Boston – We Eat At The Chef’s Bar!

Robin Boyle North American, Travel

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This continues on from New York – Central Park & Environs!

Today we pick up a hire car and set off for 29 days of driving. We will spend too little time in many places, however, our trip is not just about sightseeing. A major factor behind our itinerary is for Rhonda to catch up with colleagues involved in her piano keyboard project. We planned our travels around those meetings to see major sights on the way and to seek out interesting food experiences. We would revisit some places we last saw in the 1980s.

A golden rule broken!

How many times over the many years of travelling have we experienced huge problems in either picking up a hire car or finding where to drop it off, and almost missing a flight or train? There have even been instances where we could actually see the hire car sign but it was on the other side of a freeway or railway line but we couldn’t work out how to get there, even on foot. After too many such occasions we made a rule – never to be broken – that before picking up a car or dropping one off we would ring a day or so beforehand to find out the exact location details and how to get there.

We were to pick up the car in Brooklyn: the location was clearly marked on the map, we could easily get there on the subway, we had the address, so we decided there was no need to confirm the location. When we emerged from the subway, what should have been a five minute walk, became 20 minutes wandering around the streets looking for any sign of the company. Our GPS maps had it marked in the middle of a block. Finally we rang them and they explained we had to go into the basement of a parking station off one of the streets. When we reached the desk they said they have at least 10 calls a day from lost customers, as if it was something to be proud of!

This is not a Boston bun!

What we though would be a four-hour drive to Boston took over seven hours. The freeways were clogged for at least half of the trip yet there was no obvious reason such as road works or accidents. We were either stopped or moving at a snail’s pace. We pulled into a large service station and restaurant complex of large fast food chains. In our other travels through the US, in instances like that, we would order a “sandwich” from Subway. We would choose the best bread option, ask to leave out any excess butter, margarine or mayonnaise, and have it packed with salad vegetables. We would discard one half of the bread roll. At least that way we felt we were having something reasonably nutritious. Here is our sandwich that day.

Near the Boston Common and Public Garden

Arriving at our hotel at around 7.30 pm, we realised that our hotel was right opposite two of Boston’s main theatres. There was a queue of very patient people 200 metres long outside one of them. We would eat late, only four doors from the hotel, and later see the patrons emerge from the theatre and head straight for our restaurant!

The location of our hotel in the so-called Theatre District proved to be excellent, with easy walking access to the north (Common and Public Garden), east (downtown and waterfront) and west (Back Bay and Copley). We would have only one full day but still manage to reach each area.

The Boston Common dates from the early 1600s. It is actually used by the public. Nearby is the more formal Public Garden, and heading away from there is the elegance of Commonwealth Avenue.

We started the day with a walk north through the Common to have breakfast at Tatte, one of Lonely Planet’s top choices for Boston. The weather continued to be chilly, with the necessity to continue to rug up and carry umbrellas. We were lucky to score two spare stools on a bench inside this amazing bakery and pastry shop. While the photo below doesn’t show it, there were dozens queued up (patiently again) waiting for takeaway items.

Nearby is Mt Vernon Street with its elegant housing.

Downtown Architecture

The city is a remarkable contrast of old and new buildings.

The Waterfront

We visited the Boston waterfront on our visit in the 1980s and we remember enjoying the aquarium. The aquarium is still there but there have been many impressive changes, attracting all types of visitors.

Markets

It was a Saturday when we explored the downtown and waterfront area. The food scene was extensive. The indoor markets included a stall specialising in wine from Massachusetts. In the streets, the weekend market stalls sold an extensive range of produce. Some vegetables and fruits were, for us, extraordinarily cheap. However, the quality might be questionable: we bought a 500g pack of strawberries for $1US and later when we tasted them found that most were soft and tasteless and basically inedible.

Around the Faneuil Hall market place there are extensive outdoor and indoor eating areas, making it one of the great food attractions anywhere. The Quincy Market dates from 1825 and is the centre piece. It is a very long arcade lined with many dozens of stalls serving all types of food. It was difficult to capture on camera but it was jam packed with well-behaved patrons. We ordered a chilli dog to share, though it was not as good as the one we had at Katz’s in New York!

There is plenty of shopping to be had.

We wouldn’t get to the baseball to see the Boston Red Sox but we did get to see some Boston socks.

Back Bay Quarter

With there still being plenty of light at 6.00 pm we headed to the Back Bay quarter. The aesthetically pleasing architectural mix of housing, office blocks, hotels and public buildings was perfect for a pre-dinner walk. The beautiful glass Hancock tower, which we first saw in the 1980s, stood sentinel-like over Copley Square.

At the chef’s bar

We had yet to decide on a place for dinner, with a few possibilities for consideration in Back Bay. Davio’s had cropped up in some of our research and we thought we should at least “poke our noses in”. We wouldn’t leave until three hours later! Like The Smith in New York, Davio’s has many outlets throughout the US. What amazed us about both “chains” was the ability to produce high quality food and hospitality in such large scale venues over many hours of continuous service.

The moment we entered we knew we had to stay. The place was large, it was full, it was abuzz. In the distance we could see a team of cooks in the extensive open kitchen. The reception desk told us that the restaurant was full but to wait and be patient. After some time, we enquired and they told us – happily – that they had in fact found two spots at the chef’s bar. This turned out to be a long counter in front of the open kitchen we had seen from the door. There we would find bar-stool seating for a dozen privileged diners. We all sat mesmerised watching ten chefs, three serving coordinators and numerous waiters operating like clockwork to get umpteen orders – appetisers, mains and desserts – out to the packed dining room behind us. There was no shouting, no hint of angst and no sign of a mistake. Orders would come in silently on a machine. Each paper slip would be plucked by one of the staff and the cooking and preparation of the dish would be set in motion. Throughout this controlled chaos we got to eat and drink, and talk to our neighbouring diners, and to the sommelier, the head chef and the restaurant manager himself. We learnt to appreciate the sophistication of restaurant kitchens. Our photos don’t do justice to the occasion, but It was easily one of the best dining experiences of our lives.

Continued:

For a continuation of our travels, see: New Hampshire & Maine!