The last leg of my American tour – Boston.
Just a quick recap, so far we have been in New York for eight days, then a bus through to Washington DC and Georgetown for four amazing days of sight seeing and amazing American food and now onto Boston for five days.
Boston is a cool city. For Aussies, if you like Melbourne, then you will like Boston, it’s like a bigger version full of culture and for food lovers; there are lots of things here for you.
We caught the bus from Washington to New York and then New York to Boston. It really wasn’t a bad bus ride but if you are going by bus, please make sure you pick a good bus company and that you get your tickets well in advance. Don’t expect to get a seat on the day you’re traveling because chances are you might not get on and secondly do some research on the bus company. Because we did not book the tickets the night before and was forced to get on another bus with another company, it made our first leg to New York a really bad experience. The toilet on the bus was just made the bus smell like a suer. Imagine being in an enclosed area with raw sewerage for four hours; that’s what we got! Along with seats that reclined buy itself every five minutes, no fresh air coming in and to make it worse, we took the long way to New York (via Philadelphia); not good but the bus company we took from New York to Boston was better, Lucky Star bus company from China Town. Free WiFi, TV, air con, even a power plug for you lap top and more importantly the seats were comfortable.
My friend and I were too knackered to do anything on our first night. We simply checked into the Hotel Marlowe, a beautiful hotel run by Kimpton Hotels. Very good rates and the rooms are quite big and it was very comfortable, definitely will be staying there again.
We met up with Jon, my pastry sous chef who is from Boston, his wife Jess and Jon’s mum for a quick night cap. Awesome timing seeing Jon and Jess arrived earlier on the same day from San Francisco. It’s always great when you have a tour guide who knows the place intimately and with some one you know well. You can really relax , shut off and enjoy the ride. Jon and I (and Jess) planned this trip a while back when Jon heard his sister was getting married. Unfortunately the wedding plans changed but since they had the tickets booked already, they thought they would still go, so naturally I saw it as a great opportunity to see Boston with a Boston native.
The first day was like a quick orientation day. Jon took us around Boston by metro, which is convenient like all the metro systems we have used in America. We headed for the North Side where Boston’s Little Italy, great restaurants, markets and shopping areas are. Our first stop, Mike’s Pastry.
Mike’s Pastry is on 300 Hanover St in the North Side in Boston’s Little Italy. Jon told me that this place is an institution and most of the locals know about it and upon entering, it really did seem like every one in Boston knew about it. The place was packed, you couldn’t move. The first thing you notice apart from it being popular, were the blue and white string hanging from various parts of the roof and the menus of all the goodies they sold with the common commodity being cannoli prepared in many different flavours along with slices and muffins and every thing else it seemed. I had the pistachio cannoli with ricotta and it was the biggest cannoli I have ever seen (not surprised with everything up sized in the U.S.). They were tasty, really fresh and you can taste that this was made with skill. The pastry was crispy, the filling so fresh, it’s no wonder why this place was an institution! If you like pastry and are in Boston, do your self a favour and stop here for a cannoli and coffee, I highly recommend it. Now I know what those people walking down the road had in their white boxes tied up with blue and white string.
We continued to walk on through to Salem St, still in Boston’s Little Italy. Jon showed us a few good restaurants to visit and then onto the street market. This is the bit where it reminds me of Melbourne. Freezing cold day, small marquis set up in the middle of the road amongst tall red brick buildings with people selling produce from fruit and veg to seafood. Clams and oysters; I think I’m finally getting the gist of this place. It seems anything that comes from the seas with some sort of shell is at its best in Boston and I now see why clam chowder is so acclaimed here, because they’re huge and are in abundance! Aussies call it cockles or pipi’s, Boston’s answer to that is the clam, which looks the same but three times the size. They were sold at the markets along with the oysters – both eaten and sold raw! I get oysters being eaten raw, but clams? I had to give it go. It came with limes, salsa and hot sauce. The raw clams were surprisingly good, sweet, with that slight taste of mussel and hardly any flavours of the “sea” like oysters do. The oysters were milder in flavour to South Australian oysters. They weren’t as plump and “meaty” as South Aussie oysters. They were good but not as good as the like of Coffin Bay oysters from South Australia!
We had lunch at the Union Oyster House. I had to taste a clam chowder from Boston, I just had to know why they’re so famous. New England clam chowder was supposedly the best in the world, according to Jon!
Union Oyster House is on Union St on the North Side. Jon tells me it is the oldest running restaurant in the U.S., established in 1826 and there was no doubting that once you get into the place. Immediately to the left was a half moon oyster and clam bar with dudes opening fresh oysters and clams in front of guests sitting at the bar. It seemed the bar itself was as old the as the restaurant. Multi story building all made of wood, so old it seemed like you were in an old wooden ship. Every step you took, it creaked, the ceilings were low and the tables were some what close to each other, creating that really cosy, I’m stuck in a wooden ship feel!?!?
I ordered the clam chowder amongst other things and so did Jon. It didn’t get Jon’s approval though, something about the viscosity of it not being right but he did promise us that we would taste a good one before we left. Union Oyster House is great place for fresh oysters and clams. It’s probably a place to bring your family at and for tourists as compared to going to a place for that really special meal. It’s a fun atmosphere, fresh seafood and great service.
We walked around Boston and learnt a little history on Boston by Jon then to Harvard University. It was a great experience walking around there, reminded me of walking around Trinity College in Ireland, which is a beautiful, old college in Ireland. We tried to get into the library but no dice! Still, it was good to see one of America’s finest institutions.
We then went to Quincy Markets. On the outside , it reminded me of Melbourne. It is an area where the outside is a cobble stone mall with stalls selling knick knacks and street performers filling the mall, giving a great vibe and atmosphere. Inside the Quincy Markets building was one of the most largest food malls I have encountered. It was overwhelmingly big, catering for the obese it seems! It might sound harsh but my first impressions were processed, greasy, sugary, excessive food.
Being a chef, I’m not overly hoity toity about food, I just love food but my sentiments upon leaving that food mall was the same as when I saw an episode of Biggest Looser, when they showed how much sugar and fat the contestants ate in a year. It didn’t excite me; it was just a little disappointing that this sort of stuff was exposed to kids and people with weaknesses when it comes to food. It’s obvious that that was the intended audience and I thought it might have been the wrong message to put out. If half of that mall had healthy options, it wouldn’t be so bad, I mean I love pizzas and hot dogs like all people, but in moderation.
That night we went back into Little Italy and ate at a restaurant in Salem St. For the life of me, I can’t remember the name of the restaurant because we were meant to go to the Neptune Oyster bar but because it was so busy, we went next door in what seemed to be a popular Italian Restaurant.
We had oysters – again! Followed by pastas. I had the pasta in tomato sauce with clams and my friend had a marinara type pasta. I regard Enzo’s as one of my favourite, “authentic” Italian restaurants in Adelaide, I like the “real” tomato sauce with a fresh tomato flavour which doesn’t have that flavour of “tinned” tomatoes. The pasta here was almost as good and again something Americans are really good at and especially here, was the service. Impeccable, informative and accommodating. This is something that is consistent in the U.S., brilliant table service, some thing Melbourne is also known for.
We went for Italian pastries at a place called Bova’s. Picked up a couple of pastries and had coffee down the road to finish a good day.
The next day was Easter, not much to report here except that everything was closed. We got on the metro and walked around Boston a little more. That night we went back to the North Side and met up Jess and Jon at a place Jon used to frequent and work at, Finale. Located in Park Plaza, it was kind of an up market dessert bar where you can sit and enjoy desserts ordered in or take away. The place was huge, and what amazed me was that one, it was full (we had to wait for a table) so late at night and secondly the choices of dessert they had on the menu. From individually plated through to share style platters. The desserts are good quality, none of this pre made stuff. In South Australia, we’re now just catching on to this idea, and it’s good because I’m convinced, using Finale as a model, that this type of restaurant would definitely be a good investment.
The next day, we went to Salem, home of the witches and Jon’s home town. It’s a little way out of Boston, about a 30 minute ride on the train. Pretty cool little town, lots of history here, predominantly relating to witches and Halloween. It’s very quiet, away from the hustle and bustle of city living.
Jon showed us around Salem for while then we hopped into a car and drove to Essex for lunch. We stopped at Woodmans for lunch, supposedly the home of the great New England Clam Chowder and fried clams. This place is another institution in Boston. Only a select few tourists get to experience this, simply because it is a way out from Boston. I was glad we got to experience it! I got a mixed plate of fried clams and other seafood like calamari and small bowl of the clam chowder. My friend ordered a lobster roll, which seemed odd to me, such an expensive ingredient in Australia, mixed with a mayonnaise type dressing and shoved in a roll, it didn’t seem quite right!
The clam chowder was excellent. It was best I have tasted in Boston (or any where else for that matter) and the consistency was a little thicker, Jon was right. What was good about being at Woodmans was the fact that Jon and I talked about one day visiting this place years before, never thinking it would really eventuate and to have been there eating it with my good mate was an awesome experience. The fried clams were good, once you start eating them, you just simply cannot stop. Woodmans is not an every day place to eat at, again it’s a family day out with a food destination.
We did some sight seeing that day around Jon’s neck of the woods. We drove to Marblehead where the lobsters come from. No lobsters for sale that day (they sold out) but it was still nice to walk around this “pretty” little town. It is the kind of town you can drive to from the city, spend an entire weekend at, simply to get away and forget the city life. It has a similar feel to Georgetown, with houses packed in close to each other and most made of wood. Colourful street, with all the buildings in different shades of colour, some white, blue, yellow and so on. It was really quiet that day, it was mid after noon and it seemed we were the only people walking around, I’m sure it wouldn’t be like this in summer, because it has the potential of a summer beach crowd to it but for now, the quietness was welcomed, it was nice to stroll around with the town to our selves.
That night we went to Spanish tapas restaurant back in Boston. Similar all the tapas places in Australia, except the décor was a little different. A lot more Spanish feel to it, especially the tiled bar upon entrance and again, the service was fantastic, if only we can get a fraction of that service quality here in Australia, restaurants would be doing roaring business!
On the last day in Boston and my last day in The States was spent shopping in the morning then another walk around Boston. That night we went to The Boston Gardens. I know a lot of people wont get this but, The Boston Gardens is home to two of my sporting team idols. I love Chicago Bulls but grew up watching the likes of Larry Bird, Robert Parish and Kevin McHale who were Celtics greats back in the days and I am also a Boston Bruins fan. Walking into The Boston Gardens was something special to me. Apart from the delay at the beginning with my back pack (no back packs allowed in the stadium, so I missed five minutes of the game to check my bag in) being there watching the game, Celtics in their white jerseys, I couldn’t have been happier. Another boyhood dream come true. Sure, different players, but the iconic parquetry floors, bordered by the Celtics green was right there in front of my eyes, along with the Celtics players in green and white, which to me seemed the same as when Larry “Legend” Bird once graced these floors. I watched in awe, hotdog in hand, beer in the other, friends by my side, Celtics thumping Philly, what more could a basketball tragic ask for! We finished the night off in Little Italy on Salem St, having beers and pizza, a perfect night with my favourite people!
The last day was super hard. Firstly, I knew I wasn’t going to see my good friend for a very long time and that was a really tough moment compounded by the fact we just had an amazing two weeks in America. It was hard saying good bye to her and at the same time saying good bye to America.
My U.S. trip was definitely one I will not forget. I loved every minute of it. I got to spend it with my family and my close friends, for something that was so last minute, it could not have gone any better than if I sat down and planned it. Plenty of things to see, the food here is awesome and as I read some peoples food blogs from the States, I know I only got a taste of a very miniscule portion of what is in that country. It is cheaper than I initially thought and the food culture was better than what I had imagined, there really is a deep food culture that is so diverse in America, I could only imagine how much I could learn there as a chef.
In all I love America and I plan to go back soon, real soon! Maybe next year, West Coast!!
Things I learned about New York, Washington, Boston
- Don’t over pack your suitcase, plenty of shopping to be done here
- Catch the metro every where you’ll work off the massive amounts food you eat and you see more, it’s cheap and very safe
- If you are catching a bus form one state to another, research that bus company and pay in advance to reserve a seat
- China towns in the U.S. are huge and amazing
- Food comes in HUGE portions and are really cheap
- Visit restaurants, you won’t regret any of it
- Shopping is killer, save your cash before your trip because it will be worth it when you come back with clothes that most people can’t afford in Australia
- Plan your day/week well in advance, so you don’t miss anything (my friend did this well for us!)
- Visit other boroughs apart from Manhattan, well worth it especially if you want food culture (we missed out, stayed mostly in Manhattan except last day)
- Be a tourist, see the cool things like Empire State Building, Central Park etc, you get a sense of what the place is really like
- People are helpful enough if you are stuck with directions etc
- Walk every where, you see more and experience more
- Put your money in a travel card, you save more with international transactions
- Find a good coffee place immediately because they are rare, its not like in Australia where there is a good barista close by
- Get a map form the hotel, maybe two
- You will need more than 5 days in Boston, it is an awesome state
- If you are seeing a game in any stadium DON’T BRING A BACK PACK. They will make you stand in line for 40 minutes to check it in and you will miss some of the game
- Organize your tickets for the games early, they sell out quickly especially in Boston and New York
- Aussies, speak slowly, they think you’re speaking in a foreign language and definately no Aussie slang, it just makes it worse