Our Continuing Boston Culinary Odyssey

We lived in Boston for more than 20 years. Although we moved to San Francisco about ten years ago, we return frequently and closely follow restaurant openings.

This has been no easy task. Boston’s restaurant scene has been exploding for the last twenty years (although the last few years have, understandably, seen more closings than openings). Luckily, we have friends who keeps informed of, and ensure that we visit as many interesting new places as possible, whenever we return.

One of these friends hit a home run on this trip, by taking us to Journeyman.


A Culinary Pilgrimage to Journeyman

It’s a challenge to find. Drive to Somerville, make a couple turns, go to the end of an alley. Look for an unmarked metal door next to a window filled with pots planted with herbs, open the door and put yourselves totally and unreservedly into the hands of the chefs and and the expert server. Then prepare for one of the best, most interesting meals you have had in years.

The chefs, as we discovered, are a husband and wife team (Tse and Diana Wei) with no formal culinary training and experience that consisted of a brief stint running an unlicensed Supper Club out of their own Somerville home.

Actually, it is a bit more complicated than this. After being seated in the comfortable, tastefully modern 36-seat restaurant, you have to make two food choices–between a five-course ($65) and seven- course ($85) meals and between the omnivore and the vegetarian meals. And, of course, you have to choose among the 100-bottle wine list.

We all had the seven-course omnivore menu. And, since we live in San Francisco, where fois gras is now banned, we struggled not to accept the offer of the one a la carte item on the menu— huge, $100, multi-lobe slab of humanely raised Hudson Valley foie gras. (Luckily, the seven-course omnivore menu does include generous, delicious serving of frozen, shaved foie gras page with rare duck breast.)

But I digress. The menu, which changes weekly, consisted of corn soup with lobster and basil, fluke with uni in a dashi broth, striped bass with mussels, shaved frozen foie gras terrine with duck, pork two ways with sweet and sour eggplant and tomato mousse and a desert of "chocolate glass," lemon cream and poached blueberries. And this does not include the amuse bouche, palette cleanser and post -dinner treats. After the meal, the chef brought us a bottle of quince brandy made, as he explained, by a German chemistry professor friend of his.

We attempted to pair, with moderate success, the food with our own wine selections–a Nigl Freiheit Gruner Veltliner and a D’Agalis "Yo No Puedo Mas" Syrah blend.

All four of loved most of the dishes, although neither of the women were enthralled by the pork terrine de tete. The service was totally professional with everybody going the extra step, including the server who amazingly remembered the wine our friends had on their previous visit, three weeks before. Overall, a superb restaurant. And this was without having a chance to visit its affiliated pop-up wine bar, where different wholesalers pour different wine selections each week.


The Far South End’s Growing Culinary Scene

I had time for one additional lunch in Boston. Our friends recommended a small Italian-influenced bistro in the far South End (generally between Tremont and Washington Streets. This is Boston’s culinary equivalent to San Francisco’s Mission: a recently evolved neighborhood that has become the hotspot for interesting, edgy dining. I welcomed the recommendation since I was anxious to see some of the city’s new spots.

I began with a pre-lunch tour, just to check out the options. I have already been to many of them. B&G Oysters, the Butcher Shop, Fromaggio Kitchen and Torro, as well as most of the longer-time standards, such as Aquitaine, Sibling Rivalry and the Grande Dame of the neighborhood, Hamersley’s. A few restaurants and food emporiums were new to me: restaurants such as Orinoco, Metropolis and Coppa; Bakeries such as South End Buttery and the Wholy Grain: shops like Morse Fish Company, Foodies’ UrbanMarket and the Siena Farms produce store. And then there’s Stir, a neighborhood cooking school. Quite a change from when we left Boston a decade ago, when this area was barely transitional.

After this grand tour, I went with our friend’s recommendation, Coppa, a casual restaurant by Boston master chef Ken Orringer. (After all, how could I even consider ignoring the advice of the person who took us to Journeyman! My first two small dishes were wonderful: the oysters escabeche with rhubarb versus and he sea urchin and tongue panino with mustard seeds. My third dish, the wood oven roasted cod with pistachios and lemon vinaigrette was less memorable–somewhat dry and lacking in taste. Overall, good enough to return: especially since I have not yet tried any of the dishes our friends have enjoyed.

After lunch, I just had to stop back at the Wholy Grain to try their pecan bar: not bad, but a little dry and a bit too much crust for my taste.

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