I’m not an expert on lobster, but I know I like it. In large part that’s due to the fact that it’s got a great delicate flavour (it’s seafood without being too fishy), in medium part it’s due to the fact that a whole lobster is fun to eat, and in small part it’s due to the fact that it’s not that common to have, so I get excited about eating it.
I was interested to see how I would find it when lobster was in abundance and at a reasonable price. Would I get bored of it? Well, Day 2 was the day we were determined to finally eat some lobster and find out.
But that was getting ahead of ourselves. Unlike Day 1, we actually had three proper meals out on Day 2, which gave us a bit more exposure to New England food.
Day 2 itinerary
0930: Breakfast from Darwin’s Café, Cambridge
1030: Wander down the Esplanade, through Back Bay and towards the Boston Public Library
1330: Walk through Chinatown
1500: Grab a quick snack in Chinatown
1630: Walk along the harbour front, popping our head into an attraction or two
1800: Have dinner at the Barking Crab before heading back home.
Here’s a map, as downloaded from Google Maps’ Timeline feature (it’s great and I love it). We did not, however, travel through the water – I suspect that’s GPS being a bit odd.
We didn’t feel that we had to replicate yesterday’s IHOP experience at all, so we set about looking for alternatives. On the previous day we had passed a sandwich shop called Darwin’s and saw that they had breakfast sandwiches. So we chose it and it turned out to be a great move – Darwin’s is excellent.
I did the usual and picked the breakfast sandwich with the highest protein content on the menu, and therefore went for the “Cragie” – scrambled eggs, pan-seared spinach, Swiss cheese and bacon. They made it right there and then (a good sign, wrapped it in greaseproof paper and gave it to me. It wasn’t really cheap, but then I think it was worth the $7.45. And it wasn’t stereotypically American either, but it really hit the spot. So I was very pleased with it, and also with the coffee I got too.
Not that you could see much of it from the photo, but it was good, espresso-based coffee and vastly different from filter coffee produced in industrial quantities that you find in many breakfast places. They also sound like they care about coffee from their website, where they make reference to water filtered by reverse osmosis. I’ll have to find out what that means another time…
We knew what was coming later (lobster!) so we didn’t want to stop and have anything that was either too expensive or too filling. But then again, getting a sandwich from a store isn’t the kind of thing I would contemplate doing while on holiday, and we had been walking all day; the esplanade gave us nice views of the bay before we cut in to Back Bay and the Financial district, making a beeline for the seaport.
The map stated that Chinatown was part way through our travels and so we thought that this might be a good place for a quick snack. We’d had a lot of luck in Toronto’s Chinatown having dim sum for lunch, so we thought something similar, or even a street food snack would hit the spot.
Sadly, Chinatown in Boston is disappointingly vague and small. It may be that we just went to the wrong places, but it really didn’t feel like a Chinatown at all – there was no bustle, no markets, no sign of hundreds of food shops, restaurants and businesses.
But we did spot a little cluster of East Asian-themed food places on Google Maps and in the end we just needed to make a decision, and went for Avalon Sushi. But then we changed our mind (I can’t remember why) and went for Gourmet Dumpling House – which was conveniently in the same area.
After what seemed like a never-ending process of deciding what was too much or too little (should we get 10 small buns, or 6 large, or go for the special offer?) we ended up deciding on two parts to our snack: steamed buns and dumplings.
The steamed buns were pretty similar to the nikuman I am familiar with, and Wikipedia tells me they would be called baozi in China. They are buns of a delicate, airy dough with a filling of pork and vegetables, and other potential fillings too. They’re actually pretty easy to make at home, which I’ve done before, and they’re really tasty freshly steamed.
These ones took a little while but were worth the wait. It’s kind of hard to describe why they’re good except to say that the textures and flavours are spot on. The soft bun pulls apart very easily (it’s almost like brioche in texture) and then the hot mass of filling has a little bit of vinegary tang. It’s fantastic when it’s cold outside, but it was pretty good in August too.
While we were eating those, we had ordered some dumplings too (it was the Gourmet Dumpling House after all). I am familiar with these as gyoza, which are fairly common in Japan. But I am again informed that these would be called jiaozi. There are differences, apparently, and the most unusual part of these dumplings was the fact that they were all fried pretty hard. But they were good. The skin was crispy could be comparable to something like a crisped, fried ravioli, but a little less rubbery than ravioli would be. Inside, there was a mixture of meat and vegetables, again, which had been cooked together into a filling. They come with a great dipping sauce; I’m used to a vinegar and soy-sauce based sauce but I think the sauces these came with were lighter on the vinegar.
But they hit the spot, and at a pretty bargain price (I can’t remember exactly but I think the whole thing was under $10).
So on we went.
I can be a quick decision maker when I need to be, but when choosing a place to enjoy our first taste of lobster in New England, I have to confess I dithered. A plethora of options was available, and naturally almost all of them claimed to be the best or most authentic. Here’s a quick rundown of the options.
- James Hook & Co was our best and first option. Best because it was highly rated as having excellent food at a decent price. However, they closed at 5pm, and sounded like more of a snack place than a restaurant.
- No Name restaurant was a choice that had been recommended by a friend. They were apparently known for having a terrible atmosphere but great food and a rock bottom price. But on reading the Google reviews, it seemed like 50% of people had terrible experiences. So we eliminated this.
- The Daily Catch was on Fan Pier, and looked like a nice little restaurant with an Italian twist. It was pretty quiet too. But in the end we wanted just seafood, not (say) pesto, and it was really expensive.
There were other places too but we settled on The Barking Crab, mostly because it looked fun (it was set up a bit like a boat), had great reviews and wasn’t too expensive.
I ordered calamari to start followed by a 1.25 pound whole lobster. And then sat there rubbing my hands with anticipation.
First off, the calamari. These were some of the best calamari I have ever had, and I can’t say whether that’s because they’re cooked better, or simply fried for longer. It could be that they had fresher squid.
Everything about this dish was good: the sauce, the yellow peppers served with them, the quantity, and of course the calamari themselves. The squid was really tender, so that it almost seemed to melt in the mouth. The coating was just crisp enough to make a satisfying crunch but was neither too dry nor too greasy. The whole piece worked well together, and I feel like I may be disappointed with future calamari as a result. I think the main difference with normal calamari I order was the tenderness of the squid, and I suspect that this has something to do with the freshness as it’s often pretty rubbery elsewhere. Fantastic.
Then the lobster (sorry it’s taken 1400 words to get to this point). If ever there was a highly anticipated dish, this was it.
The lobster was served steamed and then lightly grilled with a herb butter and additional butter on the side. The herbs make an excellent addition as lobster has a delicate flavour – in this case it was a little bit of parsley, which was perfect. I think there was some garlic in there too. The butter just did what butter does best – enhance the texture and flavour with its saturated fats. Yes, I used the whole tub of butter.
Why is eating lobster so great? Well, there aren’t many foods that you serve as they look in real life (albeit cut in half), and this is an example of something you know was once alive. This bothers some people, and I can understand that. But as someone who did a fair bit of biology, I like being able to connect what I’m eating with the different parts of the animal.
You also have to work hard at it. Breaking into those claws is hard work, as is getting the meat out of the nooks and crannies of the shell. But it’s rewarding too, as the claw meat is great. I only wish I had eaten it a little slower – and cut the tail meat into pieces instead of eating them in one go. But as a first lobster on this trip, this was excellent.
It also made a difference that the environment was good. The view across the bay, the casual atmosphere, and the feeling that we’d had a good day walking through the city all made the lobster that much better.
I have to mention the beer as well. The USA has a weird relationship with beer. Just a few years ago they were known for rubbish, watery lagers which sold more because of advertising than taste. Then they got into craft beers, which were a little more like the ales I enjoy. And they’re getting better (I have them now and again in the UK) but they’re still not great. My feeling is that they over-hop them. But the Harpoon lager I had was okay, so I’ll leave it at that for this beer comment – it will come up as I continue the tour.
Day two was rounded off nicely with a great meal at a really good restaurant – and I’m glad we chose it. The food for the day, although featuring heavily on the frying, was an excellent mixture – a grilled sandwich made with real care and attention; some quick and satisfying snack food, and then the lobster to finish it off.