I’m ba-ack!

October 7, 2016

Fish sandwich was decent. Ambience was stellar!

Fish sandwich was decent. Ambience was stellar!

But only about as long as it’ll take me to figure out how to move to Massachusetts.

Just kidding. My three days up there were lovely, and I fell in love with the fishing village of Marblehead, but I imagine I’d be pretty miserable in February. Not to mention they don’t know what pimiento cheese is. Nor fried okra. And I have no idea what vegetables would grow well, albeit for a much shorter growing season.

But I did have some quite memorable meals, including a REAL good Reuben at the Boston Public Market; a plate of heavenly pasta Bolognese at an Italian restaurant in the North End; a fresh, local cod sandwich on the deck of a restaurant overlooking Marblehead Harbor, and, probably the most exceptional thing I had, a caught-that-day lobster prepared at my host’s home.

Reuben and root beer from the Boston Public Market in Haymarket Square.

Reuben and root beer from the Boston Public Market in Haymarket Square.

The Reuben was everything a classic Reuben ought to be — piled high with good corned beef brisket, sliced about 1/4 inch thick across the grain; layered with Swiss cheese; slathered with Russian dressing, and topped with a generous serving of sauerkraut. The kraut tasted a lot like mine, but not fermented as long; I think mine is a bit tangier. The brisket was perfect. The whole thing was encased between two slices of sturdy light rye bread. I had it with an Ipswich root beer and a little plastic cup of spicy sour pickles, sitting at a picnic table outside the market on a balmy October afternoon. Hard to beat.

As we were staying in the North End (some four blocks from the Old North Church, in fact), and my host is of Italian heritage, we of course had to have Italian one night. We went to Mamma Maria’s, a neighborhood spot, that offered everything from swordfish to rabbit pasta to I-don’t-remember-what-all-else, because we had a bottle of very good wine with it. I pondered about several different entrees, including a seafood pasta, a pork tenderloin dish and the rabbit, but wound up with a pasta Bolognese, on the basis I’ve never had Bolognese cooked the way people who know how to cook it, cook it.

Those people know how to cook it. Bolognese is heavy on the meat, heavy on the spice, light on the tomatoes, and spiked with cream. This wound its way through a lovely mound of what was obviously homemade linguine, making a tremendously rich dish of which I could only eat about half. It was, in a word, marvelous; it was perhaps a tad heavy on the red pepper for my tastes, but that didn’t slow me down.

The star of the night, though, was the “tomatoes two ways” appetizer/salad, in which a handful of halved grape tomatoes surrounded a scoop of the creamiest, most delectable ricotta cheese I have ever put in my mouth. I make good ricotta; I can’t touch this. Across the plate, some slices of red and yellow tomato lapped over a big slab of fresh mozzarella. The whole got splashed with olive oil and a bit of balsamic vinegar, and sprinkled with basil. It was a reminder of how much I love tomatoes, and I’m going to buy some of the late-season ones at the market and do this at home every day next week.

And then there was the fish sandwich, and its neighbor, the lobster, both fruits of a trip to Marblehead, a fishing and summer village about 45 minutes north of Boston. After we’d ambled along the shoreline, we set out in search of a lobster roll, a search which led us to a restaurant in the Marblehead Harbor. We contemplated ordering a lobster roll, but opted instead for a fresh, local cod sandwich, knowing we’d planned to have lobster that night.

The cod was mild and flaky, battered with a light batter and fried crisply. The tartar sauce was obviously homemade. Both the fish and the tartar sauce could have benefitted from a couple of lemon wedges and a bit more salt and pepper.  The steak fries were everything steak fries ought to be. The whole meal was greatly enhanced by the harbor view from our table at the edge of the deck, which overlooked a couple of working docks were sailboats were being hauled out and winterized for drydock on one side, and lobster being unloaded from boats onto waiting trucks on the other.

So as we left, we walked over to the truck, and bought two of those lobsters. Happily wriggling little creatures, about a pound and a half each, $7.50 a pound. Yeah, I could live up there with those prices, and eat lobster about three times a week.

Lobstah! I'll cook it like this any time I have a fresh one. So good, so easy!

Lobstah! I’ll cook it like this any time I have a fresh one. So good, so easy!

Confession: I have never cooked a live lobster. I’ve watched ’em being cooked, generally just grabbed from their ice chest, the bands on their claws snipped, and then tossed into a pot of boiling water. Yes, I cringed at the thought of those little live critters going into the pot. But never enough to not eat them.

The two — as they were females, we named them Thelma and Louise — were destined for a different prep. My host, who grew up working in his parents’ Italian restaurant, estimated he’d cooked several thousand lobsters in his time. He put them on a cutting board, belly down; stuck a knife in right behind the head, and split them along where the spine would be if they had one. The second cut halved the other, head end. The halves, then, were piled high with buttered breadcrumbs, and the whole thing into the oven at 450 for 20 minutes.

Honey. These things were the Best Freaking Lobsters I ever had in my life. Of course, the fact they were swimming eight hours earlier helped. They wanted no seasoning, other than the copious quantities of melted butter in which we drenched them. They wanted no side dish other than the cherry tomatoes we’d halved and put over fresh mozzarella, in a vain attempt to get close to the salad we’d had the night before. We didn’t get too close, but it was still good.

I wish I could’ve figured out how to bring about four or five of those little darlings home with me. Then I could’ve entranced you ‘n y’mama ‘n ’em with lobster bisque, lobster mac and cheese, and my own lobster rolls.  Alas, it will have to wait until my next visit. Which I hope will be


One Response to “I’m ba-ack!”

  1. cleavelin Says:

    Not to mention they don’t know what pimiento cheese is. Nor fried okra.

    Yankees would tell you that is a feature, not a bug. 😉

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