Going North

When we lost my dad last February, we almost immediately planned this trip. Dad was born and raised on Prince Edward Island. Though he moved to Boston as a teenager, he returned many, many times to his beloved PEI.  It seemed only fitting that we bring him and his late wife back to the place they held so dear. I hadn’t been to the Island since I was a kid, and Jeff had never been. I was a bit nervous that my memories of the glorious landscapes and red sand beaches may have been a bit distorted by childhood nostalgia, but I had nothing to be concerned about. It was just stunning. More on that later. We wanted to take our time, stopping for overnights in several key locations. We also decided, because we are a bit touched, to book a show while we were up north. One show turned into three. This was a whirlwind adventure filled with emotions, incredible scenery and of course, lots of food and drink! Our first leg of the trip was pretty short. We couldn’t help but stop in Portland Maine for a nosh.

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OTTO Pizzeria

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In case you missed it.

This place had been on our list of to dos on our overnight a couple years ago. You can’t eat everywhere, you know. We tried.  We didn’t know it at the time, but OTTO is technically a chain restaurant with locations in Massachusetts and Maine, four in Portland alone! This spot was teeny tiny.

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The extent of the bar.

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This is not the current menu, the bartender set me straight right away.

This bôite was the first of many on our travels to feature Edison Bulb light fixtures.  I’m not going to classify this trend as exclusively hipster, but if the filament fits…

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You know the bartender had a 1920s full beard too.

Our hirsute bartender was very enthusiastic and steered us toward trying the mashed potato pizza. We were intrigued. We each went for a slice while we decided on another full pie. This was surprisingly light for a carb on carb endeavor. Loved it!

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Mashed Potato, Bacon & Scallion slice

When the next round came, I thought for sure we’d be bring half on the road. Not so, it went down a treat.

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Spicy Pulled Pork with Scallion

We definitely had enough sustenance to make it to the border now.

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Not the best weather, but not the worst.

Fast forward six hours and BOOM! we’re in Canada! Going across the border was a bit nerve wracking even though we are upstanding citizens and all. I’m glad they didn’t ask many questions like, “Are you playing any unsanctioned gigs here?” or “Are you transporting the ashes of any loved ones?” cause then I’d have to fess up.

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Welcome to New Brunswick. It’s not as blurry in real life.

We had reached our destination for the evening. We would be staying the night in Saint John, but first we needed some dinner. Just a reminder, six hours had passed.  I had researched where one should eat in the city and Saint John Ale House seemed to be that place. We plugged it into the GPS, but when the kind lady said we had arrived at our destination, we couldn’t seem to find it. I rang the place up and discovered that it was inside a small shopping plaza.  This was our first experience with Canadian hospitality. The host stood outside the restaurant and waited for us, to be sure we found the place. Amazing! He lead us to a reserved table and chatted us up for a bit.

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Your table is ready, American tourists.

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This may have also been a tip off for us.

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Beer menu

 

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Cutely themed napkins.

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Oh look, Edison lights!

This is how the sausage is made, people.

Our server was a doll and brought us samples of local beers and cider to try before we made a decision.

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Mr. Jones had a cider! I thought I knew him. I had an IPA.

We settled on a couple of appetizers to start. The wings were scrumptious. I have to say, the carrots may have stole the show. Next we needed to try the local Bay of Fundy scallops with Dulse, which is seaweed. I didn’t know either.

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Salt & Pepper Wings, Pickled carrots, hot sauce, ranch

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Bacon Maple Scallops “Fundy, NB”; smoked bacon, cocktail sauce, dulse

The host came around again to make sure we were enjoying everything and then brought us out a bonus dish. He must have known we were game for anything. The chef may have been punking us with this melange of items, but we loved it. Raisins and herring? Who knew?

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Pickled Herring with Cream cheese and Herring Roe, Mustard and Raisin Bagel Chips.

We had already ordered the Dip or we could have been done. We soldiered through.

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Crab & Spinach Dip “Shippagan, NB”; rock crab, spinach, cream cheese, crispy pitas, parmesan

I didn’t see these glorious cured meats until we were exiting the Ale House. Why didn’t we order the charcuterie???

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Our host mentioned there was live music at the lounge downstairs. We were just shy of exhausted but couldn’t resist stopping in for one and hearing the local talent. This kid was so good! I wish I remembered his name. The only negative of the night was the extremely weak and expensive pour of whisky we endured at the bar. You win some…

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Thank you, young man.

Time to make our way to Chateau Saint John. I chose it merely for the location and the price, so we were taken aback by how lovely the place was.

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Nicely appointed lobby.

 

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Clean, spacious, comfortable.

 

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Mirrors upon mirrors.

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More product for my ditty bag.

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Café

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This is where I’d write my great american novel.

We had great night’s sleep. We’ll need it for the day ahead of us. No phone service and no GPS equals a nail-biting north woods adventure!

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Escape Route

Christmastime for our family has become less about stuff and more about experiences. For the past few years I have done my best to plan an outing of sorts that had the potential to  surprise and delight our now young adult children. Some have been more successful than others.  I was running through ideas for this year’s activity when I heard a podcast review of something call an “Escape Game”. I was completely unaware of this phenomenon. Apparently, there are escape rooms dotted about the country, usually in cities,  where you pay someone to lock in a room for an hour with the slim chance that you can figure out a series of puzzles and clues which will allow you to well, escape. I was intrigued. I did some research and discovered two such rooms in the Boston area. One, which had the puzzle type elements I had previously mentioned and another, which has the horrifyingly intense addition of a chained up zombie which looms closer and closer as the clock runs out.  We passed on that one, thanks. I don’t need that kind of pressure.

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No pictures allowed in the rooms. Just the lobby.

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Some tools to limber up the noggin.

I won’t keep you in suspense. We didn’t make it out. We got down to the last task but we really needed another ten minutes, at least, to figure it out. They do a really good job with these puzzles and clues. They are certainly solvable, but clever enough to make it a real challenge. If you’re on the wrong track you may simply get stuck even though they do throw you some hints from time to time. Here’s a few words of advice: The room holds up to ten people. We were a party of five so we expected to work with another team, but they never showed. I was happy because I wasn’t keen on being with a bunch of strangers, but it became clear that having more people will help get through the clues faster. Second, it’s super dark in there. You are asked not to take pictures, but you can keep your phone and use it for a flashlight, thank goodness. All in all it was a fun time and worth the price of admission. I think we’re making good memories here. We’ll find out when the kids write their memoirs.

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Can’t win ’em all..even with TWO engineers in the group!

Next on the agenda was dinner. Unlike previous years when I was numero uno in charge, my daughter Meghan piped up and chose the restaurant for our feast, Boston Chops. This bistro can be found on a list of 50 Boston Bucket list restuarants, specifically for the 18 oz. Bone-In Ribeye Steak. Sounded great to me!

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Boston Chops

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Slick Bar

I hastily took a few pictures, (see above) but in an effort to not embarrass my family too much, I refrained from taking  photos of the dining room. Instead I lifted one from the ‘net.

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This’ll do.

The atmosphere of this upscale steakhouse was well, a bit uneven. The design was beautifully simple and elegant with a bit of a masculine touch which was perfectly appropriate.  However, there were a few oddities which I’ll touch on here and there.

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Unique table presentation.

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You know everyone tries this on as a wrist cuff.

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Sturdy, attractive silverware.

Here’s an example of something that didn’t belong: the laminated menu. Granted, the offerings probably stay pretty constant here so they might not need to print up new menus frequently, but a plastic, placemat-style menu just did not match the caliber of the restaurant or the prices therein.

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Shall I have the $135 Chateaubriand or the Grand Slam Breakfast?

We started out with a cocktail which was extraordinary. I couldn’t find the description online, but suffice it to say it’s a blend of rye, ginger beer and pure golden sunshine. I can’t remember the last time I experienced such a well balanced aperitif.

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Well done, Mr. Mixologist.

Instead of a basket of bread, we were each presented with a heavenly, warm, eggy popover.

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Delightfully cute presentation.

Whilst we await our appetizers I’ll take a moment to mention another quirky element at Boston Chops, the music. With the mature, upscale surroundings one would expect to hear some jazzy piano or Ole’ Blue Eyes emanating from the sound system. Instead, they played loud, drubbing club beats. It was quite obnoxious and did not suit the room at all. We coyly asked if they might switch it up but our server said he’d been listening to this, ahem, music every day for years. Guess it ain’t gonna change.

On to the food!  I will tell you right now that there was literally nothing about the food we experienced that was fell short of expectation. We started with a selection from the “Rarely Celebrated” section of the menu, where you can sample things such as tongue, heart, cheeks and oxtail. We went with the Bone Marrow. It was superb!

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Roasted Bone Marrow: Gremolata | Onion Broth | Grilled Bread

Next, Jeff asked for a dozen of the oysters of the day. They very nicely split them onto two serving plates for easier sharing. Bravo!

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One of the plates of Oysters. Fresh and sweet.

Lastly, it was highly recommended by Meghan that we get the Pork Belly Mac and Cheese. It sounded so good we got two. It’s a bit of a misnomer because the pork belly element was just a small cube nestled on the top, not  incorporated all throughout. That being said, it was slap your mamma delicious! Not heavy or greasy, just perfectly balanced cheesiness.

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So flippin’ good!

Now for the mains. This is where your bill for the evening will turn from a bit pricey to the “take out a second mortgage” range.  This is a high end steak house and as is standard in such places, the cuts of beef are prime aged, served a là carte and quite expensive. The side dishes are just as much the star of show here! The portions are generous enough that table mates could easily share two or three.

Without further ado…

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18 oz  Prime Bone-In Rib Eye. Humina Humina.

This was Mr. Jones’ dinner. I had a taste, you better believe it and it was absolutely scrumptious! Perfectly seasoned and spot on medium-rare temperature as requested.

Now, the sides…

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Duck Fat Fingerlings with Lardons

Oh my. These potatoes were gorgeous, with huge chunks of spiced bacon lardons. Amazing. The brussels sprouts below were also “au canard” or cooked in duck fat, but they buried the lead on the menu because…more bacon!

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Brussels Sprouts Au Canard

In addition to the prime a là carte steaks, there are composed plates to choose from. I decided on the bone-in filet. The beef was not quite as mind blowing as the ribeye, but spectacular none the less. I have to say, ranking everything on the plate, I would put those mushrooms number one. Holy Umami! However, I was reaching my limit by this point.

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10 oz Bone-In Tenderloin- Potato & Goat Cheese Croquette | Asparagus | Béarnaise | Mushrooms

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Left- overs made a great breakfast in the morning.

Before we wrap up I’ll share the last quirky thing about this Bistro. The super weird art work in the bathrooms.

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whah????

Let’s take a minute to break this down. Here we have three super-hot chicks, along with one douchey dude (seemingly ogling on of the ladies’ bozooms) and a somewhat androgynous (fellow?) in the back, out for an evening at Boston Chops. No problem. Upon closer inspection you’ll notice that they haven’t eaten anything due to the rolled-up, signature napkins still nestled in their leather cuffs. Despite their empty bellies, they’ve seemingly polished off  TWO bottles of champagne along with approximately  TWENTY shots !!! What the H-E- double hockey sticks is going on here? Is this what they’re going after with the club music?  Do they want people to think of this place as a classy restaurant or a sleazy Las Vegas night club?

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Umm…

Snarky critiques aside, this was an absolutely tremendous meal with service that was friendly, yet formal, which is just what you’d expect from a place of this pedigree.  We had a fantastic evening and I’d certainly keep this place in mind for a special night in town. Maybe next year, after we attempt to escape the Zombie Room, we’ll try the brains…

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Boston Rose

We were about a week overdue in celebrating Jeff’s birthday. Our summer music schedule was delightfully full this year. The bulk of our shows were in Boston which meant a lot of travel, traffic and occasional colorful language from Mr. Jones, so I was surprised when he suggested we head into the North End for his birthday dinner. Where parking would be an unknown factor for this jaunt, we decided to make use of the public transit. We are not very MBTA savvy, but luckily our city girl daughter is a train ninja so she talked us through it. Speaking of our girl, we took a quick trip over to the Back Bay for a visit and a little wireless network help from Dad.

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The girl’s street. Pretty sweet. That’s a poem.

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Late summer planters showing their glory.

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Slumming it on the stoop, waiting for Meg.

With the network back online we headed on to the North End. For those of you who aren’t from around these parts, this is the famed area of Boston where one can partake in all sorts of authentic (after navigating around the tourist traps) Italian food and culture. Nearby you’ll also find the historic Faneuil Hall Marketplace and just steps from there, The New England Aquarium as well as Rowes Wharf. This is all navigable via pedestrian friendly walkways and dotted with beautiful green spaces and seating areas.

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Rose Kennedy Greenway

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Splash Fountains.

This is no longer the “Gritty Boston” of my youth. This beautiful, tourist friendly space is the result of the infamous “Big Dig” project. The Big Dig was the most expensive highway project in the US, and was plagued by escalating costs, scheduling  delays, leaks, design flaws, charges of poor execution and use of substandard materials, criminal arrests, and even one death. The main objective was to ease traffic on Route 93. My friends, traffic here is just as bad if not worse than before this bloated project! However, this green space coupled with the ability to traverse the city by foot with ease has made such a huge improvement! Twenty billion dollars well spent!

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A stark before and after comparison.

Now, on to the food! We started in the heart of the North End, Hanover Street.

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This way!

We decided to have a “progressive meal” rather than spend the whole evening in one place. I hadn’t done any research ahead of time so we just wandered around until we found someplace interesting. We did a check with Yelp first, of course! There can be some real clunkers, even on Hanover Street, believe me. Long time readers of this blog may recall a pretty humorous visit to a certain eatery a few years back. Do yourself a favor and read the latest reviews HERE. They are high-larious.

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Our old haunt. Classy as ever!

Our first stop was Assaggio. The dining room was pretty much empty, but so was every other place we passed. The festivals had just ended so I figured that was the reason. Turns out, it was because we were eating as early as senior citizens. It got quite busy as the night wore on.

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I’m not sure what’s happening here, but I bet they had a lot of wine first.

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A nice oil presentation

 

Cherubs were a theme…

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I neglected to mention that it was pretty dang hot on this day, around ninety degrees, so we started out light. We ordered a couple of glasses of chilled Pinot Grigio (not pictured) and a nice cold appetizer.

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Hot Italian Stuffed Cherry Peppers with Provolone Cheese and Prosciutto

This was just as advertised. Tasty, but no heavy lifting for the chef.  The next course, however was exceptional. The menu simply lists them as Crab Cakes, no further description.

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Crab Cakes

These two morsels were indeed small, but certainly house made and packed with lump crab and very little filling. Putting the dish over the top was the lobster sauce accompaniment. This bisque-like sauce was luscious! Upon further consumption we discovered plump pieces of claw and tail meat as well. We soon ran out of crab cakes to dip in the sauce so we implemented the bread to finish it off. Heck, I would have dipped my flip flop in the stuff!

With our appetizer course finished we set back out to wander the streets in search of pasta! We enjoyed the sights along the way.

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The Old North Church

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A fine milliner was crafting chapeaus inside.

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About 30,000 anise cookies in the window.

We recognized this place from a previous visit. That time there was a line around the corner and we didn’t get in. We hoped it bode well for the quality of the food and took a chance on L’Osteria for our next course.

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Beautiful Plantings!

The dining room, again, was empty. I still hadn’t gotten the hint that it was simply early. I thought we’d have the whole North End to ourselves all night.

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Emptee!!!

When it comes to pasta, even the best italian restaurants tend to only have a few fresh varieties with the rest being dried. I really wanted some fresh pasta on this visit. I asked the server to help navigate our choices hoping that they indeed made their own and that we wouldn’t have to down our wine and move on. Luckily they featured a fresh, hand formed tortellini.

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“L’Osteria” means The Tavern. It has nothing to do with oysters, I quickly learned.

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Tortellini con Panna

This is exactly what I hoped for!!! Tender pasta rolled out perfectly thin, stuffed with a dreamy ricotta filling and tossed in an impossibly light cream sauce. Madonn‘ these were good!

We needed a bit of a respite before the meat course. We wandered back to the greenway to sit a people watch.

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We watched this dad…

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…try and catch this girl, without getting wet.

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The girl was winning at this game.

During our rest, we took to social media to choose our next venue. We got a whole slew of suggestions from our foodie friends, so it was tough to decide. Someone recommended Dolce Vita and to “ask for Franco”. We were intrigued…

We arrived just in time  to witness a boisterous chorus of Italian songs led by the afore mentioned Franco himself!

The place was packed, but we there were two seats open at the bar we were able to snag.

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The busboy lobbed the napkins from behind us which landed perfectly fanned out and upright. That’s skill.

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This wine was…okay.

I nosed around a bit whilst waiting for the powder room. Turns out Franco is a bit of a local celebrity. The was a “wall of fame” featuring the man with various stars.

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Bam! It’s Emeril!

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We just finished watching the complete series of The Shield. Vic Mackey is one bad dude.

The goal here was to have a really good steak. They had a NY strip on the menu that seemed pretty straight forward. We had the choice of pasta or salad. I decided not to double up on carbs and just have salad.

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This was indeed, just a salad.

The steak was a bit of a let down. It had a fair amount of gristle, but that was not the biggest sin. It had absolutely no seasoning whatsoever. There was no salt or pepper on the table, which could have been an oversight, but more likely because the food is supposed to be properly seasoned by the chef. It wasn’t.

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This steak was blah-zoh.

This stop turned out to be more about theater than dinner. We had a great time without a doubt.

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Look for this shot on the Wall Of Fame!

No visit to the North End would be complete without a stop into Mike’s Pastry for cannoli.

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Accept no substitute.

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It was pretty darn crowded, but they handle orders with military precision.

The offerings go beyond cannoli though I can’t even imagine getting anything else.

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Gelato, if you please.

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Assorted pastries.

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I did see these “Lobster Tails” are on the list of 50 Boston foods you must try before you die. I may have to revise my cannoli stance.

We had our treats boxed up to-go to be enjoyed back home along with a glass of cheap bourbon, as you do. We took a stroll through the Boston Harbor Hotel before hitting the train.

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This was officially a busman’s holiday. Look it up, kids.

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One of the last “Blues Barge” concerts.

A perfect way to end the evening. It was so much more fun to bop around town, rather than staying at one place for the whole time.

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Our charges made it home safely!

The city of Boston has come such a long way! It was an absolute pleasure to spend our night off enjoying a place that is usually all about work for us.

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Rock Lobster

It had been many moons since Jeff and I had been to a legit concert. When I was a kid, I went out to see anyone who rolled through town! That was back when concert tickets were fifteen bucks and I didn’t have irrational anxiety about being in the midst of 10,000 people and suddenly needing to exit.  Today, even if Zombie Elvis himself were to make an appearance at the Boston Garden, I’d pass on it. As luck would have it, one of Jeff’s favorite singer-song writers,  Martin Sexton was playing in (sort of ) nearby Rockport at a delightful venue. We decided to take the night off and procured our tickets.

Rockport is about two hours from home. We went back and forth about staying over but ended up making it just a day trip. I knew very little about this tiny hamlet before our visit. Turns out, it’s A-dorable! There were historic buildings and cute store fronts everywhere!

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Art Assoiciation

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Example of said art.

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Cedar shakes are so friendly looking!

I had been longing for a quality lobster roll since the summer solstice.  I had a terribly disappointing one in Providence if you recall, so I thought this place would be a great opportunity for a do-over!

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I wasn’t looking for fancy, just tasty!

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The view boasted about on the menu. Sadly, not from our table. “Excuse me folks, I need a picture. I’m a blogger!”

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An unfiltered beer for him, an IPA for the lady..

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Chowder to start.

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Properly dressed.

The lobster rolls were gorgeous. Served on a grilled roll, though not as buttery and golden as I would have preferred, it was stuffed with tender claws and tail meat, and that’s all. The mayo was on the side, to be added as little or as liberally as one would like. The only thing lacking was a lemon wedge for the win!

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One with fries…

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…one with coleslaw.

After our delectable lunch, we had an hour or so to poke around this seaside treasure. There seemed to be an ice cream shop around every corner. I was hoping to get a cone when the show let out, but after asking a couple places how late they were open, it was clear that this town rolls up the side walks as soon as the sun goes down. As of this dateline I STILL have not had an ice cream this summer.

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Someday.

There were summer cottages tucked in among the shops. They all  seemed to be in competition to have the cutest plantings and flower boxes. There were no losers here!

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This was the sister restaurant to the place we had lunch. Only take out here.

The most spectacular part of Rockport is the gorgeous ocean views! I’ll let you scroll through without my needless commentary.

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Speaking of the views here. Remember when I said that the venue where we would be seeing the show was delightful? Well, here it is, the Victorian building in the middle! The whole back wall of the concert hall is glass and looks out onto the stunning atlantic!

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Could I BE more excited?

I neglected to take a photo from across the street so that you could see the facade. Let’s see if the internet let’s me borrow one.

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Will it stick?

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A close up.

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A rendering of the building I snapped in the Ladies’.

You can read all about the Shalin Lu Performance Center HERE. I will tell you that despite looking like an antique facility, this hall was built from the ground up in 2010. The performance center was designed to be an absolutely perfect listening room which also provides the most fabulous views over the harbor! We arrived with just enough time to enjoy a glass of wine upstairs in the reception hall before heading down to our seats.

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Schmoozing with the beautiful people.

Some views from the reception room:

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We made our way down to the auditorium. This space was not only elegant in design but also achieved absolute perfection for  acoustic listening.

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Anxiously waiting for the curtain to be pulled back!

So. Here’s what happened. Martin Sexton was absolutely fantastic! His opening act, the  Brothers McCann simply blew us away with their harmonies. They were great entertainers. The show was awesome!!! However, there was a great big fat elephant that sat in the room the whole night. THEY NEVER OPENED THE CURTAIN!  My friends, I know this is not life and death, it’s just a view of the  stinkin’ sunset, but it really put a damper on the evening. All the promotional materials advertised the perfect marriage of music and atmosphere. Half of that equation was sorely missing. My understanding is that it’s the artist makes the call on whether or not the curtain is drawn. Perhaps the decision is made on the basis that the view may become a distraction. I can tell you this: I was distracted! It was due to my anxiety about whether or not they were ever going to open the dang curtain!

My heart was set on seeing this view:

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Stolen from their own website.

We had a fantastic time taking in the quaint visages of Rockport. Being able to enjoy some exquisite music was just what what the doctor ordered for us, in the middle of our summer madness. We will be on the look out for other  artists playing at the Shalin Liu Performance Center. Now, my expectations will be better managed about the curtain. But I’ll still mope about it if it’s not open!

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From The Vine Came the Grape

It was time to check out of our charming room at the Whaler’s Inn. We thought we might pop back into the Seaport or the Aquarium (the tickets are good for two days, FYI) but neither of us were up … Continue reading

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Get Lost In This Aquarium

This gallery contains 12 photos.

Today we would making our way to the Mystic Aquarium. Honestly, I went back and forth about visiting this attraction. We have a wiz-bang aquarium in Boston that we visited just a couple years back, so my yearning to “walk … Continue reading

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That’s What I Get

You may recall that we spent some time at Foxwoods as recently and January of this year. This is not because we’re avid gamblers, I’m much too cheap of a New Englander to play the slots. I’d rather place my … Continue reading

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Into The Mystic

This gallery contains 6 photos.

Our anniversary had come around again at warp speed. This year we decided (for reasons I’ll elaborate on later) to visit Mystic Connecticut. I had heard about the famous “Mystic Seaport” for years, though I honestly didn’t really know what … Continue reading

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We’re Gonna Zoom, Zoom, Zooma, Zoom!

This foray into Providence came about, well… providentially. Our daughter had tickets to a show, and though she’s a quite capable driver, the thought of her trekking all the way to Rhode Island accompanied by another young friend was a wee bit unnerving. We decided to chauffeur the girls to the concert and while away the time by dining at one of the many restaurants in Federal Hill. A much better plan indeed. I put out the call to my foodie friends, as I’m want to do, for suggestions. The feed back I got was that you really can’t go wrong anywhere here, but we did get a few names to choose from. We were visiting on a Sunday which is when a lot of fine dining establishments are closed. Luckily, one of the recommended boîtes was open for business.

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Zooma it is!

Zooma Trattoria is an Italian restaurant that features homemade pastas. When we arrived, there was a young man making fettucini in a little show kitchen.  I neglected to take a picture on the way in. When were done, the pasta show was over. Dang it.

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Empty Pastaria. I made that word up.

The interior was an eclectic mix of styles. It had a decidedly 90s feel to the front complete with hot pink chairs and funky chandeliers. The back dining room had a more sophisticated, formal look. We got a table by the front window, which was great for people watching. There were signs of wear and tear, however, including masking tape holding a bit of the window together. Bad show.

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Glass chandeliers and flamingo pink chairs.

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Artwork was featured throughout the space.

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Jeff chatting up the bartender. Either I was trying to be artsy or this was an unintentional snap. Who knows?

We started the evening with a Cucumber Gin Martini as per usual. I want to like other cocktails, but I just can’t go in for fruity concoctions.

IMG_1640Our server, Danielle brought us over some crusty bread and olive oil. She introduced herself and said it was “nice to meet us “.  I thought this was a very sweet detail. Strangely, the bread was served with a tiny salt shaker. I know salted butters are trendy, but usually it’s fancy sea salts, not plain ole’ iodized.

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Lil’ Salt

We decided to start with the carpaccio, but alas, they were out. I never mind one bit when a kitchen is out of a certain menu item. It gives me hope that thier offerings are fresh and not dug out of a freezer.  We regrouped and ordered the Mussels.  I was so famished I neglected to take a photo. The description was as follows: Cozze all a stagione: local mussels, white wine, garlic, onion, chilies & seasonal herbs. They were served with grilled bread and were quite tasty. Not the best, not the worst. Next was the pasta course. I asked our sweet Danielle to help me decide and we went for these:

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Tortellini vino rosso
hand made in house using imported Caputo flour. goat cheese filled red wine ravioli, brown butter & orange reduction

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A closer look.

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A cross section.

These tortellini were absolute perfection. The pasta was infused with red wine. It wasn’t just a food coloring gimmick. You could definitely taste the vino here. The goat cheese filling was light and creamy. It must have been whipped up with some mascarpone to get that dreamy texture. And that orange brown butter reduction was perfectly balanced between citrus and savory. A winner all around.

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A little table wine for the main course.

For the main course we went with a traditional Veal Marsala.

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Vitello al Marsala
Scaloppine of veal, Marsala wine & mushroom reduction with rosemary roasted potatoes

Tender veal, perfectly seasoned with crispy potatoes, and a deeply flavored marsala sauce with mushrooms. You could certainly tell that this was made from a bone stock and not some salty packet. Here’s what I love; there was no superfluous garnish here, just a nicely plated dish. I really don’t go in for restaurants throwing on an orchid or kale or sprinkling parsley around the edges. I just want what’s intended to make the dish taste amazing. Well done!

We still had some time before the girls were done so we decide to square up and take a walk around Federal Hill and try and find a perfect café to have a cappucinno and dessert. We heard some music emanating from this lounge so we headed over. As we got closer it turned out it was the boom, boom of a DJ. The crowd looked a wee bit too young for us.

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Too raucous.

Next, I was drawn in by the neon of the Old Canteen Restaurant. I could see through the windows that they had fancy waiters in white tuxedos. Ooh, I gotta check this out.

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Joe Marzilli’s Old Canteen.

As we entered the foyer, we could see that there wasn’t a bar or lounge just a dining room. The space was enveloped in a 1967 time capsule. A sea of pink, florals and Venice murals. A little too old for us. We kept walking and found ourselves in the delightful area of Little Italy. Oh, to be here in the height of summer!

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The light on the Piaza!

We spied a lounge that looked like a good prospect!

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Could this be the one?

I think so. This is Constanino’s. From what I can tell looking back at their website, we experienced just a small portion of the operation. There’s a full service dining room, and outdoor space as well as a gorgeous Italian market serving up a plethora of pastas, meats and cheeses for consumption on the patio or to be enjoyed at home. We were at the Vendi Bar, their little lounge on the corner. This was just perfect for us. All I wanted was a cappuccino and something sweet.  We bellied up to the uplight bar and ordered  our coffee and a Grand Marnier.

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Cappucino: perfect. Grand Marnier: served in a shot glass. Face palm.

This place had an eclectic mix of patrons. We chatted with some young fellows who recommended the Tirimisu. We also got a bit of a show from a lady who seemingly had a bit too much Prosecco. There was a lot of hair tossing and leg involved. It was free with admission.

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The tirimisu was gorgeous!

We had never spent any time in Federal Hill before this evening.  The courtyards and outdoor cafés looks to be something worth the trip back down this summer. Look for me on the piazza!

 

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The Wonder of it All

This gallery contains 39 photos.

For the past several years, lieu of buying a bunch of Christmas gifts for our two (now young adult) kids, we have instead done something fun together as a family. I won’t burden you with a recount of each of … Continue reading

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