Boston, Massachusetts, is one of my favorite cities in the world. I used to live there six lifetimes ago. One of the first jobs I ever had was cooking at the Harvard Bookstore Café on Newbury Street and at Espalier, one of the city's better restaurants, back when Ronnie Reagan was in his first term. I lived on Appleton Street in Cambridge for a time, shacked up on the back side of Beacon Hill with Damien Elwes (movie star Carrie Elwes’s artist brother) and have loved the city ever since. Recently when my dad moved from East Hampton, Long Island, to Portland, Maine, my wife and I had the opportunity to travel to Beantown several times a year, flying in to Logan, driving up the coast to visit Pop, and then heading back to Boston for a few days before heading home to Minnesota.
In a future issue of Mpls.St.Paul, I am going to write a few dining/travel stories on Boston and Portland, but since I just came back from a trip there, I wanted to clue you in to two of the best little dives in Boston’s Chinatown—two restaurants that are not quintessentially Boston, but are stunning exemplars of what makes a great restaurant truly remarkable. . . the food.
Jumbo Seafood on Hudson Street is my favorite Chinese restaurant in town. The room is nothing to look at, but the seafood is among the best of the Hong Kong–style restaurants that I have eaten in anywhere in the country. Live prawns are steamed and served to order. Eels, crabs, and whole fish are all superb, plucked from tanks when you order. The lobster is extraordinary, and worth the trip just for the size and scope of them. Two- to twelve-pounders are routinely available and served in many styles, but the black bean sauce here is worth the airfare. Sometimes I like to have the lobster tossed with ginger and scallion, just to be able to have the roasted oysters and black bean sauce and not repeat a preparation style. The jellyfish salad with roasted duck is superb at Jumbo, ditto the soups, and the roasted pork appetizer is a killer, but beyond that stick with seafood here—the rest of the menu can be spotty when it comes to the fauna offerings.
7 Hudson St.
Boston, MA 02111
Shabu-Zen sits butt-to-butt around the corner from Jumbo, and is hands down the best concept in Boston that I think couldn’t miss here in Minnesota. It’s a Japanese hot-pot restaurant hawking dozens of styles of shabu-shabu, the boil-it-yourself Japanese meal in a bowl. You order some appetizers (ethereally light gyoza) then a platter of ingredients, and some sides—from sliced chicken to whole clams, mixed vegetables to tofu and shrimp, lobster to abalone to thinly shaved prime rib. Then order a type of broth and let the games begin. If you are at a table, so be it, the broth goes into a communal pot and you start dipping fondue-style with your tablemates until you are rolled out of there. We like to sit at the counter, where each person gets his or her own pot built into the Formica, that way I don’t have to share with anyone! By the end of the meal, the broth has boiled down to a rich double-strength cup of superb goodness, infused with every bit of flavor that each item poached in it can contribute. I spoon this over my, by that time, twelfth bowl of rice and eat it with a few oshinko (Japanese pickles). The food is exceptional, the place is always packed late into the night, and the conviviality alone makes this one of the best joints in town for dining out and sharing time with friends. The fact that every dipping sauce, every morsel, every sip of broth is as finely crafted as it is becomes the icing on the cake.
16 Tyler St.
Boston, MA 02111