Sichuan food near Boston

Saturday, October 13th , 2007

 sichuan-goumet 2848 beef tendon-crop-v3.JPG

This week I was in Boston. There are three 28/30 restaurants in the Zagat Boston ratings, and I went to two of these, Clio (which also contains sushi bar Uni) and. Oishii. The other is Espalier, which I have been to a couple of times before. I was rather underwhelmed by both these supposed high-flyers, though I preferred the simplicity (and the price) of Oishii to Clio, which seemed quite full of itself yet delivered both food and service errors of the most basic kind. I would say that Espalier stands out as the best restaurant in Boston. Of course Zagat is just a popularity poll (rather than relying on professional inspections) so not necessarily reliable. However if we look to the Mobil guide then we see a similar list, though this guide includes at a 4 star rating the poor Aujourdhui as well as the enjoyable Number 9 Park as well as the (in my view) disappointing Hammersley’s Bistro. To me there is clear blue culinary water between Espalier at 6/10 level and the next best, which for me would be Number 9 Park at 4/10.

In many ways the most enjoyable meal I had this week was at a very simple Sichuan restaurant in a strip mall in Framingham: Sichuan Gourmet. The food here was authentic (beef tendon is pictured) and the bill was an absurdly reasonable $25 dollars a head. This was in a higher class than the simple Chinese seafood place Jumbo, though this also had no pretension and at least had its shellfish plucked directly from a tank and cooked to order. The trip also illustrated to me the gulf between the cooking in Boston and New York. For example, the Mobil Guide gives four stars to Clio but also to the divine Gramercy Tavern in New York, which suggests they are, to put it mildly, being kind to the Boston restaurant scene.

Otherwise I had to subsist on airline food (remember Hayler’s law: "food gets worse as it gets higher") and also some conference food, which is a phenomenon all of its own. The only strategy for conference food or airline food is to pretend you have special food needs e.g. vegetarian, as sometimes this can result in something slightly better (British Airways Asian vegetarian food, for example, is the least unpleasant of its offerings) though this is by no means always a winning strategy. I have pretty much given up hope of ever having an edible meal at a conference. At least the champagne at Turnberry (pictured) was the real thing, and the view was certainly some compensation.

Finally back in London, I had an enjoyable meal at Zaika. While a little below the level of the very best in London, Zaika seems to me to be about the best of the up-market Indian places on offer. They use good quality ingredients (a rarity in Indian restaurants; the Cinnamon Club is another honourable exception) and the tandoori cooking in particular is quite capable. The dining room is smart and attractive, and was packed out on Thursday evening with a fashionable Kensington crowd. At around £50 a head the only issue is whether it is quite worth the money, though to me it is notch up from the bizarrely Michelin anointed trio of Tamarind, Benares and Amaya.