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I just got back from a Women in Media conference in Boston. And I ate delicious food there.

We changed venues to the Radisson Hotel in the theater district. And – wow! – what a hotel. Aside from one concierge who sent me off a mile and a half looking for a PNC bank ATM, only to find that it was a CitiBank building (Fail!), all of the staff was generous and helpful. They had sleep number beds, which while I can sleep on anything so I don’t know about quality they sure were hilarious. They had showers I could marry: the bathtub was wide and deep enough to fully relax and submerge and supported your head comfortably while lounging and I am not a small person, but this was the best tub ever. And the shower head also provided just the right spray, and the water was hot forever. I would move in to this hotel.

Oh, and the hotel restaurant, the Theatre Cafe, had good food, too. I only ate Sunday breakfast there, but I heard several people at the conference exclaiming over the delicious soups available. So for breakfast I had the buffet, and for $16 it really should have had eggs to order. So overpriced, yes. The scrambled eggs, however, were surprisingly tasty steam table eggs – they were juicy without being wet. And they had the best breakfast potatoes ever (not hyperbole) – small wedges with the skin still on, onions, peppers, and the best combination of texture and flavor (soft, melting in the mouth, with still some texture and a hint of crispiness – I know that sounds undistinguished, but it was surprisingly addictive). Plump sausages and crispy bacon. I skipped the pancake and waffle option. But I did get a biscuit when they put out fresh after we were already full to bursting – and I ate it all because it was buttery and crumbly and had a simple sausage gravy that was equal to the best I’ve had. The fresh fruit (standard cantaloupe, honeydew, pineapple, and watermelon) was tucked away in a corner, but was surprisingly flavorful for early spring. The pastries were the only disappointment – they were a bit stale tasting and not even slightly flakey. Note that I used the word surprising frequently – the buffet did not look promising at all through the window, and I had originally planned to try somewhere else, but the rest of my group was eating there, and I easily succumb to peer pressure.

Also, the hotel was directly opposite a Legal’s Seafood, a food court, and a whole bunch of other tasty restaurants. My group had packed a lot of food because the previous venue had very few eating options, but I ended up abandoning the cheap route in favor of trying new places.

Friday night, however, I took the T to Porter Square to meet my sister and brother-in-law at an old favorite, Elephant Walk (who seems to have uglified their webpage, but trust me that this is an elegant place). I had a special of duck and eggplant over napa cabbage in a light green curry and coconut sauce. The flavors were light and sparkling. I have yet to have anything bad from their menu.

Saturday lunch – P.F. Chang’s Despite being a chain, seemed like the perfect destination for a bunch of women who had only just met. The lunch bowls were tasty, but unexceptional. The sides, however, were amazing. I ordered the spinach stir-fried with garlic, and was glad to eat all that was left after it was passed around the group. Someone else ordered the spicy green beans, and I had to fight hard not to take all of hers, too. Next time, just sides! We were delighted by the $2 dessert shooters, but I sent back my great wall of chocolate when I found that it was contaminated with raspberry coulis – seriously, people, the 90s are over and we don’t need raspberries in everything chocolate.

Saturday dinner – Tantric. So when I was heading back from Friday’s dinner, I noticed this restaurant, but I couldn’t figure out whether it was a swanky nightclub or a bar for trendy trendsters, but there didn’t look like there was anyone in there eating or being unattractive, so I wrote it off. Luckily, my friends did not make this first impression and I am easily swayed. We were close to 5pm going to dinner, and there weren’t many people in the restaurant at that hour, which was wonderful. We had very generous service – not only did I easily persuade someone to leave us a pitcher of water, but also they kept coming by trying to refill our glasses. And people stopped by three or four times to make sure we were enjoying our food. And, boy, were we ever! Since I hadn’t budgeted on going out to eat this much on this trip, I ordered the soup of the day: tomato coconut. This was a lucky thing, too, because it was delightful. I have no idea how to make this soup, but it was a bit like a really comforting cream of tomato but with coconut and lemongrass flavors perking it up and making it almost delicate. Genius! My compatriots ordered Muttar Paneer (Mmmm! buttery), Chicken Vindaloo (delightfully spicier than most American restaurants), Uttapam (ordered by a woman who remembered it fondly from her year in (I think it was) Malasia and she was not disappointed), and a dosa (masala dosa, perhaps) (it was huge, as always, and served rolled in a cigar-shape instead of a cone. The slice I had was delicious and filling). I recommend this restaurant, and I plan to try their lunch buffet in two years when the conference returns… hmmm… though another shot at their soup would be good, too.

Sunday lunch – Maggiano’s. Another chain. Actually, I was wandering around Boston looking for an ATM for most of the lunch break, but I ended up* meeting people just as their food came. One of my friends was kind enough to split her huge eggplant parmesan with me. It was food and the company was lovely, but it was mushy and not exceptionally tasty.

*So after taking the T back, I decided to save time meeting up with people by hailing a cab. Only I didn’t have any cash because the ATM mission was a failure. Did you know that most cabs in Boston are not capable of taking credit cards? How are they more behind Philly? My city rocks. Anyway, the second cab I hailed ended up offering to drive me for free! Yay Boston! He was a sweetie.

Sunday dinner – Montien – a thai restaurant near the hotel. I ordered crispy Pad Thai because I had never had it before. Again, I was late to pop in, so I did not read the menu carefully when ordering. Sadly, crispy pad thai does not mean that they take the finished dish and fry it a bit in a hot skillet – no, it means they substitute delicious noodles for little crispy ones like you use to top salads. 🙁 And without a mess of hot noodles, the bean sprouts stayed quite crispy and didn’t meld into the dish at all. On the other hand, the other three dishes I tasted from the table were all excellent: Pineapple fried rice (not much pineapple, but the dark raisins in the rice surprised everyone by being just a mellow dark flavor of awesome without being obtrusive), tamarind duck (so I love duck, and I totalyl should have ordered this dish! – lots of slices of duck with very little sauce), Salmon Choo Chee? (I think this was the salmon dish. delicious!). The thai iced teas were only average. And I missed the appetizer course

Sunday dessert – Finale – Instead of staying at the thai restaurant for dessert, we went on a quest for a sexy dessert place one of my friends had passed earlier in the day. Instead of sitting down, we decided to go over the bakery side and get small things we could take back to the hotel. It seemed like all of their chocolate items had coffee incorporated in some form, so I just went for a hot chocolate – especially after I saw that their traditional bittersweet hot chocolate was made with Valrhona Equatoriale. Yes, it was as good as it sounds. Sinful and subtle and just the right balance of bitter and sweet. Other people had the lemon tart (butter to which lemon happened – pure hedonism made for tea), and a crème brûlée that’s the best one I’ve had on this coast. Seriously, Washing state has spoiled me for crème brûlée anywhere else – no matter what restaurant we went to there, always amazing crème brûlée. Finale was not quite as good, but it had the excellent quality cream and it had the temperature almost perfect (i.e. not cold, people!). It was delicious even if it was in a cheap aluminum tin. Ignore the packaging and indulge!

Back home

Just spent the last fortnight in the UK.

Quick overview:
Fly into London (Heathrow) Dec.25 – plan to take rail to Birmingham – find out that the entire national rail service shuts down (and just assumes you know it will be shut down, so no special notice) on Christmas Day – rent a car – drive to Birmingham – return car – train to Llandudno (middle of the coast of northern Wales) – see some sights in northern Wales – train to Cardiff – train to London – see fireworks over the Thames for New Year’s Eve – toodle about London for a few days – fly home

Because I blew my budget on renting a car and buying shoes (they have wider lasts and just more comfortable shoes), I was very conservative on the eating front.

I highly recommend meusli for the traveling diet. All I had to pack was a liquid-tight container. Once abroad, I bought rolled oatmeal, dried dates, and a fruit and nut trail mix – all for about £3.50 (and that lasted through the entire fortnight, as more than half of my dinners). And then the refrigerated ingredients (milk and orange juice) came free with even the simplest breakfasts served in the hostels on my trip.

I did indulge in hot chocolate. But after spending the last year or so figuring out my favorite hot chocolates, I found that Cadbury’s powdered cocoa wasn’t something I enjoyed. No matter how strong I tried to make it, I could never quite get it to taste like chocolate – only leave a lingering chocolate feel on my tongue. Oddly enough, my favorite hot chocolate in the UK was found at a chain restaurant called Pizza Express; I asked the waiter what brand of cocoa they served, and he said it was Abyss (but I did not see any packaging to confirm that I am linking to the right company).

So, yeah, speaking of Pizza Express – it’s a crappy name because it sounds like some sleazy pizza joint on the corner, but it’s a fairly decent restaurant, even if it is a chain that I saw everywhere I traveled. The first time I ate there, I had cannelloni. It was very tasty, with rich sauces, but for some reason it was filled with ricotta and spinach instead of a surprise mixture of meat, but it was very tasty nonetheless. I sopped up the sauce with the dough bits and their sexy garlic butter (ended up being much tastier than the proper garlic bread looked). And they had a special running for your next meal in the new year, so I ate their again later in the trip and got a proper pizza. They do two styles of pizza: Romana and classic – “Our Romana bases are stretched thinner, making your pizza bigger and crispier, so the bold flavours really stand out.” So I tried the thin, crispy kind topped with “goat’s cheese, spinach and red onion with tangy caramelised onion confit and a drizzle of garlic oil” (Padana). The toppings did soak through the crust a bit, but I folded the soft parts over the crispier parts toward the outside and got good bites of tastiness all the way around.

I refused to eat at another chain that was usually near the same locations: Gourmet Burger Kitchen. The cheapest burger on the menu was £6.80, and most were over £8, and that’s just crazy talk.

I did have a good burger in Cardiff Bay at a bar called Salt. I ordered a mozzarella & mushroom burger, topped with sweet tomato chutney & crisp salad. First of all, I was thinking a portabella mushroom cap – but it was minced mushroom and cheese all balled together, breaded, and fried. And the bun and the patty all formed a spherical shape. But once you mushed it down and gave up on the idea of health food, it was very tasty. I did laugh when I had to ask for salt for my chips. Oh, but the best part was the salad. Okay, so it was just a pile of lettuce that you could put on your burger, but it was interesting lettuce – and green – and tasty. And I’d been feeling a little green vegetable deprived. So instead of dessert, I ordered a bowl of that lettuce with a bit of balsamic vinegar. It was awesome.

Speaking of green vegetable deprived… so there I was in northern Wales, and I took a bus (because not only were the trains not running on Christmas Day, but this little line gave up on running the Sunday after Christmas Day, too) down to Dolwyddelan, had a lovely short hike, and went to a pub for Sunday Lunch. I was given a choice of lamb or chicken and then offered a seat on a cozy leather couch by the fire in the pub because the dining room was a bit smoky as they were still building up the fire in that room. I chose the lamb. And when I was presented with the lamb and fresh veg, it was definitely what you think of as stereotypical UK food. The lamb was very tender, and had a lovely salty sauce (with a side of a thin mint sauce). There was a yorkshire pudding on the side. And each seasonal vegetable (diced potatoes, mashed potatoes, mushy peas, parsnips, rutabega, carrots, turnips) had been cooked separately, with love, just to the point of complete mushiness. Very much like the southern way my mother used to cook vegetables, only she started from frozen, instead of fresh. But, hey, it was warm and tasty and very soothing, even if I did get a smile over it not being what we consider gourmet.

More Chocolate

Oh, right – there’s more chocolate from last weekend.

So one of the things I had been delighted to note when I was planning the trip to New York was that there was a Vosges store near my aunt’s apartment. But, hey, I figured I’d see them at the Chocolate Show anyway – only they weren’t there. (I found out later that they were in the other side of the convention area in the Food & Wine section… and once I finished the Chocolate Show I did stop by the ticket counter to see how much it would cost to upgrade my ticket, but there was no way I was paying an additional $50 when I was already stretching my limits with just the chocolate.)

So I stopped by the store on Sunday. And while my favorite local purveyors of fine chocolate (and excellent coffees and teas), Walnut Bridge Coffee House (I am biased because I was dating someone who lived in the same building as the owners when the shop opened, and so there was the whole introduction and the hearing about their hopes and dreams and quest for amazing chocolate, but still – it’s run by a wonderful couple) have introduced me to their bar chocolates, I have never tried their truffles.

So I popped into the store, chatted up the people behind the counter, and was introduced to the truffles they had in stock.

I left with

  • Gianduia
    • store description: Crunchy hazelnut praline + milk chocolate + praline bits
    • my description – I’m not even sure that this is the right one… my receipt says I left with a Jazz truffle, and I’m sure I did not buy anything with any flavor of coffee. So this is my next best guess. Anyway, this was the one that was a pretty standard chocolate truffle with no distinguishing flavors at all.
  • Dulch de Leche
    • store description – Argentinean dulce de leche + milk chocolate + Costa Rican cashews. A creamy caramel-like spread, Dulce de Leche is a staple among Argentinean breakfast fare and desserts. Our Dulce de Leche truffle combines Argentinean caramel, milk chocolate and Costa Rican cashews to reference a truly Latin tradition.
    • my description – truffle. with creamy caramel inside. I had a better one at the show
  • Balsamico
    • store description – Twelve-year-aged balsamic vinegar from Modena blushes with dark chocolate and roasted hazelnuts
    • I had to really strain to catch the faint notes of the vinegar. This was very modest and dainty, and I far prefer the unapologetic (but well chosen and balanced) flavors in their bars.
  • Olio d’Oliva
    • store description – First press extra virgin olive oil + white chocolate + dried kalamata olives
    • my description – Okay, finally, one with a little boldness. The olive oil flavor was very pronounced. Now I was a little tentative choosing this one since I am not a fan of olives… but I think it was just strengthening the oil flavor because I was not put off by the olives at all (and I probably should have had to work a little harder to like it because and olive fan might be disappointed).

And when I went to the counter, the Rooster (Taleggio cheese + organic walnuts + Tahitian vanilla bean + bittersweet dark chocolate) caught my eye as it popped up in a proud little mountain, but they hadn’t gotten a proper shipment at this location, so I didn’t get to try that one.

Conclusion: I’m sticking with their candy bars.


And then I walked over to the 92nd Street Y to see Neil Gaiman be interviewed by Chip Kidd, and I figured I’d ooze into a sexy coffeeshop somewhere along the way and pick up some hot tea. Only the Upper East Side seems to be a vast wasteland for coffeeshops. There are corner diners and fancy restaurants, but I don’t think I passed a single coffeeshop. When I got to the Y, I asked the guys manning the desk, and they waved me over to the Dunkin Donuts across the street. Now I have nothing against Dunkin Donuts, but there’s one across the street from where I work, and I’m not going there when I’m in New York City. So I saw two properly urbane-looking women conversing on the steps, so I asked them if they were local enough to offer a recommendation – and it worked!

They pointed me up a block to a cupcake shop called Crumbs!

So one hot chocolate (ghirardelli powder, I think) and a lemon poppyseed muffin later, I was camped out on the steps myself waiting for a line. And then right before we started queuing to be let in (no real line because there was assigned seating), I popped back over for a second hot chocolate – because the beverage and the service was just that good.

Quick overview of the weekend

Went to New York.

On the way up, was overcome with guilt and called my grandmother to tell her I’d be in the city. Ended up agreeing to spend the night with her instead of the Chelsea hostel. Called up and canceled my reservations.

Caught a train up town. Got off and walked a bit to get to pier. Went to a Chocolate Show. OMG – will write up in detail today. Really tested the limits of my abilities to eat free chocolate. I will attempt to write up up in detail. There will be a lot of interminable detail wherein I say, “And this one – it, too, tasted like chocolate.”

Took cab to grandmother’s. Socialized. She was happy. Ate dinner.

Went uptown again. Saw a Chekhov Play about emo unrequited love and emo bad actors and emo bad writers. It was kind of awesome, and also kind of overdone.

And even though I promised I’d go home by cab, I took the subway back to grandmother’s.

Had been planning to meet up with ex from college. Lost her number when I lost my phone. Had sent her emails with my temporary number but hadn’t heard back from her, so I had breakfast with grandmother. (Got an email this morning letting me know she was in Atlanta this weekend)

Then hopped a train to the Upper East Side to visit my aunt and see the Met. Called her up to find out her schedule and ended up going with her to a preview at Sotheby’s for their upcoming Contemporary Art exhibition. People! My name. Was On a List.

It was kind of cool already. And then the stuff – it was almost as complete a look at modern art as going to MoMA. (Oddly/luckily, Modern Art is one of the few areas of art where I am vaguely passingly conversant because after I flunked out of my freshman year at college, I spent three weeks with my aunt in New York wandering museums – and it just so happened at the time that not only did I spend a lot of time at MoMA, but also the Met had an exhibition featuring Modern Art and the Guggenheim had a chronological thing on Modern Art and the Whitney had an interesting exhibition – and so I ended up being able to see the shape of it a bit. But that isn’t the fun part of this story – let me just tell you that there was a representative sample of mediocre and decent works by *everybody*)

And, yet, because it was modern art – and up for sale, instead of at a museum, you had people wandering around saying what they really thought about it. “Oh, look, you could have a wall of camouflage instead of having to bother wallpapering.” And while no one seemed to be willing to admit to being old enough to have Andy Warhol stories anymore, everyone (okay, just several people) was talking about how while there particular samples were crap, let them tell you about how they had known Basquiat and bought his stuff for a song. “Why I used to own this piece. I bought it for $4000, and then sold it for only $5000 and then, and then….”

And have a look at the website – it was crazy. Right now, I am only seeing the link for the evening sale (that was on the 10th floor), but there was a morning set on the fifth floor and an afternoon sale on the second and third floors. Ah, here they are: day (must include both morning and afternoon)

Oh, and there was a section with the diamonds collection. That part didn’t even have estimated prices listed. And people! There was a woman who called someone over and had them open the case so she could try on a ring.

Also, it was the kind of thing where there was a woman going around with a camera, but only taking pictures of the people. My aunt said that she had no idea who most of the people were, but hey. Oh, and someone took my picture in a group, too, but I’m guessing that isn’t actually going to make it as far as publication anywhere.

I did find a few things I would pay a couple hundred dollars to own… but that didn’t really look like an option. Craziness!

Got back to my aunt’s. Went to the Vosges’ store. Within the last year, they have opened a branch 2 blocks from her door, so that was convenient.

Then I rested my feet a bit before heading over to the Met for a quick breeze through the New Greek and Roman galleries (saw a vase with what looked like a man soliciting a boy for sex 52.11.4; Saw a stele commemorating a Bacchic rite with a list of participants and the offices they held, roughly a third were names of women and the ethnicities were mixed; looked at the white-ground lekythoi for pictures of pomegranates and didn’t find any)

Went through Africa and Oceania (no, really, when did that become a real place?) and saw some gorgeous textiles (and one fascinating art one made of found bits of scrap metal)

Popped briefly in Modern Art because there was a brilliant Picaso-esque (Umm… Cubist) painting of the Graces that was stunningly well done – it looked realistic from some angles and the colors were warm and delightful and I don’t remember the painter’s name at all

Said hello to some of the Rodin sculpture and Sargent’s Madame X. Saw a painting that reminded me of Augusta Longbottom’s hat and a luminously spooky dead christ – I think I like Manet a lot more in surprise small doses instead of in a large exhibition of just just his work.

Oh, and I happened into a retrospective of the last three decades of acquisitions to honor the retirement of Philippe de Montebello, director. I love having places and eras all mashed together – and apparently this guy had a thing for musical instruments because those were some of the more unexpected impressive items. But also, such a wide range of selections. I was glad to have caught this exhibition.

And then with a brief swing through Cypriot Art, I hobbled on home – too much walking around while I’m still just getting back to closed toed shoes.

Had a nap. Read a cookbook.

And then I headed out to the 92nd Street Y for Neil Gaiman. Sadly, there were assigned seats, so there wasn’t much joy in waiting in line. But I got there an hour and a half early to give it a shot anyway. Delightfully, about half an hour later there were a couple people from Brooklyn who had the same feelings on the matter, so we had a grand time making fun of ourselves. Also, there were people who could point me to a snazzy cupcake shop a block away where I could get a cup of hot chocolate.

Neil Gaiman was adorable as always. Decided not to buy a book and get an autograph no matter how fun the line looked because the only book I really wanted to buy was over $100, and… well… not right now. Nor any time particularly soon. The last questions led him to discussing what I’d always wanted to, you know, have a leisurely chat about – mainly how he came to mythologies and what he treasured about them. And he was even more delightfully wicked in his approach than I’d hoped. Also, he cut the image of a highly literate seven year old, but then maybe I don’t have a clear image of what children do when. I certainly don’t remember my own experience, that’s for sure.

Walked back. Slept.

Monday Got up at a decent hour. Took the bus downtown instead of the train so I could see a part of the city I haven’t seen yet (2nd Ave) – nifty new construction, some cute stores and intriguing restaurants, and a significant chunk of time later – got on the bus in Chinatown. For the first time on the Chinatown bus I ended up next to someone who wanted to talk to me. Ended up getting to sleep anyway. 🙂

Had breakfast at Maoz – first time I’ve eaten there. Good deal, tasty cauliflower, decent falafel, but not the best ever. Some time I need to go back to my college cafeteria to see if it’s still as good as I remember it being.

Bread and Chocolate

For breakfast this morning, I had spelt bread from Metropolitan Bakery. I had expected it to suck, but it didn’t.

Question A: If you thought it would suck, why did you buy it?
Answer Q: Because they were sold out of the one bread I know I like – pumpernickel – and that one was oddly tempting. It’s a grain Romans might have used, you see, so it’s like academic curiosity. Plus there was a cute guy behind the counter who was lobbying for me to try that one (after I flat out turned down the raisin walnut bread). And it was the only one that came nested in a cute wooden cradle probably made the the same people as my friend bought for the favors at her wedding. So irresistible, really.

Question 2: Why did you think it would suck?
Answer: Well, it just sounded a bit like lead. And possibly dry. And unbearably healthy. The kind of thing that would leave my colon scoured clean – and knowing it. And so Metropolitan Bakery isn’t reliable about providing satisfying bread. Their semolina bread (one of my favorite breads elsewhere) is a bit dense and dry and healthy tasting, and does not have the special semolina flavor that, say, Di Bruno Brothers’ does.

I should not have doubted. Because, apparently, the one thing Metropolitan Bakery does really well with their bread is make dense, healthy breads. But it was also a soft, squishy, and rich bread. It was nutty and delicious on its own, but it was even better topped with honey butter (softened butter that I thoroughly mixed with Buckwheat honey [scroll down on that page to get to the entry on Stagecoach Apiary]).


After I finished that tasty breakfast, I did laundry – and figured that since it had all fit in one load, instead of two, I’d pop over to the new coffee shop next door and check it out.

Hot Chocolate: Ghirardelli intense dark chocolate syrup, steamed milk, topped with whipped cream, and swirled with more syrup.

This guy understands fancipants hot chocolate.

And he was all sweet about me only having $2.50 instead of the $2.75 for the small (since I just had what I didn’t need to convert to quarters for laundry – I’d just been planning on looking).

Aside from several exciting coffees, they also have Cuban Tapas – which means they’ll heat you up an empanada, but they looked like very good empanadas.

And then as I was leaving, the name of the coffee shop registered – Cafe Clavé.

Hey, wait a minute, back when I first moved into my apartment, this location was called Cafe Clavé. It was run by the son (Gooch) of the owner of the building. So I went back and asked if it really were the same place and if he were the same guy – and it is! and he is! This’ll be awesome!

It will be especially awesome since I have missed the occasional drum circle they’d have outside the coffee house that I’d be able to hear from my apartment (Not everyone likes that kind of thing, but I thought it was wonderful and kept hoping the Green Line would attract some of the same drummers).