Sunday, 31 March 2013

Living a Foodie Kind of Life: Boston, Thursday (3/21)

Greetings from Southfield! This week has been wicked hectic as of late, having just recently returned from my long anticipated trip to Boston for the Eastern Sociological Society's annual meeting. After an extremely short time this week in the office, I headed over to The Ohio State University for a fellowship nominee visit to campus and am now home for the Easter break. Before I get too far behind (or at least further behind than I already am as of this post) and write about this past week's Food and Culture Colloquium module, I wanted to be sure I transferred my food adventures throughout Boston into blog form. I've been debating on how I should structure this series of posts and have elected to break it up into five separate posts, one for each of my very packed days. And so, read on at your leisure for Thursday, March 21st.

Soon after landing and being shuttled over to the Airport stop on the Blue Line, I purchased a 7-day CharlieTicket, and made my way to the hotel where the conference would be held. As I came out of the Metro station (ps/ I need to one day live in a city with accessible public transport such as in Boston, or better yet Paris...) I found the above familiar sight; the only other time I've been to Boston (three years ago) was for Harvard's collegiate Model UN conference, which is also held at The Boston Park Plaza Hotel and Towers.

It turned out I had arrived a little too early to register for the conference. After catching up on emails and eventually registering, I studied the rather large program and soon met up with Jillian, one of my friends and classmates from my study abroad program in Paris and with whom I'd be staying while in Boston. By this point, it was lunch time and quite naturally one of my first activities had to include food (I was there for ESS's Mini Conference on Food Studies, mind you). Upon Jillian's recommendation, we headed to UBurger (Park Street), home of the burger "above a lot of burgers". Presented with quite a few choices in one go, I went with what the cashier recommended as the item for which the chain was perhaps best known: the plain cheeseburger. With a drink and side of fries, I geared myself up for an amazing Bostonian experience.

And what an experience this quintessential burger of Boston was! Biting into the soft hamburger buns, the layers of texture and flavours melded very well together. The onions were cut so thinly and slightly cooked to the point they maintained their crunch but had picked up a bit of a slight caramelisation. The crisp brightness from the lettuce, the nuanced sweetness from the tomato and the acidity from the pickles cut through the handformed burger patty and heavier, full mouth feel from the cheese. Oof, and those fries.. adding just a touch of salt, these twice fried fries were cooked perfectly (crispy exterior, slightly softer interior) and would serve as the standard to which I would end up comparing fries throughout the rest of my trip.

After lunch, Jillian went back to work and I headed back to the hotel. There, I made it to my first presentation of the annual meeting, a thematic session from professors at Brandeis University titled "'Eat Your Heart Out': Food and Sustaining Identity, Making Difference and Negotiating Community", followed by a (Re)Thinking Migration mini-conference session titled "Transnational Spaces and Social Justice, International Perspectives". For the sake of the length of these posts and the pads of notepaper I'm still soaking in, I'll forego commentary on any presentations I made it to.

Following the aforementioned presentations, I headed over to Boston University for a public lecture being given by Diana Garvin, a PhD candidate in Italian Studies at Cornell University. A lecture organised as part of BU Metropolitan College's Gastronomy program (one of the first programs I ever learned of that focused on food, and which was first realised by Julia Child and Jacques Pépin), Diana's impassioned lecture was titled "A Fine Linea: How Italian Food Advertisements Reflected and Affected Gender Division."

La Morra on Urbanspoon

As if I hadn't had enough food for one day, Jillian met me at BU and after dropping off my bags at her apartment, we went to dinner at La Morra. Coincidentally, I had arrived in Boston just in time to enjoy a taste of its winter Restaurant Week; and ironically, this visit perfectly concluded a day full of talking and hearing about Italian cuisine. And with a focus on northern Italian food fare, it's worth noting that La Morra also happens to be the name of a province of Cuneo, Italy, Cuneo of which is home to Slow Food founder Carlo Petrini and site of the University of Gastronomic Sciences (the other program through which I had first been introduced online to the world of food studies). In addition to all of these great reasons that happened to be associated with Jillian's restaurant selection, the restaurant vibe of La Morra was quite fitting for its small space, configured well for optimal seating, creating a close though not intrusive dining experience next to neighbouring tables. For much of the meal, it seemed as though I was in Europe and removed from the Boston setting I had flown into that morning. And for those who have made the journey across the pond, I'm fairly certain you'll agree that's a great reason to at least check out the place. Another great reason would have to be the waitstaff. Our waiter for the evening was Jared, friendly, extremely knowledgeable about the menu and easy to converse with throughout the evening. (Oh yeah, and apparently he's an opera singer!)

So, with that context laid out, Jillian started off the evening with a glass of rosé, crisp with a smooth after taste. On my end, I had asked if there was a signature drink that defined the restaurant but as there wasn't one, I went with the first one that jumped out (and which coincidentally happened to be Jared's favourite): the Mora. It had a great punch of acidity from the citrus and most anything with berries in it is amazing. But perhaps the best way to put it, as Jillian did, is that it tastes like liquid Sour Patch Kids. And that is such an incredibly a good thing.

To begin our four-course evening ($38.13 for all of the delicious food I'm going to attempt to describe with due justice), Jillian and I both got for our antipasti the Roasted Root Vegetable Salad with Herbed Goat Cheese and Aged Balsamic. Upon receiving our plates, we both weren't exactly sure what we were eating; nevertheless it was certainly tasty. The balsamic triumphed with its acidic notes in balancing out any natural bitterness from the dish, which was overall strangely sweet. I'm not quite sure where the sweetness was coming from, but something about it tasted clearly of apple. In addition to the balsamic, I have to give props to the creamy goat cheese which added a rich element to the dish and complemented the root vegetables very well. (To Jared/anyone from La Morra who may be reading this... let me know what's in the dish!)

Following our primi course, Jillian got the Ravioli dish which included delicately light caramelized onion ravioli with goat cheese, fonduta and fried shallots. I got the Risotto con Cavolo Nero (cavolo nero meaning kale) which included Tuscan kale and toasted pumpkin seeds. In addition, it also included guanciale (the sole reason why my eyes went directly to this option); though I had misidentified it, thinking it was a leafy green I had once had. Of course, my naturally affinity toward anything bacon still affirms a great choice in my head. The risotto itself was cooked perfectly and the toasted pumpkin seeds added a warm depth of flavour and texture.
For her secondi, Jillian went with the Wood Grilled Hanger Steak. In addition to the steak came what I think is a play on Chimichurri. But perhaps more important to recognise was the potato, cabbage and fontina gratin, the fontina of which comes from neighbouring Val d'Aosta to the north of Cuneo and borders Switzerland. As for mine, I chose the Wood House Made Grilled Pork Sausage, which had a nice, subtle heat to it. I also particularly loved the grilled polenta as it toned down and brought some harmony to the overall dish and the flavour coming from the greens. I'm still not entirely sure what the greens are that I ate, but I suppose I was expecting something bright and refreshing to cut through the relative heaviness of the dish. I try and stay away from notes like “this could have used some acidity” but this definitely could; I remember randomly suggesting a gastrique (1, 2), but perhaps the element in question was there to cut through the pork? At the end of the day though, the herbed tomato sauce--the true star--surely wiped away any overall technical issues. I swear I’m not vegetarian but I could go completely vegetarian if it meant getting to eat full servings of the sauce alone. Reminiscent of one of my ultimate comfort foods--ratatouille-- the vegetables (carrots, parsnips and rutabaga) had a soft bite to them, the sweet, carrot flavour especially in tact, and were enrobed in that distinctive, warm sauce. It was utterly delicious and was hands down the best single component I ate.

And, of course, Jillian and I had to end with dessert (everything's very well portioned so dessert was really a no brainer). However, everything looked amazing and after much indecisiveness (which I'm sure Jared could attest to) we at the same time declared our choices and selected different menu offerings, a food feud between chocolate and citrus (and you may perhaps know how much I love both). Jillian went with the Chocolate Budino, a rich flourless chocolate cake made with no more than four ingredients that was quite light but dense with flavour. On top of this was layered freshly whipped cream and an espresso puff pastry cookie. But what remains in my memory is the espresso sauce made simply of cream, sugar and espresso. Aside from my drink at the start of the meal, I could drink the sauce all on its own and be completely intent.

As for me, I went with the citrus play on tiramisu in the form of the Delizia di Marmalata, made with orange liquer soaked lady fingers and layered with sweetened ricotta and blood orange marmalade. Also one of Jared's favourites, the dish was also layered with candied orange and for this technical feat alone I had to give my dessert choice the edge over Jillian's. And though this was perhaps more complicated, it still had an air of simplicity and lightness to it, as well as the acidity I was looking for from my previous. And finally, after the other three courses, I'm not sure if I could have easily eaten the budino as easily as I ate the delizia.

With the Motown still playing in the background (which had somehow worked throughout the night with the clearly Italian aesthetic), our dinner and experience at La Morra was the perfect way to end the first of my foodie days in Boston. For the first set of photos from my Boston trip, click here.

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