Thursday, March 20, 2008

Amsterdam Trip Part Een: Sidetracked in Boston

The airport is a pretty quick hop, skip and jump to downtown. I hit State Street. Take the free 33 bus to the metro, and then go toward Downtown on the Blue Line, getting off at the third station. Not sure what to do (get something to cover my head – damn this cold rain), I looked around for the much-raved about Faneuil Hall (rhymes with “Daniel Hall”) area. I turned around and noticed that the rail station was in the basement of the Old State House Museum, three floors of history about Boston’s important role in the American Revolution. It’s even easier to get to from the metro than the Museum of Natural History in New York is from NYC’s subway (sure you have to go outside to get to Boston’s, but there’s pretty much only one way to get out and it lets you off RIGHT THERE). It has artifacts from the Boston Tea Party, the Revolution, and more, and is next to the site of the Boston Massacre, which happened next to the Old State House.

I bought some tea. In Boston. Fancy that.

Faneuil Hall itself is a historic market building that offers very little, apart from muffins, decorative items and tacky Boston souvenirs – you know the type, every city has these. I mean, have you been to Harborplace lately? The real fun begins on the other end of Faneuil Hall, when three large, narrow and crowded marketplaces spread out before you – North, South and Quincy Markets. Both North and South have nice restaurants, including another McCormick & Schmick’s, and the Durgin Park restaurant, the oldest continually-operating restaurant in the country. Quincy, however, is lined with stalls and stalls of quick bites. And what a variety! I saw maybe eight different Italian places, just as many bakeries, four different seafood stalls (all of the New England variety, though one actually had crabcakes, too), plus kiosks of Greek, Mexican, Japanese, Thai, Chinese, hot dogs, Indian, Middle Eastern, Philly cheese steaks and God knows what else.

One thing I was set on was a lobster roll, and I found it at the Boston & Maine Fish Company. Since they offered a combo of lobster roll – actually lobster salad roll – and clam chowder, I got that. The price? A shocking $16! Add a small Diet Pepsi and tax, and that comes to $19 on the nose.

This is going to be an expensive vacation.

The clam chowder was wonderfully buttery – unlike another that was sitting out by another place whose name I forget, closed-lidded, for people to take samples by swabbing a chunk of bread in it on a toothpick. That one was very tinny. I wasn’t impressed. But I liked this place’s clam chowder. True, the clams were small, and probably should’ve been more plentiful or at least bigger, but I was pleased with it. At the time I really liked my lobster roll as well (it’s cold – I had no idea), but as I stumbled upon other restaurants later, I found myself wishing I had skipped it. Now I understand that a lobster roll from a kiosk in a commercial area probably isn’t as good as one in some side neighborhood that I couldn’t get to. But I figured this was my best chance to get any lobster roll. It was good for what it’s worth, with a mixture of very large chunks and some of the special parts of the lobster. Still, I liked it. The next time I’m in Boston, I’ll look for a cheaper one elsewhere (it alone was $15, sans special). Or is this truly the cheapest one you can find? I don’t have experience with lobster rolls after all.

I next walked around the Faneuil Hall complex to work off that lobster roll and chowder. Along the way I saw a few other places I will have to stop by the next time I’m in town:

The “original ‘Cheers’” bar. You know this is a tourist trap. Heck, I never got the chance to get a beer in Boston. No I’m not going to run into Sam.

  • The Salty Dog oyster bar and restaurant, with all the typical Bostonian and Yankee delicacies. Here, raw or steamed little neck clams are $2 per each, $10 for 6, and Boston Cream Pie is $5.
  • Again, Durgin Park, “established before you were born,” where everything is expensive (Boston Cream Pie? $6). Not a bad Boston Restaurant Week special, though.
  • Also here is one of the first two US locations of Wagamama, that popular UK fancy ramen noodle franchise (the other US location is in Harvard Square, also Boston). I would’ve gone in but it looked like more than I wanted to pay (that was before I ran into the lobster roll-clam chowder combo). Besides, there are three Wagamamas in downtown Amsterdam alone, so it’s not like I missed my chance.

I next went to buy a hat to keep my head from freezing and getting all drenched. I figured it’d be a good idea to ask the merchant at the Orvis outdoor outfitters if there was a good place for Boston Cream Pie. He said if I didn’t mind walking a quarter-mile (hell no I don’t mind), there were both Mike’s Pastry and the Modern Pastry, both in Boston’s North End (their Little Italy). Both were on Hanover Street, and apparently both were very easy for me to walk right past. How could I not walk past them? I was taken in by all the smells of lunches I could’ve eaten before the $19 lobster roll meal. Much of it was Southern Italian (that’s MI famiglia), and many of the stores were plastered with 2006 World Cup posters, memorabilia and Italia jerseys, scarves and T-shirts.

I finally found Mike’s, which I once again almost passed by. Here I got what was the cheapest slice of Boston Cream Pie that I could find, at $3. Even though the cream was a little frozen, it was still thick and tasty. Double goes the chocolate, so much so that it was difficult to cut it with the fork. Delicious, tangy, chocolatey stuff. And despite this slice’s semi-frozen state, the flavor was still delicious. You can also buy the pie whole; I don’t know how much that is.

On the way back to Faneuil Hall I stopped at the Modern Bakery, with lots of candy lambs for Easter. I bought one chocolately Florentine cookie for $1 and ate it on the way. I almost stopped one last place, the Salty Dog for a clam or two and a beer, but passed. I didn’t want to spend the money. Instead, I got snookered in by the COMICS PLACE, where I spent several minutes staring at fresh-out-of-the-UK Doctor Who figurines, the whole set from the new series – including, among many other things, three different models of David Tennant, handfuls of Daleks, a USB-powered TARDIS, even a half-size “working” K9 (it’s a Doctor Who thing). I did pass up buying one of those “COEXIST” bumper stickers and a small one that read “OMG Shoes,” but couldn’t get out without dropping $13 on the second bound series of the Y: The Last Man graphic novel. I’m not a graphic novel person, but this one is fascinating.

Now here I am in the airport with nowhere to charge my laptop (bastards deactivated all the wall outlets in the terminal, rrrrrrrrrr), and with a day pass costing $8, I will just wait until I get to Holland to upload this. In fact, if you are reading this now, then I have indeed gotten to Amsterdam or at least Reykjavik (if they have free wireless).

The second leg of my journey begins: the Eurozone. Tot ziens!

Other photos

This is literally what the doors of Durgin Park have written over them. They´re that old.


Melissa said...

Stumbled on your blog via Blogtimore...

I live in Charles Village but was born and raised in Boston.

Durgin Park, while old, isn't the oldest. For that, you'd need to head to the Union Oyster House. It isn't cheap but it has been in continuous operation since 1826.

I think the market area is pretty good, but a bit touristy. If you get a chance to go again, try to walk down to the Fish Pier and go to the No Name restaurant (literally, no name, no sign).

Maria's on Cross St is less touristy than Mike's and they make magnificent sfogliatelle. And if you want the best ice cream and gelato, head over to Cambridge and try Toscanini's.

jmc said...

The Boston food sounds delicious :)

Isn't Y: The Last Man excellent? A friend recommended the series after I complained that I didn't "get" graphic novels, and I read the whole series. I'm now anxiously awaiting the release of the 10th (and final, I think) bound volume.

Re: outlets, I always wonder how much electricity is used and how much it increases utility bills at airports, etc.? $8 seems ridiculous, like price gouging rather than just trying to recoup costs.