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By Mary Ann Fitzmorris

It was love at first sight for me and the city of Boston. I can easily see why you can’t take Bostonians out of Boston, even in winter.

We arrived in the afternoon to rain and dropping temps. And this was to be the trip where I would venture out of downtown. . .to Harvard, perhaps.

The cab driver gave me a pep talk, and I was re-energized. Motivated! I grabbed an umbrella and started out. Boston’s North End is one of my favorite neighborhoods anywhere. I selected Antico Forno for dinner there, specifically because it seemed like a place that Brenda and Eddie from Billy Joel’s song might frequent. Nothing glamorous and hip like Neptune Oyster a few doors down. Nothing historic like Union Oyster House. No! Grandma’s Italian.

It did not disappoint. The most interesting and fun thing about the evening was the waitress. Not that she was fun; quite the contrary. She was stern in a Fifties sort of way. I was admonished for ordering pizza the wrong way. Imagine a scary teacher that no one wanted to talk to, so each student goaded the other to do it for them. “No, you ask her for another glass of Chianti”, etc.

We started with arancini, which few others at the table had ever had. And it might be the best we ever had. The meat filling was as delicious as the texture of the risotto shell. Fried to perfection, this, large globe sat in a pool of rich and very stove hot sauce. It was devoured by the table as soon as it was cooled enough to eat.

The Caesar salad was perky and crisp, and had that anchovy flavor and generous ribbons of parmesan. That also accompanied Tom’s Carbonara. Stove hot, ample and delicious, it went around the table a few times.

The pizza I ordered was also for the table, and it had sausage and broccoli rabe, instead of pistachios, because I put Salsiccia in the wrong place when ordering.

There was also a delicious rose cream sauce ravioli and melanzana involtini that got rave reviews. (I don’t eat any food that is rolled). The osso bucco was very popular at the table, and the sauce had that stick-to-your-lips demiglace rich quality.

More Chianti all around. And a few perfect cannoli. Great camaraderie. This meal was everything I wanted.

Our hotel. The Omni Parker House is screaming for a re-do, but it does have a beautiful dining room and great bars. And it has the spectacular Omni buffet breakfast, with its perfect thick and stiff bacon. And everything else anyone could want for breakfast, except maybe better service.

The group convened again for lunch in this same lovely room, mainly to try the famous Parker House rolls, which have become mass-produced and consumed in frightening quantities each American Thanksgiving. It was fun to try them at their source. They are puffy and doughy and fresher, but otherwise the same. They came in a basket with some very unfortunate local colonial bread, which even tasted brown.

My crab cake was good, laced with a yummy sauce. There was also a great Cobb salad at the table, but the star dish was crusty scrod in a thick butter sauce served with fluffy white rice.

I had to try Boston Cream pie, also invented at this hotel. This beautiful presentation bore little resemblance to the original, I suspect, but it was light and delectable.

A few of us ran across the street to the Ruth’s Chris Restaurant in a beautiful building. It was the former city hall, and before that, the first public Latin school. Outside, embedded in the sidewalk were the names of famous students, like Ralph Waldo Emerson. The Ruth’s Chris ain’t bad either.

Back in the warmth of the hotel dining room, we waited for the shuttle to the ship.

<3h>Bar Harbor

It was cold and rainy when the ship stopped in Bar Harbor. After several trips here, this was my chance to go to Acadian National Park, which I just learned was merely a handful of miles away all this time. My intention was to rent a car and drive, but the car rental place was too far away, and even though the staff will drive to the dock and pick up the rental customer, they didn’t have the staff unless the renter had reserved ahead of time. There were a handful of taxi drivers in the town, but I was told after I got into the taxi that there could not be a guarantee that I’d have a ride back to the ship. He promised me “eventually,” but he does not know Tom. Tom wouldn’t be angry, but he might spontaneously combust from worry. I asked the driver to drop me off anywhere. He charged me $5 for my ride around the block. I was happy to pay it.

On well, Acadian National Park will have to wait until the crazy Marys’ girl’s drive-by trip to New England next year. Aimlessly wandering the streets of Bar Harbor even in a cold rain is hardly painful.

Lingering in bookstores here could take up an afternoon, but I was enchanted by a store called Into The Woods. This delightful place had every imaginable version of wood craft from various woods, and barrels of craft by-products like blocks and spools and discs for sale for $1 and under. Most captivating, though, was a gigantic rocking hobby horse about 7 feet tall. Rides were okay, donations accepted. Naturally, I rode. It was a struggle to mount it, but I rocked it gently, terrified of crashing in a pile of wood products for sale. People were shocked at first till they noticed the sign. And then I felt greedy prolonging the whimsy. A steady stream of other riders followed.

Back out in the rain, I wandered down to Stewman’s lobster pound, which is suspiciously right on the water. Had to be touristy, I mused. But who cares? I was chilled to the bone. Once inside, a tiny table next to a real wood fire beckoned. The host read my mind and seated me there, with a view of the busy dock.

Sometimes ordinary things become extraordinarily pleasant.

I sat there, all alone, watching the rain fall and the wind blow and the waves crash. Watching other people try to protect themselves from the elements, I felt grateful to be in the coziness of this raffish but charming eatery. An LSU game caused excitement at the bar just a few feet from my table.

Did I want the grilled halibut, (a favorite fish of mine, and the reason for the divine smell emanating from here)? Or at a perennial favorite of fish and chips? Yes, I know it’s called Stewman’s Lobster, but the local favorite crustacean’s popularity has always been lost on me. Sue me, it’s chewy. Note from Tom: there is no connection between halibut the fish and Halifax, the Nova Scotian city we would soon explore.

A few minutes later, a basket of the most delicious version of fish and chips I have ever encountered was placed before me. Two large pieces of flaky, greaseless haddock sat atop a pile of crispy fries. A small portion of slaw filled out the basket, along with tartar sauce.

I savored this ensemble of fried stuff in a state of utter contentment . . .bordering on actual bliss. My reverie was occasionally interrupted by a waiter who hit the sweet spot of service: attentiveness/aloofness in the perfect proportion. I overheard waiters offering wild blueberry pie to other tables. Maybe my happiness clouded my usual judgement, but I soon heard myself ordering dessert!(It had to be his explanation of how the wild blueberries are harvested from the roadsides at Acadian Park by simply raking them from the bushes.)

A small slice of homemade pie with a dab of whipped cream appeared before me. A fruit dessert! No chocolate involved. I lingered over this dessert, this meal. I didn’t want it to end. I didn’t want to leave this place with the cozy fire.

Sometimes things don’t turn out as you plan. Sometimes they turn out better.

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Eggplant Antipasto Marinated In Olive Oil

Melanzane Sott’Olio d’Oliva (as it’s known in Italy) is a superb antipasto made by marinating eggplant with olive oil, garlic, crushed red peppers and herbs. It’s easy to assemble, but it has a drawback: you have to make it at least two weeks before you plan to use it. A month, maybe even two or three months is even better. This recipe comes from La Cucina Di Andrea’s, a cookbook of Chef Andrea Apuzzo’s recipes that I wrote with him in the late 1980s.

  • 4 medium eggplants
  • 1/2 cup salt
  • 1 quart white vinegar
  • 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 cups not-so-virgin (but not light) olive oil
  • 1/4 cup chopped garlic
  • 1 tsp. crushed red pepper
  • 1 Tbs. dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp. salt

1. Cut the skins off the eggplants. Then slice them crosswise about a quarter of an inch thick. Finally, cut them down to the approximate size of French fries.

2. In a bowl, toss the eggplant strips with the 1/2 cup of salt. Transfer the eggplant strips to a colander, layering them all the way up the sides. Put a bowl a little smaller than the colandar inside the colander, and weigh it down with a couple of unopened cans of the vegetable of your choice. (Tomatoes work perfectly.) Set this assembly into the kitchen sink, and let it stay there for forty-five minutes or so. Then remove the bowl and rinse the salt off the eggplant with cold running water. Drain the eggplant well, then squeeze it dry with your hands.

3. Put the eggplant in a bowl with the vinegar, and marinate it for about half an hour. Drain the vinegar from the eggplant and squeeze it dry again.

4. Scatter the eggplant loosely in a bowl and add all the other ingredients. Stir to mix everything. Scoop the contents into sterilized canning jars. Add enough olive oil to each jar to cover all the eggplant about a half-inch inch deep. Tightly seal and refrigerate the jar. Marinate the eggplant for at least two weeks. The ideal time is actually three months, and the eggplant will keep getting better even after that.

Serve at cool room temperature as an appetizer, with crostini. It’s also great mixed with sliced tomatoes.

Served eight.

AlmanacSquare October 13, 2017

Upcoming Deliciousness

Halloween: Oct. 31
Thanksgiving (Nov. 22)

Restaurant Milestones

The Bistro at the Maison de Ville opened today in 1986. A minuscule dining room with a microscopic kitchen in a small hotel might not be expected to become a seminal local restaurant, but this one was. The first chef was Susan Spicer. She’d cooked around town for a few years, but she came to prominence at the Bistro. When she left to open Bayona, John Neal took over the Bistro’s kitchen. He left after a few years to to open Peristyle. That established the Bistro as a place to enjoy the works of future chef superstars on their way up. Greg Picolo was the longest-serving chef, remaining at the bistro until a problem with the lease shut it down. Patrick Van Hoorebeck ran the dining room and the wine cellar for along time; he was good enough at that to have opened his own wine bar. The Bistro is now extinct. But its influence lives on.

Music To Blow Out Candles By

Today in 1893, a copyright was issued to Mildred and Patty Hill for the melody of the song everybody sings on birthdays. Its real name is Good Morning To All. It remained under copyright protection for many years until it was declared a public-domain work by the courts. Until then, many big restaurant chains have their own songs for birthdays, to avoid royalties when their waiters sing (usually very badly) to their customers.

The worst rendering of “Happy Birthday” I have heard consistently is performed at Commander’s Palace. The servers botch it up so miserably that I’m convinced they do so intentionally, to keep it from spreading to other tables.

Drinking Through History

Molly Pitcher was born today in 1754, near Trenton, New Jersey. Her real name was Mary Ludwig. Her nickname grew from her job carrying water to the American soldiers fighting in the Revolutionary War. When her husband was wounded, she took over his cannon, and became famous for that deed. What is less known is that she refused to ask the soldiers whether they wanted still bottled water, bottled water with bubbles, or just the tap water.

Food And Cars

Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby starred in a big television special today in 1957, sponsored by the Ford Motor Company. The commercials introduced the Edsel, soon to become the laughingstock of the auto world. Later, it became a classic. Food connection: Richard Collin–the New Orleans Underground Gourmet, the city’s first restaurant critic–owned an Edsel in the 1970s.

Today’s Flavor

Today is National Popover Day. A popover–not to be confused with a turnover–is a tall, muffin-shaped, nearly-hollow bread made with a very eggy batter. You bake them with butter in the pockets of the popover tin. They are best eaten immediately after emerging from the oven. You will eat a popover quickly. Its marvelous flavor, aroma, texture, and hollow middle grab you. The only restaurant in memory to serve them was during the brief hegemony of Tom Cowman in the kitchen of Lenfant’s when the Marcello family ran it, in the 1980s. They brought the popovers to the table when you sat down, and they were irresistible.

Edible Dictionary

jumbo lump crabmeat, n.–The two muscles found near the rear of a blue crab’s body. They move the paddle-like backfins. Because those are the crab’s strongest, these two muscles are the largest in the crab. Jumbo lump is the most desirable and expensive part of the largest crabs, and is carefully picked to keep it whole. By its nature in includes a thin, translucent piece of shell-like material, the absence of which means that the crab was over-picked. Jumbo lump is white and firm. It’s the essential ingredient for the best quality crab cakes, crabmeat ravigote, and crab salads. Just plain lump crabmeat is also white and firm, but smaller. Beware: the phrase “jumbo lump crabmeat” has come to be used in many restaurants to mean “plain old crabmeat.” True jumbo lump is so expensive that many chefs use the name but not the crabmeat. If you ever see a dish that says it’s made with jumbo lump but carries a low price, it is likely not the prime jumbo lump. (Or pasteurized and canned, perhaps from southeast Asia or Venezuela)

Gourmet Gazetteer

Clam, Virginia is on the narrow southern end of the Delmarva Peninsula, three miles wide between the Atlantic Ocean and Chesapeake Bay. In Pokomoke Sound on the bay side, there probably are a lot of clams, and certainly lots of oysters. The crossroads that is Clam seems more involved with farming than clamming, though. If there is chowder to be had, it will be found two miles away in Parksley, perhaps at the Lunch Box or the Club Car Cafe.

Deft Dining Rule #18:

Unless the goodness of the food and service are of secondary concern, never ask a restaurant for a table for more than eight people. Six is even better. If you have a larger number, divided it in to sixes and eights. At larger tables, the people at opposite ends won’t be able to talk with one another, anyway.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez

After you cook ground beef or sausage to make a stuffing (i.e., for lasagna or stuffed peppers), use the end slice from a loaf of white bread to soak up the excess fat thrown off by the meat. (Do this after removing from the pan.) The dog will love that piece of bread, too.

Food Namesakes

Pro football star Jerry Rice was born today in 1962. . . Pro baseball pitcher Tim Crabtree hit the Big Mound today in 1969. (I wish crabs grew on trees!). . . British actor Wilfred Pickles was born today in 1904. . . British politician Edwina Currie was born today in 1946. She created a stir when she blew the whistle on English egg producers, noting that their eggs sometimes contained salmonella.

Words To Eat By

“In any world menu, Canada must be considered the vichyssoise of nations—it’s cold, half-French, and difficult to stir.”–J. Stuart Keate, Canadian writer, born today in 1913.

Words To Drink By

“No animal ever invented anything so bad as drunkeness–or so good as drink.”–Lord Chesterton.