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"Boston Blog V (Eating in America)"

One of my the people I was working alongside has all but emigrated to America, and now lives in California. He claims that there are basically two types of Restaurant in the US – really nice ones, with good service, decent food, edible portion sizes, but not necessarily too expensive… and complete dives that dump a mountain of deep fried crap onto your table with a glare for daring to even enter the place. The interesting thing is, he states, there is no sort of middle ground. No average restaurants.

Based on an experience of about 5 days and 4 different restaurants, I would agree – although obviously this is not a statistically significant sample.

Actually before I go any further, I should say that this is a very vegetarian unfriendly post, featuring explicit meat and fish scenes. 🙂

The first night we went to the Naked Fish (inspired by Jamie Oliver? Probably not), which was a really nice diner about a minute’s walk from our hotel. Despite the name, it actually did steak too, which I had on my first night – and it was nice. A nice size to eat, a yummy garlic butter, cooked nicely. Just fine. The others had nice fishy dishes that looked very tasty.

Evening two was a drive to downtown Waltham (the town on the outskirts of Boston where we were staying) to go a nice Italian restaurant. Again, a nice place. Good ambiance, tasty food (forget exactly what I had) – although my colleague’s steak didn’t look all that. But basically a nice restaurant.

So far so good, but day three was when it went downhill. We were late finishing at the client on day three, and couldn’t be bothered to drive anywhere, so decided to eat at the hotel’s bar/restaurant – the Picadilly or something. My colleague had vowed never to enter the place again, after having eaten there on his first night, but we persuaded him that it couldn’t be that bad.

First surprise was that popcorn arrived with our drinks. Yes, popcorn. Not bread. Not olives. Popcorn.

Second surprise was my starter – chilli nachos. Actually quite good nachos, but an absolutely enormous quantity. Easily enough for two to have as a main, probably three. It was so large a portion it was actually funny. I managed about 1/3 of it – the other two had about another 1/3 between them, and we left 1/3 on the plate. The other two had some bizarre coconut shrimps, which sounded quite nice, but were actually foul. Once they’d scraped off the coconut they weren’t so bad, apparently.

So I was totally stuffed, and then my main arrives. I’d decided a cheeseburger sounded nice – and they even asked me how I wanted it cooked. So this huge slab of meat arrives in a bap, with a limp lettuce leaf that appeared to have been staked to the plate with a little sign saying “medium” (I hadn’t dare ask for rare), and on top of the burger was some truly horrible radioactive cheese. Even after scraping it all off, the taste had permeated the entire burger. I didn’t speculate for too long on the actual burger itself – Aberdeen steak it most certainly was not.

After about two mouthfuls I really couldn’t manage anymore (although the chips were nice), and my friend opposite who’d ordered the same dish managed 3 mouthfuls before given up.

The really funny thing is, the three of us are in hysterics about just how awful the restaurant and the food is, when the waitress turns up and asks if everythings ok?

“Oh yes – everything’s fine. Lovely. Thank you very much”.

Very British.

After learning the lesson of day three, on day four we went to Legal Seafood in downtown Boston. There’s a whole other story about my afternoon in Boston – next time’s entry – but anyway we made it to the restaurant in the end. Nice place – quite a posh restaurant, and I decided to plump for the clam chowder followed by lobster served on a bed of clams and mussels. The soup was superb – and we even got little lobster croutons with it.

The next course was much closer to American-size portions. A whole lobster arrived on a bed of 30 or 40 clams (I think they were clams), with a little bowl that looked like it was filled with scummy water, and another smaller bowl with oil in. I actually took quite a long time trying to decide if it was a finger bowl full of soapy water before I dared to try some, but more on that in a min.

This was the first time I’ve eaten whole lobster, and it’s quite an experience. The first thing that happens is a little cardboard box (like a Chinese takeaway box) arrives with a plastic sheet (that turned out to be a bib!), a pair of nutcrackers, and a little bitty fork. Next a huge plate arrives covered with – I kid you not – a sheet of tin foil!

This is removed to show you Mr Lobster (or might be Mrs Lobster, I suppose) reclining on his/her bed of shells, with one claw casually dipped in the strange dirty water bowl. It was this that was my main argument against it being a finger bowl, although I suppose the claw might have flopped in my accident.

Anyway, the idea seems to be that you crack open the lobster shell with the nutcrackers, then dig out the flesh with the tiny fork, which ideally comes out in one piece. Although this is all very exotic, it wasn’t actually that nice, and there was far too much of it to eat. The only other occasions I’ve had lobster, it’s been lobster thermador, which is served in a delicious thousand-islandy type sauce and is just yum. Lobster without any dressing or sauce is a little bit plain, well this one was anyway. Likewise the shellfish were fine, but didn’t really taste of anything. I did taste a tiny bit of the dirty water bowl, and it actually turned out to be a sort of fishy stock. Our bet was that it was the water used to steam/boil the seafood, and dipping the lobster into it improved it a little, but it still wasn’t all that.

Day five we played it safe, and went back to Naked Fish. I did actually have fish this time, although I can’t remember what, and it was jolly nice.

Day six was a slice of pizza at JFK airport, so that probably doesn’t count… That said, it was a very pleasant meal, with a little bowl of salad, a spinach pizza, and a glass of wine, watching all the planes take off and land. The plastic knife and fork spoilt it a little, but I guess you can’t have everything!!

This is not to be ungrateful – all the food was on expenses, and a lot more exciting then my usual menu. And I know most of the people in the world would give almost anything to be too full to empty the plate. It’s just a very different experience eating out in America then it is in the UK…

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