to have some lobster and clam chowder, or clam chowdah, as they call it in Massachusetts. We took some peremptory looks, at a distance, at the Mayflower, and stopped at the pavilion covered rock, carved with 1620, for a couple of pictures, and we'd had enough. I found new admiration for the pilgrims who lived here without automobiles and Gortex North Face jackets. The night before we saw some wild turkeys off the side of the road, outside New Haven, Connecticut, and I mentally connected those turkeys with this Mayflower and the cold weather. Those early New Englanders had to be a hearty breed. We asked a clerk at a local trinket shop where we could find some good clam chowder. She directed us to Cabby Shack, just down the road from the Mayflower, and on the pier (in the picture below, you can see specks of snow falling and the ocean in the background to the left). 
She said it was voted the best clam chowder in town. There were only a few other brave souls with us in the place. We ordered a baked bread bowl of "clam chowdah," some fish and chips with coleslaw and some steamed mussels in garlic, white wine, and some other ingredient I don't recall, which was a special (not on their regular menu). The clam chowdah was really thick, the thickest I've ever had. 
I spoon could stand upright in it. It was full of potatoes, not too large and cooked well enough that they were pleasingly soft. You could taste the cream and butter that saturated the mix and lent its pleasant taste to the clams that also inhabited the concoction. It was very, very good. 
It would take a side by side comparison with the clam chowder at Splash Cafe in Pismo Beach and San Luis Obispo to determine which has the best. I think the bread bowl itself is better at Splash, but I do think Cabby Shack does beat Splash for the chowdah itself. In doing this post, I find that Beau MacMillan of the Food Network rated the "clam chowdah" at Cabby Shack as the "Best Thing I Ever Ate." The rest of the meal was a little bit of a disappointment, but it is hard to complain about bunts and singles when you also experience a home run. The fish was very fresh and flaky, but covered with a not particularly great or moist batter. 
The tarter sauce seemed to be pure mayonnaise and dill and sweet pickle 
and we polished off about half a squeeze bottle of it (no, this was not a Weight Watcher type meal). 
Judy said it would taste better with vinegar, so I asked for some and she was right. I had a little of the fish and most of my chips with vinegar. The mussels were small, seemed overcooked and not as fresh. 
The broth with the mussels was very different than any I've ever had. It was more creamy and had a bite and some sweetness to it. I'm not sure what the key ingredient was. I did enjoy soaking the leftover clam chowdah bread bowl in the mussel broth and then eating the broth-soaked bread. 
Such a treat. If you ever get to Plymouth, I recommend a cold day and some warm clam chowdah. You might also take a quick look at the rock and the Mayflower while you're there. 

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Mulberry Meat Market

We stayed in a hotel about 2 blocks from the New York Stock Exchange in lower Manhattan. On Saturday morning, early, we decided to walk to Chinatown. Judy and I have decided that there is no better way to get to know a city than to walk it. Like in San Francisco, Chinatown is next door to the financial district, but the distance is greater in New York. It was cold, and we marveled at the amazing number of policemen that scour the New York streets, particularly as we walked past the Brooklyn Bridge, City Hall and the Federal courthouse. New York's Chinatown is bigger and better than LA's and San Francisco's. We walked up and down a number of streets in Chinatown and then were drawn into the Mulberry Meat Market by its distinctive array of meats and foods visible through the storefront windows. 
We were the only non-Chinese in the place and everywhere we heard the distinctive and undecipherable sounds of spoken Chinese. I waited at a counter for what seemed like 10 minutes while three or four clerks ignored me and waited on other Chinese customers. I suspect they were as leery of me and my English as I was of their Chinese. I was about ready to leave, but I finally got one male clerk's attention. I pointed at some pork balls with a slice of fish on top and indicated I wanted one. The man responded "too salty," then ignored me and went on to something else. Very frustrated, I asked a woman clerk next to him if she could give us one of the pork balls. She also said, "very salty." I said, "that's okay, I still want one." 
No question that we were not their typical customer. They weren't sure what to make of us. We finally got our pork ball, then I pointed to some pork chops and asked for two, 
then asked about a chicken patty and got one, 
and asked for two chicken wings (so I thought) in a honey glaze. 
The clerk was shaking her head. What were these people doing asking for small amounts of different types of food? Judy picked up a small bag of rolled bean paste goodies. 
We walked a couple of short blocks to a small park, very similar to a park in San Francisco, where the Chinese men were huddled in groups talking and playing games. We sat at a table and started our unusual breakfast. This is one of my very favorite types of meals, a smattering of fun and unusual and very tasty items. The pork ball with fish on top was salty, but not that salty, but of course I love salt. 
I loved it. Judy thought it was okay. The pork chop, which I thought the clerk had said was salt and pepper pork, was actually pork with more of a sweet glaze, cooked perfectly, still very tender. The chicken patty was very moist, much like a pork patty and was juicy and full of taste. 
Judy bit into one of the chicken wings and then determined that it was duck, not chicken, and she was right. The bean paste goodies exuded banana, but I still liked them. I could eat this meal once a week, but I would weigh 500 pounds if I did. I do love Chinatowns, whether in Los Angeles, San Francisco or New York. 

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Baked Cuttlefish

While in New York's Chinatown recently, we were walking down one of quite a few streets just looking for something unusual. We have been to four Chinatowns in the last few months, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Boston, in addition to New York. We found an item in a window that was a one-of-a-kind as far as we have seen. It was orange and bulbous. 
I thought it might be squid, but the tentacles at the front appeared too short. 
We walked in and asked for one of the orange items in the window. The proprietor indicated it was cuttlefish. I have tried cuttlefish once before, a rehydrated dried cuttlefish I bought in Chinatown in Los Angeles. It was not very good, but then again, I didn't really expect it to be with the way I prepared it. This cuttlefish came to our table in slices, along with some Hoisin sauce. 
It was missing the cuttlebone and any other internal parts that would have made it even more interesting. It was actually quite good. It was a tad bit rubbery, like squid and octopus usually are, but not overly so. I'm not sure what it was cooked in, the proprietor said the orange was just food coloring, but I'm not convinced, because something was added to it that gave it a nice pleasant sweetish to mildly-spicy taste. 
In the same genre as octopus and squid, I think I liked it more than any octopus I've ever eaten and it was right up there with some squid dishes I've had. Judy liked it as well, perhaps more so than I did. We ate it all. Sometimes you win some and sometimes you lose when you adventure out and try new things. This one was definitely a win.