Sherman's Food Adventures: December 2016

Firecrust Neapolitan Pizzeria

For all the types of pizza out there, my personal favourite is Neapolitan-style sporting its thin crust and signature leoparding.  Within the last 5 years, we've seen a run of establishments offering this type of pizza with varying degrees of success.  Naturally, it still comes down to everyone's subjective tastes, but there are generally ones that are better than others.  One thing that I've noticed is that the prices are creeping up there for essentially dough, tomato sauce and cheese.  Yes, I do realize the quality of the ingredients, cost of doing business and other intangibles add to the price.  Firecrust, the newest player in town, bucks the trend by offering up a made-to-order Margherita Pizza for $8.95.

Due to building restrictions, their custom-made oven had to be gas-burning rather than wood-buring.  No matter, it still got plenty hot enough to create a lightly crispy crust (that had a good chewiness) throughout on the Margherita.  I would've liked to see a touch more leoparding along the edges, but the bottom was decently nutty and smoky.  The San Marzano tomato sauce was bright and vibrant with only a light tanginess.  Personally, I would've liked to see the basil added on afterwards, but you could definitely request this.  From the basic to the meaty, we moved onto the Siciliana sporting Italian sausage, prosciutto, fior di latte and romano.  This was naturally more robust and flavourful due to the salty meats.  I was pleasantly surprised that the crust held up to the ingredients and only softened slightly in the middle.  There was more leoparding on the edges which also meant the smokiness was apparent.

Moving in another direction, we had a white pizza in the Prosciutto Arugula with romano, EVOO, fior di latte, garlic, prosciutto and finished with arugula.  Due to the absence of any sauce, the pizza crust was extra crispy and drier.  This in turn helped highlight the cheeses more as well as the garlic.  The complimentary combination of the salty prosciutto and peppery arugula helped add enough impact to a fairly light-tasting pizza.  Lastly, we were able Build-Our-Own-Pizza with choice of sauce, toppings and cheeses.  Therefore, we did something different with white alfredo sauce, garlic, EVOO, fior di latte, gorgonzola, chicken, mushrooms, grape tomatoes, chili flakes and finished with fresh basil.  As you can imagine, the crust was a lot softer due to the amount of toppings.  That was our doing and people have to realize less is better with this type of pizza.

I guess with all of the available ingredients around, it was easy to try some salads too.  We got the Firecrust Chopped (Romaine Lettuce, Soppressata, Fire Roasted Chicken, Feta, Marinated Grape Tomatoes and Balsamic Vinaigrette) and Caprese (Diced Mixed Greens, Fior Di Latte, Tomatoes, Basil, Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Balsamic Vinegar) salads and the former ate more like a meal due to the meat content.  Lastly, the Italian Wedding Soup was quite good with meaty meatballs and a flavorful broth (which wasn't too salty).  If I had to rate Firecrust pizza against all of the others in town, it would be somewhere in the middle.  But due to their reasonable pricing, it does make them rather accessible.

*All food and beverages were complimentary*

The Good:
- Inexpensive
- Lots of choice for BYOP

The Bad:
- Leoparding is not consistent
- Turn around can be slow during peak times

Winsor Dim Sum Cafe

After a late lunch at Neptune Oyster (or was it an early dinner?), we weren't exactly hungry until later that evening.  I wonder why we don't call it dunch or linner?  I digress.  Anyways, being late, we weren't in the mood for traveling far for food.  Since we had a steady diet of lobster rolls, clam chowder and burgers for the past few days, it was imperative we changed things up as well.  Being located next to Chinatown, it seemed like a good idea to go for some comfort food (because we are Chinese!) nearby.  How about Dim Sum for dinner at Winsor?  Yes, being from Vancouver, there was a good chance that we wouldn't be impressed, but we had reasonable expectations.

We were actually surprised by the selection considering we were having Dim Sum for dinner.  On the topic of comfort food, we got the Preserved Egg and Salted Pork Congee to begin.  I found the broth to be decently thick and cooked down while lightly salted.  However, there was barely any ingredients to be found.  I've never seen preserved egg sliced so thin in my life!  As for the pork, it was lean while tender at the same time.  Next up was the Xiao Long Bao which were serviceable with all things considered.  The dumpling skin was relatively thin except for the top which was not dense either.  Inside, there was a decent amount of soup which was mostly one-note being sweet.  The meat was pretty loose and lacking in texture.

Looking legit, yet ultimately being rather average, the Ha Gau (shrimp dumplings) featured thick dumpling skin that was doughy and slightly chewy.  I found the filling to be texturally okay with a meaty snap while being buttery.  However, the flavor was a bit too shrimpy for my tastes.  It was quite overwhelming.  As for the Siu Mai (pork & shrimp dumpling), the textures were a little off.  The chunks of pork were soft and missing the desired rebound texture.  There was also very little shrimp to be found.  However, flavours were okay though being balanced with the taste of shiitake.

For my offal fix, I ordered the Honeycomb Tripe sitting atop fried tofu.  This was a very modest portion sporting strips of bounce textured tripe that rode the fine line between chewy and soft.  There was a slight gaminess, but the ample Szechuan-type seasoning helped masked it.  Therefore, the dish ate on the spicier side of things.  Seemingly not fried enough, the plump Phoenix Talons (chicken feet) featured soft skin and tender cartilage and fat.  Other than that, I enjoyed the overall texture of the chicken feet as well as the balanced seasoning (could've used more garlic though).

We got the Steamed Black Bean Spareribs atop rice noodles because we knew the kiddies love rice noodles.  Yes, this was a hit with them as they dusted it off.  Not sure if the flavors actually penetrated the noodles, but they were soft while still having an elasticity.  I found the ribs to be tender with a nice rebound.  They were well-seasoned with noticeable garlic and black bean hits.  We decided to try the Fried Shrimp Bean Curd Skin Rolls in an attempt to see if my son would eat it.  Nope, there was too much cilantro for him and really, for me too.  The piece of celery inside was rather strange as it didn't seem to go.  As for the shrimp, there was nice bounce to it as well as being sweet.

Our last dish was the Shrimp Mousse Stuffed Eggplant which were served piping hot.  We found that the oil was not drained properly from the deep-fry and made the dish really greasy.  We were also not sure of what type of sauce was on the plate. The eggplant was nicely textured though being soft without disintegrating.  Like the bean curd skin rolls, the shrimp mousse was on point.  Overall, the Dim Sum at Winsor was serviceable with all things considered.  Would it ever be confused with great Dim Sum?  Of course not, but we already knew that going in.

The Good:
- Inexpensive
- Serviceable
- Fairly large selection

The Bad:
- Serviceable, but not great
- What service?

Neptune Oyster

So our first lobster roll in Boston was at Luke's and the bar was set pretty high already due to the quality and reasonable price.  We then went high end with our visit to Island Creek Oyster Bar and had a totally different version with a more dressed version and a denser bun.  However, the one roll that was in the back-of-my-mind was the infamous version from Neptune Oyster in the North End.  There was a big problem though - they don't take reservations and sometimes the wait can be hours long (also due to the small space).  We ended up waiting 2.5 hours for a table and in the meantime, finished the Freedom Trail.

Before we got to the mains and the lobster roll, we celebrated National Oyster Day with 1/2 dozen consisting of Thatch Island, Bee's River and Summerside.  These were shucked well except for one which had a few shell fragments.  All were really fresh, briny and creamy.  I thought the Bee's River had more of a mineral finish though.  For the 3rd time in Boston, we had a bowl of Wellfleet Clam Chowder, yet this one was made-to-order with live clams.  Hence, the flavour was really fresh and briny rather than plain salty.  Of course being fresh, the clams were chewier, but they were still buttery.  I found the broth to be more soupy than chowder-like.  I didn't mind this as it wasn't too heavy.

Okay, getting right down to it, we dug into the large Maine Lobster Roll featuring lobster stuffed into a soft, warm and sweet roll.  It was over-stuffed with large chunks of lobster which were springy and super sweet.  I have to say that the lobster meat was practically perfect with an appealing bounce texture and chewiness.  Seasoning was on point while the amount of butter was sinful, yet at the same time, super tasty.  Even the side of fries were good being crispy while still potatoey inside.  We also got the Neptune Burger prepared medium-rare.  The meat was tender and juicy while meaty at the same time.  The whole thing was flavorful with the abundance of melted aged cheddar, garlic mayo and crunch of the tangy relish.  To top it off, literally, were 3 fried oysters which provided even more moisture, crunch and a sweet brininess.

Lastly, we got the Roasted Icelandic Char with celery root puree, forest-harvested shiitake mushroom and olive oil.  For us, this was also perfectly-prepared where the center was still rare.  Hence, the fish remained buttery and tender.  It was beautifully seasoned where the natural sweetness of the fish was enhanced rather than masked.  Underneath, the buttery and aggressively-salted mushrooms were tender and super tasty. Okay, a 2.5 hour wait is pretty ludicrous and if I actually had to stand in line, I wouldn't even consider it.  But given the circumstances and the outstanding lobster roll, it was certainly worth it in this case.

The Good:
- Dat lobster roll...
- Expertly prepared fresh seafood
- Service was good for us

The Bad:
- So small and cramped, not comfy at all
- Dat wait    

Island Creek Oyster Bar

On our quest to find a better lobster roll than the one we had at Luke's, our journey brought us to Island Creek Oyster Bar near Fenway.  It was tough making a reservation for 8 people, but we did it, albeit eating at 5:30pm!  No matter, we ended our Freedom Trail festivities early and headed back to the hotel for some rest before dinner.  It was easy as taking the Green Line out to Kenmore and walking across the street.  Still not sure if we enjoyed the NYC subway more or the T in Boston...

Getting down to business, Viv and I started out with both the Clam Chowder and Lobster Bisque.  A touch on the watery side, the clam chowder still ate creamy enough.  Packed with tender bits of potato and slightly chewy fresh clams, the broth was somewhat briny.  We weren't really sure of the bits of still-crunchy onions though as it took away from the rest of the softer ingredients.  As for the bisque, it was smooth and creamy with the essence of lobster.  There was a subtle hint of wine while the whole thing was sweet with only a mild saltiness (which is a good thing).  I thought there could've been a few more chunks of buttery lobster though.

Continuing with the appies, we tried the Salmon Tartare served with various chips.  We found the salmon to be buttery with a slight chew being fresh and bright.  It was mixed with a good amount of sesame oil which made it aromatic and flavourful.  The hard crunch of the kettle chips ensured that it was both a good textural contrast and held up to the wet ingredients.  We only got 6 oysters as there was too much food already (don't they have a smaller plate???).  They consisted of Island Creeks, Aunt Dolly and East Beach.  We found them expertly-shucked, sweet and lightly briny.  Since I requested more creamy oysters, these were exactly that.

For our entrees, we went straight for their Lobster Roll.  It was substantial in size and stuffed with plenty of lobster.  It was lightly dressed and hence, there was a certain saltiness to it.  Furthermore, the bits of onion added a crunch (which I didn't find necessary).  There was also a slight background tang.  I found the roll to be on the denser side and aggressively toasted.  This was totally different than Luke's and hard to compare.  We also got the Lobster Roe Noodles with oyster mushrooms, beef and large chunks of fresh lobster.  I found the noodles to be al dente and dressed in a considerable amount of oil  This was necessary to distribute the roe flavour.  It did eat heavy though, especially with the addition of beef.

My son didn't stray too far from his self-imposed dietary restrictions and got the Colorado Angus Burger prepared medium-rare.  It was done just right in that respect where the meat was not as juicy as it appeared since it was rather lean.  There was a nice meaty texture with the accompanying beefy flavors while the outside was seared well.  I found the bun rather hard and dense though.  My daughter ended up with the kid's Fish & Chips which was rather large (we wondered what the adult size would be like).  The thick cut fries were somewhat crispy while totally soft and potatoey inside.  The fish was flaky and moist while the batter was slightly thick, yet crunchy.  Not sure about the tartar sauce as it was tangy, but missing the bits of pickle and onions.

Costanza also shared a lobster roll with Elaine, but also got the Seared Monkfish which was done beautifully.  The outside was crispy and well-seasoned where the inside was flaky and almost buttery.  Not bad for a fairly firm and not usually fatty fish.  We loved the addition of clams as they added an added component of seafoodiness to the broth underneath. Costanza's son had the Fish Sandwich served with Old Bay fries.  The fish was on point much like the ones in the fish and chips.  The bun was airier and softer than the burger which worked well with the delicate fish.  Tossed in Old Bay seasoning the fries were nicely spiced and flavourful.  Although on the pricier side, the meal at Island Creek Oyster Bar was solid and well-prepared.  As for the best lobster roll, Neptune was definitely next up.

The Good:
- Nice dining space
- Solid eats
- Fresh seafood

The Bad:
- On the pricier side
- Both of the signature lobster items were good, but not great  

Mike's Pastry

Sometimes, being known as a "foodie", "food person" and/or "food connoisseur" does have its disadvantages.  Other than the possible weight gain, possible health problems and dwindling savings, there is "judgement".  Ah yes, the "why the heck would you eat/or visit THAT place???".  C'mon, one can enjoy food without being a food snob right?  So when I'm on vacation, I'm going to unapologetically visit touristy places because I want to.  Therefore, when we were in Boston's North End, we did exactly that and followed the lemmings into Mike's Pastry.

When at Mike's Pastry, one must get the Lobster Tail aka La Sfogliatella in Italy.  To be clear, the lobster tail pastry is unique to the States as the one in Italy is smaller and not necessarily filled with cream.  As much as I've been told that Modern Pastry has a better version, I just had to have the most well-known one.  So how was it?  Well, the thing was really large and filled to the brim with sweet fresh white cream.  I found the pastry itself more dense that I would've expected with only some layers being crisp.  It was still good, but after a few bites, I had to pass it off as it was too much for one person.

Well, we can't have one item and call it a day right?  So we let the kiddies choose a few more goodies.  My son made a real good choice with the Chocolate Chip Ricotta CannoliWe thought this was much more memorable than the lobster tail as the cannoli itself was crisp and fairly light.  The creamy ricotta filling was lightly chocolatey and only semi-sweet.  There was so much of it, it was overflowing out the two ends.  The chocolate chips added a nice crunch as well as more flavour and sweetness.

My daughter insisted on the Chocolate Fudge Cake which looked really heavy.  However, it ate much lighter than it appeared.  The cake portion was fluffy and only semi-sweet, hence we could taste the chocolate.  The icing portion was naturally sweeter, but not as much as one would think.  I hate things that are too sweet, so this actually worked for me.  Even with this small sample size, it was pretty clear to me that the lobster tail is indeed a tourist trap in itself.  At least I got to try it!  The other 2 items were actually quite good!

The Good:
- You can tell people you had a lobster tail at Mike's Pastry
- Solid cannolis
- Good pit stop if you are doing the Freedom Trail

The Bad:
- Super busy
- Lobster Tail somewhat of a letdown