Where To Bite Kenmore Square [The Traveling Bite]
Hello, my most patient readers. My apologies for the missed post last week. I was traveling – and, for your reading pleasure – turned my trip into the first Traveling Bite Travelogue for 2014!
For four years, Boston was my home. And for one summer, I lived at The Braemore, right off Kenmore Square. It was here that my friends and I would bolt down the sidewalk during summer showers to Cafe 472, where the frozen yogurt only came in one size and could be turned into any flavor of your liking (I always ordered fat free raspberry with chocolate jimmies). Kenmore Square was an easy walk along the Charles to my summer job, Panificio Bistro & Bakery, where I would order a cup of Butternut Squash Pear soup to go after work every day. And it was even here, in that small, four-bedroom apartment, that my roommate Jenny found me microwaving vegetables and – horrified – taught me kindly how to sautee.
In many ways, my summer in Kenmore Square was a transformation. I learned that you can’t eat frozen yogurt every day – even if it’s fat free – without feeling just a little sick come fall. I was taught that food tastes better when it is first taken out of the microwave-ready bag. It was here that I learned that a Boston Red Sox game, unless you actually like baseball, is the only reason you need to get out of Kenmore Square for a night.
For the first time since I moved to New York, and already many many years after living at Kenmore Square, I finally returned as a tourist. To celebrate my mother’s birthday, we planned a girls’ weekend away. The plan was to pamper, indulge, and cram in as many activities as possible – while still having enough energy to wake up early on Sunday and attend my favorite Pilates class at North End Yoga, with Antonio Aniello.
My mother and I stayed at Hotel Commonwealth, which has been touted by Travel + Leisure magazine, just down the block from my old stomping ground. We were given the option to upgrade to a suite – with the caveat being we had to share a King-size bed. We were, after all, bonding, right?
We were thrilled with the Baseball Suite, although neither one of us knows a thing about baseball. As I said earlier, Red Sox games in Boston meant more about transportation delays to me than anything.
The suite was exquisite. And while the theme didn’t resonate with us personally, we both adored the attention to detail. A vintage Lou Gehrig trading card was framed near the door, while signed baseballs decorated the writing desk, and an impressive collection of America’s favorite pasttime-themed films and books filled a towering entertainment center in the living room.
The King-sized bed, as promise, was more than spacious enough for two little ladies.
We began our trip with a visit to the Prudential Center, Boston’s lovely indoor mall. Finding ourselves both slightly underdressed for the wintry weather, I bought a Club Monaco hat, and my mother snagged a stellar sale at Nordstrroms for gloves.
Back at Hotel Commonwealth, we prepared for our night out, which began with drinks at The Hawthorne. The entrance is tucked discretely between the hotel front door and the staircase to the lobby. Even having been there before, we walked past 500A twice before finding our way downstairs.
There, we met a new friend, Michelle from Marlo Marketing, and her husband Dave. Michelle and I bonded over our shared Connecticut upbringings. The Hawthorne has one of the most impressive cocktail bibles I’ve ever seen – and I was so overwhelmed, I asked for bartender’s choice. A thick topper of mint topped the Dartmouth Highball, which featured gin, ginger beer, lemon – a perfect expression of my befuddled request.
The evening continued at Beacon Hill Hotel & Bistro, where I paid a visit to longtime friend, Chef Josh Lewin. We chatted in the kitchen, until the persistent chirp of tickets printing called him away. My mother and I settled at the bar – again – for easy neighborhood conversation and a delicious kale and parsley salad, split two ways, with brioche croutons and parmesan. While we whetted our appetite, Josh may or may not have sent up a delicious assortment of cauliflower and carrot pickles, as well as a dish of Jordanian hummus with spiced olives.
The grand finale of our Saturday night in Boston was at Deuxave, right down the street from Kenmore Square. Chef Chris Coombes is currently the cover star of Food & Wine. That is to say, his Butter-Basted Rib Eye Steak is the February cover of F&W, and his latest restaurant endeavor, Boston Chops, is getting a whole lot of attention from just about everyone in the business.
But between you and me, Deuxave is still the local favorite – and I think Chris would certainly agree.
We began our meal with a small, perfect Amuse Bouche (for which I received a vegan option) and two waiter-recommended cocktails. To start, we split the Melange of Heirloom Beets and the Truffled Green Salad. Both dishes are stalwart menu items that, if possible, only exceeded my expectations the second time around. The plating at Deuxave is playful and artful, and each ingredient serves a unique and necessary purpose. It is one of the few restaurants that – when I’m told the chef prefers to present the salad pre-dressed – I gladly oblige.
After dragging our fork through the potato basket, breaking the two-hour egg and allowing the ingredients to fall together exactly as intended, my mother and I moved on to our entrees.
I ordered the Lasagnette. This may very well be a LWB first. Ordering pasta is strictly out of the question at your average restaurant. Great bowls of carbohydrates, under-seasoned speckled with a few pathetic ribbons of wilted spinach or undercooked cherry tomatoes. That’s what I’ve come to expect. But at Deuxave, the lasagnette was all about the vegetables – with what appeared to be one lasagna noodle blanketing a mixture of kale, mushroom, and cauliflower. The “lasagnette” was flanked by a kale salad and two thick slices of gratin cauliflower, all served over a mushroom duxelle. Like everything that comes out of the Deuxave kitchen, the dishes was almost too pretty to eat.
Vegetarian brussels sprouts and wild mushrooms – perhaps my favorite dish on the menu because of its simplicity and the crispiness achieved with the cast iron treatment – completed the meal.
The following day, my mother and I somehow managed to make it to the gym before pilates, despite having capped off the night with apertifs and a sample of the bartenders’ experimental spring cocktails.
(I vote YES for the gin and cucumber creation).
Pilates at North End Yoga was exactly what we needed to detox before heading to Exhale Spa. Having featured them many times in Boston Common magazine, I was eager to try their signature Fusion massages. My mother and I parted briefly to enjoy our separate treatment (we might have shared a bed for the weekend, but a couple’s massage would have been too much.) The blend of Swedish techniques made for an invigorating massage, and the products were pleasantly herbal.
The atmosphere at Exhale Back Bay was warm, relaxing, and pristine. It had all the amenities of a zen retreat with the convenience of being right around the corner from the Arlington Station.
We zipped back up after our treatments for a quick bite at Eastern Standard – the restaurant and bar shouldering Hotel Commonwealth where I have enjoyed many a hand-crafted swill and gazpacho. We each enjoyed light salads, (mine with romaine and gem lettuces, topped with green beans and a tomato confit; my mothers with endive and poached pears) and the complimentary marinated vegetables with house-baked sourdough bread. Despite our urgency to get on the road so that I could hitch a convenient ride to NY with my cousin, we split white bean dip with crudite and grilled flatbread. My mother celebrated her birthday in Boston with a final glass of Aubry Brut Rose.
Boston is a small city, but its neighborhoods are remarkably unique and well-defined. A weekend in Kenmore Square is certainly nothing like a weekend in Beacon Hill, or the North End. And while we ventured to all of the above, our meals and our bed were taken squarely in the heart of Kenmore Square. And I am looking so forward to my next visit. (Hotel Commonwealth is currently undergoing a massive renovation, with new themed-suites, nearly 100 new rooms, and a wealth of new facilities.)
Thank you, to everyone who helped make this weekend the perfect birthday getaway for my mother – and just the perfect getaway, in general, for me. From so many delicious bites (Josh, Chris) and sips (The Hawthorne, Michelle, the always delicious flavor-brewed coffee at Boston Common Coffee) to the divine mind and body restoration day (Antonio, and my masseuse Hillary) I could not have asked for a better way to experience Boston. It may now be a vacation-destination, but it will also, in some ways, always be my home.
Until Next Time,