You know who are good people? Ones who love pizza and other bread-y things so much they build their own wood-burning pizza oven in their backyard. Conveniently, I am lucky enough to know these people and they love me enough to share. They also love me enough that when I say “Hey! I want to come visit. Can we make pizza, please?”, they say “Of course, and can we take you out to all our favorite restaurants, too?”
That’s how I ended up spending 3 days eating my way through Boston with my best friend and her boyfriend. (Let’s ignore the absurdity of the fact that I lived on the East coast for nearly 20 years and this was my first time in Boston. Suffice to say it was a visit long overdue. Also, I will never, ever complain about Chicago traffic ever again.)
I did not have a single bad meal during those three days, but the trip was bookended by two meals that I’m still dreaming about six months after the fact. Dinner at Sarma was the first.
Sarma is the best restaurant I’ve been to this year, hands down. I could write an entire post just about this meal. Of the eight (nine? ten? I honestly lost count) dishes and two cocktails I tried, there was not a single one that I thought “Well, this is just ok.” Usually a meal with this many dishes will have some low point, some moment when I’m ready to move on to the next thing. Not here. For every plate that we had, I couldn’t decide which I wanted more: the last bite in front of me or whatever was coming next.
Sarma does Mediterranean/Middle Eastern small plates, which sounds…not unusual. But, while they have falafel and feta and hummus and kibbeh and kofte, their versions are nothing like I’ve had anywhere else. First of all, it’s obvious they prioritize fresh produce. Not hard when they get most of it from the farm run by the husband of one of the chefs. Meat and seafood are equally good (the huge hunk of gorgeous tuna we saw the chef preparing in their open kitchen was all the convincing we needed to order whatever dish it involved–pretty good sales tactic).
The spices–essential in Middle Eastern cuisine–were spot on. It’s incredibly easy with strong spices like sumac and harissa to let them over-power the rest of the ingredients, especially vegetables, but here the spices enhanced every bite instead of taking over.
I won’t list everything we ate, but there are a few things I’m still talking about. The basturma (cured beef) and cheese rolls were just the right amount of salty and crunchy, perfectly complemented by pickled strawberries (immediately added to my “Things to pickle” list for next summer). Perfectly cooked baby artichokes with spicy olives I could have eaten a bowl of on their own. Little raviolis with mint & pistachio pesto, fresh peas, and crunchy fried halloumi cheese. The chicken wings that were, simply, good beyond description.
And because my friend would disown me if I didn’t mention it, there was also dessert. Specifically, halva caramel that comes in a wee little Mason jar (is there any doubt I love this place on that fact alone?). In theory it’s one of the toppings you can get for their delicious little ricotta donuts or frozen yogurt, but the consensus at the table was all we needed was a spoon.
Homemade Pizza and Cinnamon Buns
The last dinner of my visit, on a perfect spring night, was what all great meals should be: delicious food made better by amazing surroundings and even better friends.
I’m just going to let the pictures speak for themselves:
And the next time I have extra pizza dough, I’m turning it into cinnamon buns.
Read on for all the cheese in Boston, art museums, and more…
Soup Dumplings in Chinatown
An auspicious first stop when I got into town, my friends picked their favorite place for dumplings before an afternoon of wandering the city. My first experience with soup dumplings was a resounding success! They were delicious and I didn’t even make a mess.
Any place as packed as this was at 11 am on a random Thursday is one to keep on your list (though I don’t remember the name now, it’s probably for the best as I don’t want it to get any more crowded the next time I go back). The dumplings were obviously the standouts, but we also got a dish of garlicky greens that were equally fantastic.
Perfectly runny eggs are in my top five favorite foods. I can eat them for every meal, put them on or in just about any dish and be happy. That means any place that can make a really good, gooey egg and everything else on the menu is a place that has my heart. And I heart Mei Mei.
Their focus is fresh, local, seasonal with an Asian-American twist–as in, a ham-egg-and-cheese sandwich with a scallion pancake as the bread, topped with pesto, sharp cheddar, and of course that perfect egg, or “three sisters” dumplings filled with corn, beans, and squash and served with kimchi (didn’t have these, but I really, really want them now).
The noodles were fantastic with a good amount of sriracha (an egg would not have been out of place here, either). There were also little steamed buns with a seasonal compound butter and fresh corn hush puppy-like things that I couldn’t stop eating. A good wine, beer, and cider did not hurt. This was a perfect lunch stop after the Boston Museum of Fine Art and Isabella Stewart Gardener Museum.
Speaking of, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is now in my top three favorite museums. It’s small, eclectic, and charming with a beautiful courtyard–and it was the scene of a famous art heist. I could have wandered for hours, the place is filled with hidden gems and secret little corners. The history of the museum itself is fascinating; it’s the only private art collection in which the building, collection, and installations were created by one person.
We were on a mission to pick up toppings for that homemade pizza, and the promise of said pizza was the only thing that got me back out the door of this shop in Cambridge. I mean, just look. Can you blame me?
We got some fantastic, funky cheeses and meats based on the suggestions from the staff, though I wish I could remember one of meats we got. It was cured like prosciutto or speck, salty and a little spicy, but when the thin layer of fat melted in my mouth, it left my mouth dry, like drinking an incredibly tannic red wine. The flavor mellowed out significantly as the fat melted into the pizza–good, but I actually liked it better fresh. I loved that they sold whole roasted chickens too, it reminded me of the chickens I saw for sale at the markets in Paris.
The perfect place to grab provisions for a picnic lunch at World’s End park with an incredible view of Boston and the harbor islands. I’m a total sucker for little gourmet groceries like this. The sandwiches were just the right size to try two, the homemade spreads and salads were delicious, and it was really, really hard to tear myself away from the cheese display.
Needless to say, it will not be another 32 years before my next visit to Boston. In the meantime, I’m practicing my pizza-making.