Backlog: Boston

It's time to clear my backlog of scribbled-on-hotel-stationery notes, most of which pertain to our trip to Boston on the 7th. Al had a meeting there on the 8th, and we decided to make a weekend of it so Austen and his godmother could meet each other, and so the three of us could have a little family vacation. The drive there was pretty easy; Austen didn't cry at all, and we made good time despite a stop at Stew Leonard's in Norwalk, CT to see the singing milk cartons and buy bagels and snacks. (Sadly, I don't think I took any photos at Stew's.)

Stout @ Legal
We stayed in Kennett Square, next to MIT, the first night. By the time we got all checked in it was nearing Austen's bedtime, so we ate dinner at the nearby Legal Seafoods rather than searching for a unique Boston eating experience. (I like Legal, so I didn't mind.) On our way into the restaurant, I saw two people drinking pints of stout at a patio table and said to Al, "oooh, I'm going to have one of those." So when our waiter came to take our drink orders, I said, "do you have a stout on tap?", knowing that they must, but not assuming that it would be Guinness (you never know when a local brew is going to be available.) He replied, "sadly, no." I looked at him for a second; surely those hadn't been pints of root beer. I know a stout when I see one. After a pause, he said, "the closest thing we have to a stout is Guinness." I think I was still looking at him with that slightly puzzled, slack-jawed expression when I said, "OK then, I'll have a Guinness." I'm still puzzled by this exchange, and now I'm craving a Guinness again...

No 2T at MIT/Pete's chocolate
On Thursday I had a chance to walk along the Charles River/Memorial Drive as well as down to Harvard Square while Al was at his meeting. The weather was warm but dry—lovely for walking, and for stopping at playgrounds to push Austen on the swings. I took a bunch of photos on the walk, including a couple that I can't bring myself to post of some hateful anti-Asian graffiti on a park bench along Memorial Drive. I was reminded of how racially divided Boston can be, and of one of the reasons I was glad to leave back in 1984. Aside from the bench bigotry, the views along the Charles River at 9am were beautiful.

view toward fenway MIT sculpture yacht club numbered boats on the charlesgo fish

After the walk along Memorial Drive, I stopped at the MIT COOP to get Austen a t-shirt to add to his collection of college swag. Sadly, Austen will not be aspiring to MIT at this age, as they had no sizes between 12 months and 3T. (Austen's somewhere in the 12-24 months range, depending on the brand of shirt. His Stanford, Penn, and Princeton shirts are all 18 months, and they're getting snug, but the 24 month Boston Red Sox T we got him later in this trip is kinda huge.) It made me wonder whether they didn't order very many apparel items in Austen's size, or whether parents start thinking of MIT for their children when the kids are between 1 and 2 years old, leading to the store selling out of those sizes.

After a decently long nap (by Austen) at the hotel, during which I wrote a few more 9-month observations down for posterity, Austen and I departed for Harvard Square. We found a playground on Broadway and stopped to play on the swings, but we didn't stay too long as the swings were in full sun. This was probably the first time I noticed that Austen understood some of what I was saying to him: When he tried to remove his hat, I said, "Austen, you have to leave your hat on if you want to play on the swings. No hat, no swing." He stopped tugging at it and left it on.

From the swings we continued on to Harvard Square, where I bought Austen two Harvard t-shirts in size 2T and something called Chocolate Caramel Knowledge for myself at the Harvard COOP. The latter turned out to be a gourmet chocolate made by the Pete of Pete's Wicked Ale, and it was DELICIOUS. Reminded me of the Kaluha truffles I used to get at the mall when I was a teenager. Well worth the $2.50 I paid for it, as the four fat discs of coffee/caramel-filled 61% chocolate will last several hours (or several weeks, if you're Al). After eating one disc of chocolate to tide me over until I could get some lunch in my stomach, I found the perfect spot to sit and enjoy an excellent spinach, goat cheese, and spiced pecan salad and a pint of Guinness while feeding Austen apples and blueberries (no high chairs available, so I fed him in the stroller). I wish I could remember the name of the place; it was on the corner of Mass Ave. and something, near the Adidas store. (The third photo below is of a different place on Mass Ave. that also serves Guinness; I thought the "cheaper than gasoline" sign was funny. :)

swing stop cathedral cheaper than gasoline

Al and I met up again after his meeting was over, checked in at our next hotel in Waltham, and then drove out to Needham (where I grew up) to meet my best friend (and Austen's godmother) for dinner at Not Your Average Joe's. I actually found the food to be very average, but the decor was nice—much nicer than Gino's Pizza, which is what was in the space when I was a kid—and of course the company was great.

Walden Pond
On Friday morning Al suggested we go for a walk around Walden Pond in Concord. I wasn't super into it, but I also had no real objections, so I said OK. It turned out to be really lovely and peaceful, and carrying the boopster around the 1.25-mile loop in the Bjorn was good exercise. Al was a bit disappointed to see the wire fences lining the path, which weren't there when he lived in Concord back in the 80s, but I didn't find them too distracting. I'd rather have them—and preserve the woods around the pond for future generations—than see the woods and shoreline eroded.

We saw several people kayaking, canoeing, and swimming, and passed several folks strolling and fitness walking in the woods, but we always had more than enough space to ourselves. I think an important factor in our positive, peaceful experience was that we went on a cool, cloudy Friday rather than a sunny Saturday, when the beach on the pond is often mobbed, according to Al.

serenity circles contemplating the pond log at walden pond in walden pond cairn in memory of HDT

Lemon Slush
On Saturday we took the T in to Fanueil Hall, where we had a very underwhelming fried fisherman's platter and lobster roll. We decided that since we'd been to FH and the surrounding Quincy Market several times before, and the food this time had (literally) left a bad taste in our mouths, we'd walk somewhere else. Al suggested the North End, which I think I'd only been to—or rather, through—once before, when I walked the Freedom Trail as a kid. There we immediately found a bakery with a nutty, nougaty Italian delicacy that Al really likes, and not long after that we found the ultimate lemon slush. I am not a slush/water ice person, but this one was fantastic—exactly the right texture and flavor. I can't remember the name of the store where we got it, but it's at the corner of Salem and Parmenter Streets.

public alley 101 freedom trail 44 old north church boston water salem spa lemon slush

Walden Grille mussels
On Saturday night we cruised around the Concord area for a while, looking for a place to eat. We finally settled on the Walden Grille as the only real possibility after perusing the dinner and bar menus posted outside. I thought I wanted to order off the bar menu, and Al thought he'd like something from the dinner menu, so they seated us in the bar area, in which both options were available. As it turned out, I ordered from the dinner menu, and Al ordered from the bar menu. :) I got an arugula salad with grapefruit wedges, bleu cheese, and (I think) a passion fruit vinaigrette and an order of steamed mussels. I think Al got a french dip.

The salad presentation was a bit odd; instead of wedges, I got two huge slices of grapefuit. The taste more than made up for the basic, almost unappetizing presentation, however. Someone at the table adjacent to ours ordered the same thing I did, and she complained at first that there was no dressing for the salad. The waitress assured her that it had been tossed with the dressing in the kitchen. The patron insisted that it was missing, and asked for dressing on the side... only to discover that she had indeed been eating a dressed salad. "This dressing has NO TASTE. It tastes like NOTHING," she said to her companions. Personally, I loved the light flavor and thought the salad was dressed perfectly. The passionfruit really highlighted the arugula without overwhelming it, and it didn't clash with the cheese or the grapefruit.

Regarding the mussels, the woman at the adjacent table and I heartily agreed: they were EXCELLENT. The first time I ever had mussels, at Eastside West in San Francisco's Marina district, they defined the experience for me—and I've been chasing that perfect combination of tender, not-too-chewy, not-at-all-fishy mussel meat and savory broth ever since. Ladies and gentlemen, I found it at the Walden Grille. WG's version was different in many ways from Eastside West's, but both made me want to eat every last morsel and then soak up as much broth as possible with bread (I had to ask for an extra slice). I'm not sure if the woman at the other table was on a low-carb diet or just didn't want to fill up on bread, but I heard her ask for a spoon. Good choice, though Al's leftover batter-coated french fries also tasted amazing dipped in the tomato-y, garlicky broth. One thing you should note if you are semi-vegetarian/fishitarian, like me: The version of the mussels listed on the menu includes chorizo; I asked for mine without. I heard the woman at the adjacent table tell her companions that it was the chorizo that made the mussels so good (and it may indeed impart something special to the mix), but I can tell you that I was in as much rapture as she without it.

So to summarize: The presentation of the dishes at Walden Grille may have been careless, but the taste and quality of the food was excellent, and the service was fast. There was no baby seat for Austen, but neither were there any complaints when he made a total mess. Oh! And the prices were very reasonable. Give it a try.

Posted by Lori in food and photography and travel at 8:25 PM on September 28, 2005