Pt 2 | Dining Solo in Boston
As I’ve contemplated the reasons for choosing to dig more deeply into the topic of loneliness I see that the past year has been preparing me for this topic, and somehow Boston played right into it.
About 10 minutes out from Boston was where I wrote the first lines for my book.
“As I write, I am on a plane headed to Boston for a solo weekend trip. 39,000 feet in the air and surrounded by humans, alone as I’ve ever been. I’m known by no one. If we died together here not a single human on this place would have a reason to tell me goodbye.
In the middle of these thoughts, wondering why on earth I should write a book on loneliness, I see the lights of Boston: a single lighthouse blinking in a homey welcome. Now I know. It is to bring a light to the bottom of our loneliness.”
What I could not have foreseen while writing the above is that they announced a mechanical failure only a few minutes later (just before we landed). Nothing serious, but enough to have emergency teams at the ready and to make a bit of life flash before one’s eyes.
And to make me glad to be alive.
Thanks for the welcome, Boston. But as you know from Pt. 1, the transition was seamless from Friday night to Saturday, and on into my Sunday morning, a cold and drizzly day. One of the requisites of traveling solo is dining solo, but as I was about to discover dining alone makes people feel more comfortable to talk to you, and since Boston has limited room you often end up sitting at tables together anyway.
Per a friends recommendation, I set out for Tatte Bakery in Beacon Hill.
TATTE BAKERY - Charles St.
Think Central American chicken buses at peak time and that’s approximately how full Tatte Bakery felt on a Sunday morning, with a little less cologne-drenched, deodorant-free breathing room. I waited in a line that almost burst out the front door and reminded myself a few times that lines are usually a pretty good indicator. What worried me most was how on earth to choose. The founder of Tatte, Tzurit Or, grew up in Israel and it’s evident in the cuisine. There were dishes like Winter Shakshuka, a warm tomato-based dish full of roasted potatoes and labneh sauce.
Then, there was a Winter Garden bowl, full of roasted Brussels sprouts, squash, and parsnip tossed with parsley vinaigrette, baby kale and spinach topped with poached egg and roasted pepper cashew spread. Served with house-made Challah bread. Uh, please.
A long line simply wasn’t enough time to decide, so when I got to the head of the line I blurted somewhat desperately that I wanted to try the French Toast: house made Challah bread soaked overnight, ricotta goat cheese mousse, raspberry jam, fresh strawberries, mint and toasted sliced almonds. “And coffee! I mean, a cup of coffee, please.”
Relieved I went to find a place to sit, but alas, there was none. Outside, with no heat lamps and about 39 degrees was the only choice. Accordingly, outside was the destination where my coffee turned a cold shoulder on me in about five minutes.
I sat across the table for a couple from NYC and we chatted. They left soon after I got my food and seconds she ran back to whisper:
“I knew you weren’t from Boston, you’re too nice.”
I was pleased and amused, but who had she been meeting? I found Bostonians to be pretty nice. Next came a couple from England, but they were somewhat reserved though we did share a bit of light-hearted amusement when they were brought about four dishes they didn’t order. I overheard her say, and it made my day:
"Isn’t this weather quite nice? I so enjoy it more than the heat inside.”
Honey, don’t visit the south in summer.
My own dish was consuming me by that point, I mean, was being consumed. I ate with gloves on because 39 degrees and misty, and despite the cold it was a good experience. The goat cheese ricotta mousse was a surprise though, but worked fairly well with the sweetness of the raspberry jam and spice of the mint to bring about savory balance. I enjoyed it down to the last few bites of Challah which my stomach obliged me to leave untouched.
Go, do go. To any Tatte Bakery. The line will be ridiculous and the food heart-warming.
NORTH ISH, BOSTON
Nothing like getting all chilled while eating to go and face the windy north part of the city. Having spent some tender years in Michigan I pulled on my big-girl attitude and went to see the Old North Church. It was underwhelming architecturally and overwhelming in story. Over and over I was reminded that our country was birthed Puritan and pauper, neither of which allows for buildings like one saw produced in the gilded, religious eras of Europe’s government buildings and cathedrals.
Boston’s buildings are practical. The glory lies not in architecture or design, but in the minds and hearts of the men who can say:
I meandered through the Boston Public Market, which failed to impress me, except for the apple cider doughnut corner. I could go to Boston just for another handful of those.
I mean, c’mon Boston, San Francisco’s main market has yours beat all hollow.
In one thing, I grant you, do you overshadow any other markets I’ve attended in the USA. Volume. Yes, Boston, your strawberries were heralded as fine as decibels could make them. I was impressed.
Sitting here in the sunshine with my little bag of cider doughnuts was fine. Yes indeed.
THE BLACK ROSE - Irish Pub
These events, I see, are not entirely chronological because I didn’t eat precisely two mini doughnuts and rush off to find a lunch place; I meandered off to find a lunch place. Upon recommendation I was going to pop into Neptune’s for a nice seafood dish but after standing there for about 15 minutes with the hostess rushing about I decided another place might do quite as well. Around the corner from Quincy Market was an Irish pub that looked promising. Ira the tour guide also recommended it.
Dining alone is a new experience for me. What is the point of going out to eat if not to go with friends? I still stand by that for the most part but discovered that an hour alone in an Irish pub with a side of beer and clam chowder, and one of Brené Brown’s books, is blissful. The waiter was of the best sort, who recommends a good beer, asks once if everything is to satisfaction, and then leaves one to enjoy a book in peace. Bonus points: he had a well-groomed beard.
It all hit the spot.
Harvard was like many other college campuses: soaked in knowledge and intellect and people going places, and lots of frumpy fashion. I did not photograph that because it isn’t kind to mock. Especially when one mocks those with an intellect so far above one, that one may as well give up and go meekly back to writing in a lowly flat, in the most redneck town in North Carolina.
The very best part of Harvard was the bookstore. The second, the hot chocolate at J.P. Licks. The third, a store called Leavitt & Peirce I stumbled into with all kinds of tobaccos, pipes, chess sets, and curios I couldn’t place. I suspect they were parts to locks, or something. The whole place smelled of leather and fragrant leaves.
THE ATLANTIC FISH CO
Dusk fell as I left Harvard to train back to the main part of Boston and I wasn’t sure where, if anywhere, to go for dinner. The one place I did not want to miss at all costs was the one place Bostonian’s said to experience seafood: The Atlantic Fish Co. Never mind Legal sea food. Never mind Neptune’s, they said. Come here. Find Mike. Order seafood.
On a whim I decided to stop by the restaurant because I knew they required reservations and I wanted to get my name in early for lunch the next day, before leaving Boston. No, they said, we’re sorry, but we’re not open for lunches this week.
“Do you have takeout?”
“Yes” they said. And I was delighted. I was tired and dining alone at the end of the day when one feels cold and greasy (pardon me for saying so) is less than ideal so taking the food to a cozy room sounded wonderful.
I forgot to ask for Mike, and as it was not a dine-in experience stood by the bar and poured over a menu, sipping the ice water they brought me and chatting with a couple seated there. They were wonderful, offering all kinds of recommendations and jocularities and making fun of my hat. “Is it cold outside?” joked the man and laughed until his belly shook.
Good sir, I live in the south. 40 degrees feels cold enough. We had so much fun until my takeout was ready. Seafood al Diavolo. A spicy devil was in my food, apparently.
And I walked, walked and walked some more because I got off at the wrong stop with the train. It was cold, and I pictured the food growing steadily colder and accordingly walked faster and faster. Exhausted I reached my room, tore off my outerwear, shook out my hair, and sat down to eat this wonderful, wonderful meal. If I were to make a list of the five best meals of my life, this one would be on it. It came compatriot with a whole round of perfectly chewy, flavorful bread.
I gazed adoringly. Or am I praying? Surely the good Lord above smiled to see me enjoy this food. There was no time to style it. It was just me, the swordfish, scallops, mussels, shrimp and linguine with tomato tossed in a divine spicy butter-olive oil sauce.
I am not ashamed to tell you that I ate the whole dish of pasta and seafood, and half the bread. It was heavenly.
Until Pt. 3 I remain, faithfully,