I inherit my love of dining out from my mother, a woman who hasn't met an a la carte menu she didn't like. Despite this, there was a distinct lack of planning when it came to the whole "Where to eat" situation. She had gotten a few recommendations, I had tried to Google a bit, but really it was sort of a figure it out when we get there kinda thing. As the bus pulled in last Thursday, we knew we had a bit of problem. While we had dodged the snowstorms south of us (we literally pulled out of New York just as flakes had begun to fall) we had run smack into a heinous rain storm. Sheets of rain poured outside of the hotel. Couple that with exhaustion from a day of travel and the sense of adventure was sucked out of the evening. That, ladies and gentlemen, is how we ended up at the Legal Seafood directly across from our hotel.
It's not that I'm against chain restaurants, I'm not. Well, I am, a little. I'm a bit of a snob, alright? They do, however, tend to offer good appetizer comfort food platters, reliably boozy drinks, and a sense of standards. It's just, when I travel, I'm an adventurer. I don't like to take cabs, I want to figure out the transit system. I want to know where the cute shop and bar with the good vibe are hidden. And I only want to eat at places that I can't visit anywhere else. Being stuck in an El Niño system with my mother, however, was not the time to be stubborn about my adventuring standard. It was close, it was dry, and it served seafood and alcohol. I was not about to resist. Besides, Legal Seafood originated in Boston, so I figured it was good to get the touristy restaurant out of the way on the first night.
It was actually not a bad pick. Chilled to the bone we ordered soup, myself a clam chowder, my mom lobster bisque, and both came out hot, creamy, and soothing. Rain smacked the windows, but we were no longer concerned. That may have been aided by the cocktails we ordered upon sitting down. My mother got a concoction with cucumber and ginger that she still hasn't stopped talking about. We were warming up fast. Instead of full meals, my mother and I split the "Legal Experience", an appetizer sampler that runs about $30 and includes tuna sashimi, steamed wontons, shrimp cocktail and crab cakes. I've never been a fan of shrimp cocktail and I've had better wontons, but the crab cakes were meaty and the sashimi was light and and savory. Also our waitress was Dutch and adorable, so full marks.
The next night we met up with Aunt Donna, and headed out to dine. Aunt Donna has lived in Boston for 30 years, but the Back Bay/Theatre District area where we were staying was not her neighborhood of expertise. I understand this, if one was to ask me for a recommendation in Midtown East I would stare at them blankly and then put them on a subway going south. Armed with maps, guidebooks, and a coupon from a friend we stumbled upon Maggiano's. It was a crowded but nice Italian place, good cocktails, decent chianti, and what my mother swore was the best fried calamari she ever had. It was damn good, crispy and not greasy, and the round parts did not have the texture of rubber bands that is so common in calamari. They also did a great job on the muscles and we had a crispy and tasty flatbread. It is in fact, a chain, with 41 locations in 21 states. I hadn't been in one before, but there were telltale clues like when the word "Locations" pops up on the menu. Still, it was a very nice night out and I had tried a restaurant I had never eaten at before.
The final night I was determined to find a cute, local restaurant, something I would find only in Boston. We had spent the day touring the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, a place I highly recommend because there are few museums more interesting then when a crazy and eccentric rich person decides to start a "collection." You get some great work but no order and usually a will that leaves future curators freaking out. Another great place in this category is any of the Henry Mercer buildings in Doylestown, PA. We also spent time at Trinity Church and then hiked, in the rain, back to the hotel. My mother and Aunt were ready to collapse. We decided happy hour was necessary, and somehow ended up at PF Changs. Yup. PF Changs. 133 locations PF Changs. I'm not saying the $4 appetizer specials were unappreciated. Nor am I saying that I did not enjoy my Asian Pear Mojito, that I may have ordered by staring witheringly at the waitress and imploring her for alcohol. It was just, PF Changs! I had spent four hours on a bus and ended up at PF Changs! We were, at most, two blocks from Chinatown.
Back at the hotel, I dug out the laptop. I searched Yelp, Opentable, Time Out Boston, and decided that the perfect place would be a bistro called The Butcher Shop. The menu looked gourmet, the prices didn't appear ridiculous, it seemed young and hip, and was only a twelve minute walk away. I called to inquire, and was told there would be an hour wait if we came. I withered, and the ladies decided they'd had enough of my antics. A quick question to the bell caption about where a good meal could be had in the neighborhood, and we were off to Flemings Prime Steakhouse. 64 locations. We weren't terribly hungry, the ladies had Caesar salads and I dug into some ahi tuna, and then we had some delectable deserts. Damn good wine list though, I had a Malbec from Pascual Toso off their "Red Wines of Interest" list that warmed me up and had me mellow.
It is not a total dining discovery loss however. One afternoon my mother and I had been wandering Charles Street in Beacon Hill, I had scored a vintage faux pearl necklace and was jazzed, but I was drooping. I needed sustenance, and caffeine. It was then we made our discovery, a perfect little french bakery called Cafe Vanille. It was a perfect discovery, plenty of seating, charming views of an adorable neighborhood, and oh my god the pastry case. There were tiny little cakes and pies, there were croissants, there were quiches and bechamels. One delectable ham and cheese croissant and we vowed to be lifelong customers, or, since we don't live there, weekend long customers. We hiked back the next morning for breakfast to show our enduring loyalty. Um, are you ready for this bit of news? It's a chain. A local chain! Only 3 locations, all in Massachusetts! Oh lord, I can't win.
Next time, I will do more research. Part of my problem going in was that I didn't understand how the Boston neighborhood system worked, so I had no idea how far the North End was from the West End, how to get to Cambridge, or what Downtown Crossing meant. Now I know. Now I'll be prepared. And dammit, if I have to show up at 5pm I am getting into the Butcher Shop. Because Orecchiette with Veal Shank, Black Trumpet Mushroms, and Celeriac sounds like a meal worth four hours on a Greyhound. Someday I'll let you know if I'm right.