Monday, July 25, 2011

In New England, restaurant menus offer seafood galore

It's Legal to Eat Seafood in Boston
There are more than 30 Legal Sea Foods in and around Boston. (Image via Flicker)


Our weekend getaway to Boston went swimmingly -- a reference to all the seafood we ate, not to the soupy heat and humidity we endured.

We enjoyed a monster lobster roll, a twin-lobster dinner for $25 and lobster bisque; fresh trout from Idaho, sea scallops, clams, mussels, New England clam chowder with dill, haddock, shrimp, baby squid and soft-shell crabs.

Here are the details, from highs to lows:

Dolphin  Seafood

In our Boston hotel room, we found an ad for this popular seafood restaurant in Panorama magazine, called  "The Official Guide to Boston."

The restaurant is near Harvard University in Cambridge, just across the Charles River. This was by far the best of four seafood meals we had.

The ad also served as a coupon for $24.95 twin-lobster dinners, normally $28.99. The lobster dinners come with two sides, as do other seafood dinners, such as fresh gray sole or brook trout, both under $15.

Dolphin also has a raw bar and a liquor license. The couple next to us on Saturday night ordered raw oysters and clams, as well as two bottles of wine, prompting my wife to say, "I hope they're walking home."

My wife and son each ordered twin lobsters, which yielded perfectly cooked, moist, delicious meat -- and they generously gave me some of the best lobster I've ever tasted.

I ordered the fresh brook trout from Idaho, which was butterflied and prepared with extra-virgin olive oil and capers ($14.99). A glass of retsina wine from Greece was $6.25 and seltzer and soft-drink refills were free ($2.25).

As we walked past the tank near the door, the Maine lobsters swam and moved energetically.

Dolphin Seafood, 1105 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge; 617- 661-2937. Reservations recommended. Metered street parking.

Web site: Dolphin Seafood Restaurant & Bar   

Legal Sea Foods

Our waitress said this Legal Sea Foods on Long Wharf, opposite the New England Aquarium, is the busiest of 32 such restaurants in Boston and its suburbs.

But you need only one visit to see it is also poorly designed, with a small entrance area crowded with people lining up to speak with the hostesses or waiting to be called when a table is free, as well as baby strollers.

The revolving doors are used both by customers entering and leaving, and servers bringing food and drink to outside tables. Chaotic.

We were seated after about 15 minutes, and had a great lunch on Saturday, though we did argue over whether we'd share dishes.

I had a terrific, entree-size chopped Greek salad topped with grilled shrimp and incredibly fresh and tender baby squid ($15.95).

My 14-year-old son ordered tempura-dipped soft-shell crabs with skin-on potato salad ($26.95), and loved the Dijon mustard crab garnish -- a first for this mustard hater.

I wanted all of us to share the crabs and the chef's selection of three grilled fish, but then I wouldn't have been able to order the fish medium rare. We couldn't share the salad because my wife and son don't eat squid.

So my wife ordered a bowl of silky lobster bisque ($9.95), and refused to eat anything else.

Refills of seltzer ($1.50) and lemonade ($3.25) were free.

Legal Sea Foods at Long Wharf, 225 State St.,
Boston; 617-742-5300.

Web site: It's all legal

The Black Pearl

On the way back to North Jersey on Sunday, we stopped in Newport, R.I., and toured the The Breakers, a Vanderbilt family mansion, but soon wilted in the heat and humidity.

Newport seemed even more crowded than Boston with vacationing families, but we found a space on the street without a meter about two blocks from The Black Pearl, a seafood restaurant on Bannister's Wharf.

The Black Pearl serves fresh seafood, but almost everything seems to be made with sauces containing butter or cream. Only the gray sole special was dipped in flour and pan-fried.

I suggested my wife try the baked cod with jack cheese, but the waitress said it was "greasy" and prepared ahead of time. My wife didn't want the sole, and ended up ordering a hamburger, but left the bun, tomato and lettuce on her plate ($12.50).

My son zeroed on the barbecued shrimp with two side dishes ($21), because he was in the mood for barbecued chicken wings.

I ordered a cup of Newport chowder -- New England clam chowder made with dill ($5.50) -- and an appetizer of The Black Pearl mussels ($16.50), which turned out to have a broth filled with garlic and cream.

So my chowder had cream and my mussels had cream -- not a good day for someone who is lactose intolerant. Neither my son or wife eat mussels.

We were charged $11 for four seltzers, and $3.50 for a small glass of grapefruit juice, which my wife didn't finish. A cup of strong, black coffee was $3.

Despite the heat and humidity, many customers ate outside, and we had no trouble finding a table inside the air-conditioned Tavern.

The tall, blonde hostess, a young woman of college age, seemed melancholy when we arrived and bored when we left, slouching against the wall near the door.

The Black Pearl, Bannister's Wharf, 
Newport, R.I.; 401-846-5264.

Belle Isle Seafood

On "No Reservations," the Travel Channel show with Anthony Bourdain, Belle Isle Seafood in Boston is called a "classic fish shack with just a few stools next to the Winthrop Bridge."

We drove there directly on Friday, before we checked into our hotel, and found a dive whose sweltering interior had only two ceiling fans and a third fan on top of a refrigerator that actually was blowing hot air, even though outside temperatures approached 100 degrees.

A woman behind a seafood case took our order -- a "lobstermeat" roll ($18.99) and a fried seafood combo (shrimp, scallops, haddock and clams), served with french fries, onion rings, coleslaw and tarter sauce for $17.99.

The lobster roll includes a half-pound of meat -- twice as much as in most other rolls.

We had planned to eat our food there, but it was just too hot inside. The place now has nine stools at a counter built into a corner.

Belle Isle is next to a gas station, and the entrance to the gravel parking lot behind the place is on the other side of the station. The bridge? It's just a street-level road  over some water.

By the time we got to our hotel, checked in and sat down in our room to eat the food, the fresh seafood combo was barely warm. The lobster roll was wonderful, though, and none of us bothered to eat the bread.

Belle Isle Seafood, 1267 Saratoga St., Boston; 
617-567-1619. Cash only.

Travel notes

We stayed in the Best Western Plus Roundhouse Suites, which offers free parking, free breakfast and a free shuttle van to restaurants, shopping and subway stations.

The hotel was built in what used to be called The Roundhouse, a cylindrical brick gas tank dating to 1870 (there were metal tanks inside).

Unfortunately, the hotel is near three hospitals and a busy Massachusetts Avenue intersection, and it's noisy. Homeless people also frequent the area, which is on the edge of an industrial section.

My custom-made ear plugs came in handy to deaden ambulance sirens and the roar of truck traffic, but my wife forgot hers at home.

Breakfast is served in the lobby, and we encountered many families from Europe. Guests and employees went outside to smoke, but often stayed too close to the front doors.

In Boston, we left the car at the hotel, except for when we went to Cambridge for dinner on Saturday night. 

We took the subway to the aquarium and to historic sites downtown after the hotel's free van dropped us at the Back Bay Station (subway fare is $2). The van  also picked us up there.

We returned home after a day trip to Newport, R.I., but made the mistake of taking Route 95 along the coast of Connecticut and then the Cross Bronx Expressway to the George Washington Bridge.

Route 95 switches from two lanes to three or four and back with enough frequency to guarantee nail-biting, stop-and-go, bumper-to-bumper traffic every 10 miles or so it seems.

Parts of the highway haven't been improved for more than 40 years, although now there is lots of construction and narrow lanes in the New Haven area that also slow traffic.

Best Western Plus Roundhouse Suites, 
891 Massachusetts Ave., Boston; 617-989-1000.

Web site: A well-rounded hotel

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  1. What an interesting column this is. You are the Don Quixote of our times.

  2. What does Don Quixote have to do with it?


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