Saturday, May 29, 2010

Boston's North End

My ethnic background is primarily Italian, if you didn't already know. My parents lived in New Haven in or near (I forget which) the Italian section when they were first married. New Haven Apizza is pizza in my mind.

I grew up outside Baltimore. I've been to Little Italy in Baltimore frequently for meals, cookies, feasts (festivals). The best cannoli ever (if you are into cannoli, which I am not) are from Vaccaro's Italian Bakery and their gelato is to die for.

When I found out that Boston has it's own Little Italy known as the North End. I knew we would have to spend some time there. In addition to two dinners, gelato and pastry we also found the North End to be full of specialty grocery and pasta stores. Sadly, traveling by air meant we could not buy meats, cheeses, fresh pasta, and anything liquid to take home with us. We did buy some Brioschi for heartburn and some friselles (black pepper/fennel seed).
Our first dinner we went to Carmen Trattoria. My parents had recommended it. It is extremely small. I had no idea how small but I'm glad we got a reservation. We actually showed up early and they seated us early. There are only 9 tables and a bar for 2. The whole place probably only seats 25 (by my count). With our glasses of red wine we set out to peruse the menu. J decided to be unconventional since it was his vacation and order pasta for both his first course and his main course. I was only a little less bizarre ordering a flatbread and a risotto. The menu on the website is not completely accurate so I took a photo of it as well.If you can see the menu, I had the grilled flatbread with caramelized leeks, Valle D'Aosta Fontina, Golden potatoes, pancetta, toasted pine nuts, and drizzled with truffle oil. The only complaint was that the crust could have been a little crispier. The flavor was fantastic though. The flavor of J's Homemade Gorgonzola Short Rib Ravioli with Sage Brown Butter and Hazelnuts was even better. I think it had a little balsamic vinegar or reduction drizzled through the brown butter sauce. It was so tasty I was using little bits of the bread to sop it up (on my fork of course). The ravioli could have been a little softer but again the flavor made up for any short-comings in texture. We ate them so quickly I wasn't able to get any pictures. I have so of the main dishes but as I don't like to use the flash when dining in nicer restaurants the quality isn't fantastic. J had the Baked Penne with Tiny Apulian Style Meatballs, Fresh Mozzarella, and Roasted Tomato Sauce. It came baked in a parchment paper cocoon. J really liked it. I would have been disappointed if I had ordered it myself. J commented that he really doesn't enjoy Italian food as much as he used to though.I ordered a lovely Spring Risotto with Pan Seared Sea Scallops, Fava Beans, Proscuitto, Fresh Mint and Parmesan finished with Mint oil. The scallops were perfectly done. I've never had fava beans and so they were harder than I had imagined. I also feel that the mint and mint oil may have been basil oil (which is fine with me because I prefer it).
The most interesting part of the meal might have been the goings on at the next table. I don't mean to poke fun at another person's ignorance but I thought it was rather an amusing turn of events. A woman and her daughter were visiting, looking at colleges. The mother was a vegetarian. She orders bolognese sauce (over crespelle filled with mushrooms). She tries to decide whether or not it is meat. Then proceeds not to eat it. My problem with the whole thing is: if you are a vegetarian (or have any dietary considerations that the kitchen should know about), and you don't know what a specific ingredient is or contains, wouldn't you ask the server? In every restaurant I have ever been to, the servers have been very gracious about dietary needs and will try and get something else for someone if what they have ordered is not able to be eaten by that person for that reason. The woman did tell the server at the end of the meal. I think it just made the server feel worse. (Although bolognese sauce by definition, at least as I understand it, contains meat.)

They do not serve coffee or dessert because clearly there is no room for after dinner lingerers. So we decided to embark in search of some at Mike's Pastry.

At Mike's we ordered a tiramisu (not as good as the one from NYC), some cookies and a raspberry gelato. It blew the gelato J had gotten at the little place at the entrance to the North End out of the water.

Our last night we got some pizza at the famous Pizzeria Regina (the original location). J was on the phone doing business but the pizza was decent and I felt like I was in an old movie with the pizza girls and their Boston accents (some of the first we'd heard all weekend). They had lots of specialty pizzas but we got a plain sausage.

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