Thanks for the sense memories
2009’s roster of memorable dishes
It’s Thanksgiving, time to reflect on the things for which we are grateful: family and friends, good fortune, and - of course - good food. Here are some of the dishes I was most thankful for in 2009. (All things must pass, even the delicious: Call before you head out if your heart is set on a certain selection.)
Steak frites at Beacon Hill Bistro I love this bistro’s bistro for its duality: Both innovative and traditional fare excel here, and I can’t decide which side of chef Jason Bond’s cooking I prefer. His steak frites was just about perfect, from the first whiff as the plate approached to the last slender, golden McDonaldian fry. (For those who must have a chewy cut, abstain. This was a tender strip steak, topped with herb butter.) I could just as easily choose a different dish: a vegetable herb broth with raviolini that was served in the spring. It sounds spare, but the broth was round and lush, the pasta stuffed with bracing green nettles and light ricotta. It couldn’t have been more different from the steak frites, but it was every bit as wonderful. 25 Charles St., Boston. 617-723-7575. www.beaconhillhotel.com.
Gnocchi at Bina Osteria Chef Brian Konefal’s stint at Bina was all too short. When he left the kitchen, I mourned for his gnocchi, tiny, tender, nearly as fluffy as snow. To make them that light, staffers bundled up and headed for the walk-in freezer; the cold kept the texture consistent. The gnocchi were served with Meyer lemon confit, clams, lobster, delicate rings of calamari, and chorizo. I’m not sure whether I miss them or Konefal’s carbonara more. Fresh pasta topped with a slow-cooked hen egg, pecorino sauce, and house-made pancetta, it was rich, golden, and dreamy. 581 Washington St., Boston. 617-956-0888. www.binaboston.com.
Smelts at Craigie on Main I’m pretty sure the folks in the Craigie kitchen can do anything they set their minds to, no matter how technically complicated. Yet one of the dishes I enjoyed most at the restaurant was one of the simplest. During Maine smelt season (nearly upon us again), chef Tony Maws took the tiny fish, fried them up, and served them with squid ink anchoiade. They were fresh and sweet, aquatic candy. 853 Main St., Cambridge. 617-497-5511. www.craigieonmain.com.
Miang kum at Dok Bua Thai Kitchen I can always count on a really good Thai restaurant to surprise my palate. Dok Bua, one I often recommend, did that with an appetizer called miang kum. This little bite featured a wild array of tastes and textures wrapped together in a spinach leaf: dried shrimp, peanuts, coconut, chili, bits of lime rind, and more. It was a flavor explosion. (You can find a good version nearby at Khao Sarn.) 411 Harvard St., Brookline. 617-232-2955. www.dokbua-thai.com.
Fish tacos at Dorado Tacos & Cemitas Fish tacos were once hard to come by in Boston, but no longer. At this taqueria alone there are four kinds on offer. I was a big fan of the traditional fried fish tacos: the Ensenada, for example, which came with green cabbage, fresh salsa, pickled onions, crema, and lime. But my favorite was the grilled swordfish taco. The fish was meaty, with lovely charred flavor, and it came with an enchanting dark green, tangy tomatillo-avocado salsa. Bottle the stuff. Please. 401 Harvard St., Brookline. 617-566-2100. www.doradotacos.com.
Pizza all over town This summer, I went on an extended pizza crawl, finding some of the best slices around. (I could pretend I did this purely for your edification, but really I did it because I wanted an excuse to eat pizza nonstop for the better part of a month.) I had a strong suspicion certain places would make the list: Regina, Santarpio’s, and Galleria Umberto, for example. Others were surprises. I didn’t know how much I loved the double-wide slices at Ernesto’s in the North End, or the classic New York pizza parlor version at Presto in Brighton. Ernesto’s, 69 Salem St., 617-523-1373. www.ernestosnorthend.com. Presto, 1936 Beacon St., 617-232-4545.
Trota at Il Casale The wood-grilled trout at chef Dante de Magistris’s excellent new restaurant was one of the best fish preparations I ate all year. It came with the head on, but with the bones removed. In their place were lemon and orange slices, which kept the flesh moist, tasting of citrus, wood smoke, and salt. The trout sat atop a pesto of green olives, capers, parsley, and more citrus, all of the flavors perfectly layered. 50 Leonard St., Belmont. 617-209-4942. www.ilcasalebelmont.com.
Prune gnocchi at No. 9 Park What more can be said about this dish? If it weren’t so good, it would be the most over-hyped plate in Boston. But I ate it again this year, for the first time in a while, and it was so good. The prune-filled gnocchi were glazed with a sauce of vin santo, foie gras, and butter, topped with rosy little slices of seared foie gras. The combination was salty, sweet, and rich. 9 Park St., Boston. 617-742-9991. www.no9park.com.
Lemon and yuzu crystalline at Sensing Dessert can be so dull. Will you have the molten chocolate cake, the crème brûlée, the molten chocolate cake, or the crème brûlée? I will have the lemon and yuzu crystalline at Sensing. The dessert surprised and delighted. It came in a goblet sealed with a thin sheet of citrus-flavored hard candy. You shattered it with your spoon, sending shards into the glass below, to be eaten along with lemon sorbet, yuzu gelée, and bits of cookie. It was full of great flavors and textures, and it was fun to eat. Other desserts should creep away in shame. Fairmont Battery Wharf, 3 Battery Wharf, Boston. 617-994-9001. www.sensingrestaurant.com.
Strozzapreti at Sportello Barbara Lynch and her yummy pasta strike again. Her prune gnocchi at No. 9 Park are so snazzy they practically wear a bow tie. At Sportello, things get a little more rustic. These pasta twists - “strozzapreti’’ means “priest stranglers’’ - were served with bits of braised rabbit, green olives, and a rosemary-spiked rabbit jus. They were the weekly habit to the gnocchi’s special occasion. 348 Congress St., Boston. 617-737-1234. www.sportelloboston.com.
Polvo guisado at T.A. Restaurant The word that comes to mind when I think of this dish is “righteous.’’ Octopus and potatoes stewed in a wine-dark sauce until tender, it was rich and mysterious, simple but much more than the sum of its parts. The restaurant is frequented by old guys drinking tiny cups of coffee at the bar during the day, and by families and couples at night. If you haven’t explored the Azorean fare of Fall River (not to mention the chow mein sandwiches, Coney dogs, and other regional foodstuffs), you’re missing out. 408 South Main St., Fall River. 508-673-5890. www.tarestaurant.com.
Boudin blanc at Ten Tables Im not sure Ive ever had ethereal sausage before, or since. It was made in house at Ten Tables in Cambridge from Berkshire pork, and served with chewy spaetzle, turnip greens, and carrots. Chef David Punch told me later that making this boudin blanc was incredibly time-consuming. The effort paid off. 5 Craigie Circle, Cambridge. 617-576-5444. www.tentables.net.
Yassa guinaar at Teranga Senegalese food came to Boston and managed to make grilled chicken interesting again. Yassa guinaar featured moist, smoky meat and a fantastic sauce of lemon juice and caramelized onions. Or maybe its that Teranga made onions interesting again; the menu offered five totally different treatments of them. Also no slouch was the dibi, thin-cut grilled lamb chops with raw onions marinated in mustard, lime, white pepper, and olive oil. 1746 Washington St., Boston. 617-266-0003. www.terangaboston.com.
Chicken and waffles at Trina's Starlite Lounge I admit it. I do have a weakness for chicken and waffles. The dish combines my love of breakfast for dinner with the naughty glee of eating something really delicious and not that good for you. (With four different hot dogs on the menu, I think Trinas gets that.) The fried chicken was crunchy and juicy, the waffle more herb-y than sweet, and a mildly hot pepper syrup brought spice into play. 3 Beacon St., Somerville. 617-576-0006. www.trinastarlitelounge.com.
Daube of beef at Tupelo This dish showcased the beauty of slow cooking: humble brisket doused with red wine and braised until it was tender and mellow. For me, pozole is a comfort food in the way potatoes are for other people; here hominy was combined with mashed potatoes, making things doubly cozy. 1193 Cambridge St., Cambridge. 617-868-0004. www.tupelo02139.com.
Devra First can be reached at email@example.com.