Story and photos by Babbie De Derian
Acela photo courtesy of Amtrack, Liberty Hotel and Scampo courtesy of Liberty Hotel.
Boston on a Plate
Like every city, Boston has many stories to tell and secrets to share; I knew I would meet people who were waiting to tell me theirs.
I love the stress-free convenience of traveling on a train; no baggage fees, cancellations, or security lines to contend with.
The Acela, Amtrak’s newest and fastest train from New York to Boston, offers business and first - class service; there’s also a quiet car, open to all passengers. Other than first class, where seats are assigned and passengers are served a complimentary meal and drinks, seats are not reserved, The secret is priority boarding; I get to Penn Station early, and engage Anthony, a Red Cap who has been working for Amtrak for 30 years, to cart my luggage and find seats in the car next to the café.
Before the train pulls out of the station, we are settled into wide new gray leather seats that recline to a position (with plenty of leg room), far more comfortable than in airline economy; its dropdown tray accommodates a large computer (free Wi Fi) or a kid’s coloring book and crayons. Seats can be reconfigured for groups of four.
The four- hour picturesque ride offers panoramic views of the New York skyline, boats docked in marinas, charming towns and trees beginning to turn brilliant shades of red and gold. Bathrooms are roomy, including extra- large handicap facilities. Dark blue curtains can be partially or fully closed to block the sun.
The Café Car’s menu is extensive and reasonably priced; Wayne who is servicing the café has been working on the train for 22 years. On the way up, I have a Jimmy Dean breakfast. The train makes two stops in Boston, Back Bay and South Street Stations.
We check into the Four Seasons Hotel; the welcome is warm and personal; our suite, spacious and luxurious. Concierge David White is most helpful in recommending a few restaurants.
Lunch at the Island Creek Oyster Bar is like diving into a massive fish tank. The menu’s wide selection of fresh fish and seafood dishes is enticing and creative; a few favorites: mussels in saffron butter and roasted tomato, crispy calamari with onion chutney and spicy remoulade and Ethel’s lobster roll on a rosemary bun. Many of the oysters are raised at the restaurant’s oyster farm.
The manager sends over a cup of creamy clam chowder, hot biscuits and made-in-house rosemary butter to whet our appetites. When my plate of raw oysters arrives, to my surprise two are topped with farm cultivated caviar.
The crispy fried oyster slider on a brioche roll with chili lime is succulent and scrumptious. A couple next to me are devouring Colorado angus burgers piled high with house cured maple bacon, fried oysters, pickled onions and horseradish mayo.
After lunch, we head over to the Time Out Market, housed in an architectural marvel that first opened in 1928 as the Sears Roebuck & Company Mail Order Store. Revitalized in 2011 as a food court and event space, it is a favorite with locals as many revered Boston chefs have stalls there, serving cutting edge dishes. Too full from lunch, we can only gape at oversized pastrami sandwiches at Mamaleh’s Deli and Union Square’s maple syrup glazed donuts topped with chunks of bacon.
The Grand Charles Street Jail, opened in 1851 with 220 granite cells; it was quite progressive in its day; windows opened for fresh air and there was a huge outdoor recreation yard, now used for private events. Over the years, it housed many famous people. The jail closed in 1990, and then, retaining much of its original structure, including bars on the windows and its soaring rotunda with cupola ceiling, it reopened in 2007 as the Liberty Hotel, a luxury 300 room property; its bars and restaurants, with names like The Clink, Alibi Bar and Scampo (escape in Italian) reflect the jail’s illustrious past. Catwalks, once patrolled by guards, are now serviced by waiters.
After a fascinating tour with Mark, the hotel’s senior concierge, we head down to Scampo, Chef/Co-Owner Lydia Shire’s 6th award winning culinary destination in Boston. A large photo of Lydia by the restaurant reservations desk welcomes us. Lydia has made her mark on some of Boston’s most respected restaurants, including Harvest Café Plaza at the Copley Plaza Hotel, Parker House and The Bostonian Hotel. Lydia shocked the culinary world when she took over the reins of Locke - Ober in 2001; after 97 years of prohibiting women from dining in the formidable restaurant, this fearless woman restored the restaurant to its former opulence.
Executive Chef Simone Restrepo, originally from Colombia, who has worked with Lydia since 1985, helped open Scampo in 2008. Warm and inviting in décor and ambiance; its eclectic Italian menu marks Lydia’s playful stamp and Simone’s culinary integrity. I wasn’t surprised to learn it was voted the best Italian restaurant in Boston.
I order the house specialty, Lobster Pizza, made with heavy cream, caramelized shallots and garlic, ricotta salata, huge chunks of lobster meat … and topped with scallion slivers.
Chef Simone suggests we leave the rest up to him, and so begins a feast fit for any gourmand: king crab cocktail with mozzarella, avocado and green mustard oil; followed by a trio of handmade pastas: red kuri squash ravioli with brown butter, sage and toasted mini marshmallows… spaghetti with cracklings and hot peppers… and black and white bow ties with rabbit Porchetta. The next course: sliced wagyu sirloin, is served with beet polenta and onion rings. I couldn’t resist asking for a taste of two sides: golden cauliflower with yellow raisins and toasted pine nuts and the fried brussels sprouts with sweet chili sauce and shaved ricotta salata. Desert was more than I could handle.
There are many ways to explore Boston; personally, I highly recommend the three hour “Beantown Trolley Tour” operated by Grayline Boston. It is more than a sightseeing tour; it is a “history class on wheels”, thanks to our knowledgeable and personable driver. it covers over 100 sites along its route and makes three twenty minutes stops: Copley Square, Fenway Park (home of the Boston Red Socks) and The USS Constitution, docked in the harbor.
Highlights include Newbury Street, the Rodeo Drive of Boston … The oldest Botanical Gardens in the country, where every state tree is planted, … Trinity Church, one of the most beautiful in the country … The Toy Engine Firehouse, where rather than make the original doors larger, smaller fire engines were built … Omni Park Hotel, the oldest still operating hotel in Boston, and where Boston Cream Pie was invented in 1840 … and Martin Richards Memorial Park, built and dedicated to the 8-year-old boy killed in the Boston Marathon Massacre. When the tour ends, we head down to the Wharf for lunch at Legal Seafood and a 45 minutes Boston Harbor Tour, a $12 Grayline Boston add on.
For more info and to book a Boston Trolley Tour: www.graylineboston.com
The Oyster Club, chef/owner Christopher Parson’s latest culinary venture, is around the corner from the Four Seasons Hotel. The raw oyster bar is within view, and I marvel at the dexterity of the shucker as he opens dozens of oysters with a rhythm that no doubt has taken years to master. I skip the oysters and order the cold lobster salad. When it arrives, I am stunned by the huge amount of succulent lobster meat stuffed inside the roll.
I Uber over to Cambridge and spend an hour exploring the Harvard Campus. Its history and architecture are humbling; the ethnic diversity of its students, inspiring. The #1 bus takes me to Boston’s Fine Arts Museum, one of the most prestigious in the country. I spend two hours at the Ancient Nubia Now Exhibition.
The thought-provoking display of magnificent jewelry, pottery, sculptures, metalwork and more, from the museum’s collection of ancient Nubian art, challenges the roles and power of the Egyptians versus the Nubians in the ancient world, in the early 20th century, and today.
Tuesday’s late checkout gives me time to explore the New England Aquarium, one of Boston’s most popular, educational and fun attractions; it is home to hundreds of species of fish, a colony of penguins, a family of sea lions, a tank of baby sharks and a sting ray petting pool. I luck out as they are feeding the penguins and sea lions when I arrive. The large 20 feet deep tank is an under- the - sea wonderland; a diver with a tank on her back is feeding bottom fish and cleaning the tank, a never-ending task.
The hotel’s limo drives me to the South Street train station. Once again, boarding Amtrak’s Acela is an easy process, and with the help of a Red Cap, settle into my seat for a comfortable ride back to Penn Station. Thanks to good shock absorbers and new equipment, The Acela, to and from Boston, was smooth sailing from start to finish. One of the added perks of traveling with Amtrak, is the convenience of arriving back in the city, and not at an airport.
Amtrak, with its state and commuter partners, operates more than 300 trains daily, connecting more than 500 destinations in 46 states, the District of Columbia and three Canadian Provinces.
Learn more at www.amtrak.com
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