Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Out and About in the Boston Area, the rest of the 2011 Visit..

While most of the second part of my week in Boston was with family, I managed to slip away for a bit of wandering around on my own.

I stayed in Brookline with cousins Jonathan and JR. On my first night, I revisited their neighborhood Spanish Tapas restaurant, Taberna de Haro.

It was a warm night and I sat at one of the sidewalk tables, enjoying two tapas: Pisto (Slow-braised eggplant, peppers, onions, and tomatoes and a poached egg on top) and Habas con jamon (Fava beans sautéed with imported Spanish Ham) and a glass of Spanish Tempranillo wine. It was the perfect dinner.

Much to the surprise of all of us dining on the restaurant's sidewalk patio, we caught sight a hawk in a tree across the street. Imagine that...right here on a busy street with cars and trolleys constantly moving back and forth.


My Brookline "home" is walking distance to Coolidge Corner, a bustling neighborhood shopping and restaurant district. During my high school and college years, whenever I was home, I'd always head to Coolidge Corner to hang out with friends, usually meeting at a popular Jewish deli restaurant called Jack & Marion's. Jack & Marion's featured huge sandwiches and a multi-page menu. Jack & Marion's is long gone, with Panera taking it's place, as is the S.S. Pierce store which was kind of the Boston area Fauchon, a store specializing in gourmet food items. All the same, Coolidge Corner still has its caché and, based on my daily walks here, is still a hangout for the young and the old.


I spent a day with Phyllis and Manny focused around a visit to the John Adams National Park in Quincy. In addition to the house, library, and gardens where the Adams family lived, there are many other buildings and landmarks in the area. A trolley takes visitors around the area. Park Rangers guide visitors through the park.

For dinner that evening, we headed to their favorite Afghan restaurant in Kendall Square/MIT area of Cambridge, The Helmand. I noted that there is a Helmand in San Francisco and it is the only other place where I've eaten Afghan food. I've since discovered that these two restaurants are both run by siblings of Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai.

We started our meal with a sweet baked baby pumpkin appetizer, Kaddo, and lots of their warm flatbread which is served with three traditional dipping sauces.

We all chose Chicken dishes for our main courses.


When I was growing up, my family would go shopping in downtown Boston every Saturday. My sister and I would tag along with my mother while my father would poke around by himself. Around lunch time, we'd meet and go over to Chinatown for lunch at a popular place called the Cathay House. We did this for years, until, one day, the Cathay House got "busted," presumably for serving cat instead of chicken in some of its dishes. (a doctor was eating there and thought a chicken bone looked unusual; had it analyzed and determined it was a cat bone!!!) From that day on, my mother never ate Chinese food again and my father would have to sneak off by himself for a Chinese lunch now and then to get his Chinese "fix."

While I rarely go to Boston's Chinatown when I visit, I always take time to walk around downtown Boston, searching for memories of my past.

My day in town was a Saturday. When I wander around by myself, I spend a lot of time observing people. Having grown up in Boston, I feel pretty comfortable in the area. Since my visits are not that frequent, my way of staying in touch with some of the old neighborhoods is by seeing any and all movies made by or featuring Ben Affleck..they are usually set in the Boston area. Lately, I've thought that he's been overdoing his actor's Boston accents and that his women characters are exaggerated in their gauntness and toughness. Walking around on this Saturday in May, I realized that Affleck is right on; there are lots of people just like his characters. Maybe I've been away too long and am the one who is off base.

The day before, at my cousin Neal's Sign*A*Rama shop in Cambridge, I spotted a walking tour map of downtown Boston that one one his employees had done for Unofficial Tours, a company owned by a few Harvard Alumni who give entertaining, but factual, walking tours in Cambridge and Boston. I took a few notes and set out early that morning to follow some of the tour on my own. It was fascinating and took me to downtown Boston places that I remembered well and to some that I swear I had never seen before. (Like most natives, I've often overlooked landmarks that tourists discover on their first visit).

The tour started at the Park Street T Station, at Boston Common and in the shadow of the State House.

Boston is a sports town and, with the Bruins in the Stanley Cup playoffs (They WON!!!), the State House was not shy about adorning its front with a LET'S GO BRUINS! banner. A similar banner hung at the Government Center and there were more at strategic places throughout downtown.

The walk took me several leisurely hours, ending at Faneuil Hall/Quincy Market.

Because I was on my own, I could not identify all the buildings I passed but it was certainly fun to explore the route and I played tour guide myself a few times when I encountered foreign tourists who were puzzling over some of the buildings and monuments.

New to me was the Old City Hall on School Street.

Its courtyard was crowded with tourists, so it certainly must be in the guide books. The donkey statue out front is a favorite photo spot but what intrigued me most about it is the plaque with two foot prints facing it, in each of which there is etched an elephant. The footprint plaque says, "Stand in Opposition." Boston is a political town, too...mostly Democrat.

Today the Old City Hall is an office building with a Ruth's Chris restaurant in it.

The first United States public school, Boston Latin School (1635) was also on this site. Cotton Mather, Benjamin Franklin, John Hancock, and Samuel Adams are among the notable historic figures who attended Boston Latin. The hopscotch from the original Boston Latin School has been preserved on the sidewalk in front.

At the corner of School Street at Washington, in front of a Borders bookstore, is a small park remembering the Irish Famine (1845 - 50) and all the immigrants who came to Boston. This memorial is relatively new.

I passed several downtown buildings with unusual architecture. I don't know any more about them, so I'll just include a few photos of some that especially caught my attention, including a "landmark" building, the Old State House.

The end point of my walk was Faneuil Hall and the Quincy Market Place. As always, the Market Place was bustling with tourists and locals.

I took this picture of a cobble stone street, of which there are many in downtown Boston, because a friend in Connecticut and I have been debating over what is authentic cobble stone.

Believe me, this is the real thing and not the rounded stones that are called "cobble" at my local stone and gravel yard and which are mostly used as a cover around trees. My friend has real cobble stone on her driveway.

The old (from my days in Boston) main downtown shopping area is now called Downtown Crossing and most of the stores of times past, Filene's, Jordan Marsh, R.H. Stern, and more are all gone. Very nice Marshall's, TJ Maxx and H&M stores here now and the Jordan Marsh site is a Macy's. The Jewelry Building at 333 Washington Street is still here and is home to many reliable jewelers...maybe not as many as in the "good old days," but this building still seems to the place to go for quality jewelry. Much of Boston's premium shopping has moved to the western part of the City to Back Bay and the Copley Square area. Copley Place, the Prudential Center, and Newbury and Boylston streets are now the better shopping districts. Downtown Crossing is pretty desserted as far as retail shops go, or at least is no longer high end. On this Saturday there was a small hot rod show and some entertainment.

I usually have lunch at Durgin Park when I am downtown Boston.

But, this time I decided to lunch at The Marliave, Boston's oldest Italian restaurant. I came upon The Marliave at the beginning of my walk and immediately remembered it as the place that my mother used to take me for special lunches when we were in town shopping together. The steep staircase to the upper dining room is just as I remember it. I wound up sitting in the lower dining room next to a young couple who live nearby. They told me it is their favorite place and that they eat here at least once a week. On their recommendation, I had a Reuben Sandwich (not very Italian) and, for my side dish, Boston Baked Beans. The beans are unlike any I've had before but, quite delicious, with lots of bacon in them.


Saturday night was the Bar Mitzvah of cousin Sam, at Brandeis University. I got to visit with cousins and aunts whom I've not seen in years. At this point in all of our lives, these are precious moments.


Sunday brought more family get togethers. First, for brunch at The Fireplace with Phyllis, Manny, Neal, Jonathan, and JR. We celebrating Neal's birthday and just being together. The Fireplace is a New England grill, specializing in wood-smoked and rotisserie dishes made with fresh ingredients from New England.

After lunch, Phyllis, Manny and I headed to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. This private museum was the home of its namesake and houses her art collection. I've always found the Gardner Museum to be a calm and peaceful spot, with its open central courtyard. Photos are not allowed in the museum, so all I have is the entry door.

My final Boston meal was with Jonathan at his favorite Sushi spot, Genki Ya, near Coolidge Corner. I was a bit hesitant because I don't eat raw fish, but he assured me there would be many choices for us. Our sushi selections included tempura mushroom, spinach, banana and avocado (it was delicious!), and eel (eel is cooked for sushi). We requested their multi grain rice in our sushi. At the end of a meal, the restaurant serves a each person a tiny ramekin of green tea ice cream with tapioca and red beans. Genki Ya has the most creative and tempting Japanese food menu I've ever seen.


Mort said...

Great post! Brought back many memories. Thanks!


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