Archives for category: Lobster

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Last night in Portland, I overheard a local ask my friend Dan if he’d like to play in a Star Wars tennis club. A what? They play tennis dressed up like characters from Star Wars.

I thought I was in an episode of Portlandia, Maine edition.

I was in this lovely ocean town for approximately 36 hours this weekend, following a museum publishing seminar in Boston. My friend has been living there for the past year clerking for a judge and I promised to go. It’s only a two-hour bus ride from Boston, on a coach bus that played the movie The Never-Ending Story.

There is kombucha on tap at nearly every bar. The ‘buch is from a place called UFF (Urban Farm Fermentory), “an experimental urban farm, fermentation factory, and community engagement hub.” They do 2-oz pours in little mason jars for $1 each or bring your own growler. Naturally.

We basically ate for two days, with other non-food activities sprinkled in between.

We did donuts from the Holy Donut. Potato-based. We tried the chocolate and sea salt; sweet potato and ginger; and a special whiskey-and-bacon for Father’s Day. The sweet potato was my favorite.

We did the aforementioned kombucha.

(He) did beer. It is a beer-lover’s dream town. A beer called “lunch” and one called “dinner” and one called “mita” he was all excited about from Rising Tide Brewery.

We did world cup + barbecue at this place called Salvage BBQ where an inexplicable number of people cheered loudly for England in the game against Italy Saturday.

We met up with friends and biked around Peaks Island, a 20-minute ferry ride from the mainland where we picnicked on greens from a farm in New Hampshire and local radishes.

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We did bagels: Scratch, to be precise. I felt like I was in Brooklyn there for a minute because the line snaked out the door. A recent online review boasts: “your bagels made my first trimester much easier.” These are out of this world but kind of the opposite of a Montreal-style bagel. More airy and the dough pulls apart, it’s like a soft roll. Sea salt is the hands-down winner. Tastes like there are olives in the dough but I’m told there are not, they’re just that briny and delicious.

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We did coffee. Tandem. Started by the folks who opened Blue Bottle in Brooklyn. It was lovely and sparse and Vien the barista shook my hand and Pavement was playing on a record in the background. A guy named Will (I think) was roasting the beans right next to where your coffee is being poured over in ceramic Japanese cone filters. It sounds precious but it’s not. Just attention to detail and no fuss. The tiny glass of fizzy water that accompanied my friend’s espresso was ever-so-slightly carbonated, not too harsh on the palate. Vien also seemed to know every person’s order that walked in the door, except mine of course. I have a feeling if I went back tomorrow though he’d say, “Decaf americano with steamed milk?”

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Spicy ramen at a place called Pai Men Miyake downtown. And charred Brussels sprouts, house-made kimchi, and tofu buns with spicy mayo. All white people working in the kitchen and serving. Definitely not in New York City anymore.

We did lobster rolls. From the famous Eventide Oyster Co. restaurant. Brown-butter lobster roll in a steamed bun. And a dozen Maine oysters with horseradish ice as a garnish. A house-made ice cream sandwich for dessert (even the vanilla ice cream was made in house which impressed me because they’ve got enough to keep busy what with all the shellfish shucking and all).

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We did more world cup + barbecue at Salvage, to watch Argentina beat Bosnia. Side of pulled pork and pickles.

With the amount of bakeries, bars, restaurants, cafes, donut shops, jerky shops, the ratio of food purveyor to residents must be something on the order of 1:1. I asked my friend what do folks do for a living here? His anecdotal answer, not surprisingly, was mostly food service.

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Few items conjure the pleasures of summer, roadside food, and the seashore the way a lobster roll can. At least not if you’re anywhere even close to New England. I don’t know if this applies to people in California or Colorado, to say nothing of our friends in Japan or France. (Is this purely a New England food fetish?)

The area of New England I spent parts of my childhood in was landlocked (well there’s a lake on one side), yet even I am nostalgic for cold and creamy lobster on a split bun.

Like pesto, corn on the cob, peaches, strawberries, watermelon, and tomatoes, lobster rolls are best when eaten in season, when it’s muggy if possible, and on the hood of your car, at a picnic table, or on a picnic blanket.

Tonight I ate my first of the season, and hopefully not my last. It wasn’t eaten on a car or a blanket, but my tongue didn’t seem to mind. It was New York City, the West Village to be precise, far from the fish shacks of Cape Cod, Maine, or Long Island.

Pearl Oyster Bar opened on Cornelia Street in 1997. Its proprietor, Rebecca Charles, named the place for her Grandma Pearle, with whom she’d summer in Maine throughout her childhood. Chef Charles maintains that before Pearl, there was no lobster roll on the island of Manhattan. I’m willing to believe that.

It’s 2011, however, and lobster rolls abound. You can buy them off food trucks on Varick Street, at a fish monger’s in Chelsea Market, or near a wharf in Red Hook. There’s Luke’s Lobster and Ed’s Lobster and Urban Lobster. Then of course there’s Smorgasburg in Williamsburg and the Brooklyn Flea and I’m sure Tom Colicchio is serving them up on the HighLine somewhere. The city has become lobsterfied. I’m waiting for David Chang to concoct a version of the dish – perhaps it would be made with Japanese mayo and served with pickles on Chinese steamed buns. Hmm, I shouldn’t give away that idea for free.

And why doesn’t Danny Meyer serve these suckers at Shake Shack? My guess is because the lines are already too long.

Yuji and I met for an after-work dinner and found ourselves in front of IFC on 6th Ave. in the Village. It was so bloody hot I proposed just hopping into the theater to see Werner Herzog’s Cave of Forgotten Dreams. But we were both so hungry it would’ve required a large tub of popcorn to take the edge off. I mentioned I was craving calamari and Yuji said he also wanted seafood. We remembered Pearl around the corner and poked our heads in to check the damage.

Pearl has a reputation for being not only the best place for lobster rolls in the city (and an excellent place for all sorts of other seafood), but also one of the busiest, even at 7 pm. It has an early evening crush due to the post-work clientele of men in collared shirts with loosened ties and women in heels wishing for flip flops, as well as dads at the bar teaching their kids how to clean steamers, and lone diners relishing in the luxury of well, dining alone at Pearl.

Our bucket of steamers arrived three minutes after we placed the order. There’s a ritual to steamers: pry open the shell, pull what can only be called foreskin from the foot of the clam, bathe in the little bowl of water provided to you, dip in butter, deposit into mouth. I forgot all about the lemon. Who needs lemon when you have buttery clams? Yuji and I devoured 12 in less than that many minutes.

Next came our Caesar salad, cold and crisp and drenched in anchovy dressing and garlic. The tiny croutons were just the crunch the salad needed. I know, who needs salad when you’ve got lobster coming? I happen to love a good Caesar and think the flavors complement a seafood course well. Besides, Caesar is not a feeble salad, it packs a punch, and I think it says a lot about a restaurant.

Then it came. The top-split buttery brioche hot dog roll with chunks of lobster meat dressed in creamy mayo, salt and pepper, and I’ll be damned if there was celery, lettuce, or a sprig of anything green in sight. Traditional. Why mess with a good thing? Therein lies the success of Pearl. I’m glad there’s room for both in this world—a Changian lobster bun as well as the classic. The fries are spaghetti-thin and come with vinegar and ketchup. And the gazpacho, adorned with (more) lobster meat and two cold, poached shrimp, was refreshing and crunchy and right on the money. I could’ve danced all night.

So yes, it was good. It was everything I’d hoped for since I walked in Pearl’s door at 7:03 and couldn’t believe the luck of the man at the bar with a lobster roll and fries in front of him. All to himself. Does it get better than that? I had to brace myself for the possibility we’d never get a table. I didn’t think I could be so lucky on this hottest day of the year, when the temperature hit 98 if not 100 and instead of dipping my toes off a dock somewhere I was dragging them on the pavement. I think I even stepped in melted chewing gum today.

Well New York: you did good. Thank you Pearl Oyster Bar. You make being in this city more bearable on nights like this. Pleasurable, even.

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