Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Bahhston, part 1: Pho Hoa, No Name, Finale

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The next morning after our ill-fated adventures at the Long Island City piers, TL and I woke up early to hop on a Fung Wah bus to Boston. Just several days earlier we had made the spontaneous decision to head there for the long weekend, and both of us were looking forward to getting away from the hubbub of NYC for a few days.
On the way up, we had a few roast pork buns from Tai Pan Bakery. But by the time the four-hour bus ride ended and we got to our hotel we were starving, so we quickly dropped off our bags and headed right out again in search of food. Wandering around, we moseyed right into Boston's Chinatown.
At Pho Hoa TL and I split an order of spring rolls, and he ordered a bowl of phở while I opted for the bún chả, cold rice vermicelli paired with grilled pork meatballs, sprouts and veg, and fish sauce. Bún and phở are my two fallback dishes in Vietnamese restaurants; they're generally the ones by which I judge a place. Here, the noodles in the bún chả were broken and unsatisfyingly short, making me feel like I was eating some kind of thin and slippery rice. But when I bit into one of the hefty meatballs and its sweet, smoky, porky flavor filled my mouth, that almost made up for it. There were quite a lot in my bowl, too, eight instead of the more common four or five.
After lunch TL and I spent the afternoon wandering around—he had never been to Boston, and while I had visited several times before, I hadn't seen all of it, either.

Bostonians are much more whimsically patriotic; we came upon this group while walking around near Boston Common, and were tickled when we entered a graveyard and found an entire ensemble of musicians in full 18th century gear playing marching tunes.
And later, just outside Quincy Market, a whole friggin' orchestra was playing.
The last few times I had come to Boston I had eaten at No Name, a solid, unpretentious place on the waterfront—mainly for the opportunity to eat platters of fried whole-belly clams for cheap. Tucked away in the Seaport District, its dining room is a cavernous, wood-paneled affair with paper placemats and paper cups of water that can be refilled from the pitchers on each table. The food is basic and without frills, and I had never thought of it as a popular spot. But when we arrived for dinner, I was shocked to find a long line of people snaking out the door. We had to wait for about half an hour before we were seated.
I come for the fried clams, but their fish chowder is a must. The thin, milky surface of the chowder is deceptive: beneath it hides an iceberg of fresh, flaky chunks of firm white fish, whatever is their catch of the day. The briny, un-thickened broth is swirled with dots of butter, and the fish is tender. A cup is almost a meal and a bowl will do you in entirely.
The last several times I had eaten here, the fried clam bellies had been sweet, plump, and perfectly fried. Unfortunately, not so on this night. The clams in both my clam roll and TL's fried clam platter bordered on soggy and seemed to be filled with more black gunk than usual. They were still plentiful and cheap at about ten bucks for the clam roll and seventeen for the platter, but quantity just didn't quite make up for quality this time. It may be that I'll have to retire this place.
Since we still had the Zip Car we had rented for a few more hours, we decided to drive over to Cambridge for dessert at Finale, a random choice. The place could have been a Cosi that specialized in dessert; not in a bad way, just in a pseudo-warm yet chain kind of way. Our tiramisu was served with some fancy touches, like pistachio tuiles and coffee-flavored gelee dolloped inside a curl of chocolate. Not too sweet and well prepared.

It was a nice, peaceful end to a busy day. And all too soon—tommorow—we would be heading home.

Next: Bahhston, part 2: Taiwan Cafe

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