I am a New York Yankees fan and have been since 1970. And I don’t have a next favorite team; it’s all or nothing with me. However, I do have a few teams upon which I wish catastrophes, or at least a demotion to AAA baseball, and one of those teams is the Boston Red Sox.
Unfortunately, as I discovered last week, Fenway Park is an absolutely magnificent place to watch baseball. In this era of faux old parks, Fenway is the real thing. It has a real neighborhood around it, and when you walk in, you feel as if you have just wandered onto a dead-end street, where the kids have built their own baseball field. There is an intimacy about the place that made the game much more personal than anything I have experienced. We had great seats too, thanks to our friends Mike and Missy, who also found the restaurant that began our delightful introduction to Barbara Lynch and Boston dining. Obviously, the only problems with Fenway Park are that it is in Boston and that the Red Sox play there. I am sure that the Steinbrenners are planning to buy the Red Sox and Fenway Park, so it won’t be an issue for long.
When I think of Boston’s food traditions, it’s a struggle to get past baked beans. So I was pleasantly surprised when our gracious guides led us to B&G Oysters, one of several restaurants in the Barbara Lynch Group. Our late lunch was not ethereal — it’s only lunch; how great could it be? — but everything was just a little bit better than I expected. For instance, my fish and chips, not a difficult dish, was perfectly fried. The fish was tender and juicy, and the batter was light and crispy. Complicated? Absolutely not. But the attention to detail was evident. Our oysters were…great! Perfectly fresh and bursting with flavor, and the selection, chosen by the kitchen, was interesting. Everything else, including the service, was very good.
I poked around on the various food sites and discovered that a common complaint about this restaurant, and others in the group, is the aggressive pricing. My fish and chips cost 16 dollars, and I certainly could have gotten a similar dish down the block at a neighborhood pub for a few dollars less. But the batter would have been thicker, the fish and fries would have come out of a freezer bag from one of the big restaurant supply companies, the fry cook may or may not have pulled the stuff out of the (perhaps not too fresh) oil at the perfect time, and the fries would not have been fried exactly the way I wanted them. Did we pay a premium? Of course. Was it reasonable? I think so.
Afterward, we wandered across the street to Stir, a self-described “demonstration kitchen and cookbook library” and another cog in the Lynch machine. One of the doors was open, revealing a small kitchen with a few energetic cooks prepping what I imagine was the evening’s demonstration meal. The four of us wandered in, and instead of tossing us out, they chatted with us about food, specifically the large bowl of morels that sat on the table near the door. My first thought was that I could easily grab it and run, but that would have left my lovely wife and charming guides to deal with the Boston police, not to mention a few knife-wielding sous chefs.
After a few minutes, another chef wandered in: none other than Barbara Lynch herself. Contrary to my expectations, she was charming and disarmingly friendly, and her entrance consisted of walking up to the table and peeling vegetables. Someone mentioned fennel, and she immediately grabbed a few stalks and gave them to us to munch on, along with a brief explanation of what she was doing with it and how it changed during cooking.
I have read enough about executive chefs who are vile human beings and make their minions quiver with fear. It was a pleasure to see one who is actually nice, or fakes it well enough to fool me. But why would she fake it? We were four visitors who wandered in to ogle at the cooks, certainly nobody important.
So we shot the breeze for a few more minutes until Ms. Lynch asked us where we were going for dinner the next night (she already knew that that night’s dinner was going to be Fenway franks and beer). Since none of our intrepid group had much experience with Boston’s restaurants, we had decided on a place that looked fine but that certainly wasn’t special in any way other than it wasn’t going to break the bank. When she heard our choice, she said, “Oh no you aren’t. That’s a bar. You can go there for drinks, but not for dinner!” and turned to one of her assistants and asked her to make a reservation at Sportello.
Ah, the carefully laid trap had been sprung!… Read part 2 here