The Daily Catch – Boston, MA

Boston, Food Adventures

After watching the Boston episode of Bizarre Foods America and being inspired to visit some of the same places that Andrew Zimmern did, I was especially excited to swing by The Daily Catch in the North End to try the fresh squid ink pasta. Whenever I see a menu with an al nero di seppia or tinta de calamar pasta dish, I just have to have it… especially here at The Daily Catch, where the infamous black pasta (homemade!) stars in the center of the chalkboard menu.

The Daily Catch menu

The Daily Catch menu

The first thing we noticed was just how small the restaurant is – a teeny, tiny shoebox that seats no more than 20 people at any given time. The dining area wraps around a very open kitchen. So open, in fact, that I could feel a slight breeze each time the chef reached for the giant tin of olive oil stored just behind my spot. It definitely added to the experience being able to watch the process and listen to the controlled chaos as the friendly guys helped (and poked fun at) each other.

The Open Kitchen

The Open Kitchen

Of course, I had to try the homemade black pasta and selected the appetizer portion prepared aglio olio. Though literally translated as “garlic and oil,” the pasta aglio olio here is so much more. The perfectly al dente pasta was coated in garlicky sauteed ground squid and glistening (but not greasy) with olive oil. The homemade pasta was pulled with a thickness reminiscent of udon and sharing its chewy and firm texture. I savored every last bite and, at the end, used a single tine of my fork to pick up the remaining crumbs of the flavorful ground squid. SO FREAKING GOOD.

Black (Tinta de Calamari) Pasta Aglio Olio

Black (Tinta de Calamari) Pasta Aglio Olio

Martin was hoping to try skate (as seen on TV) but the chef had not even heard of the fish, let alone serve it on his menu. So he decided to go with a small order of the fried calamari and a side of marinara sauce. You really can’t go wrong with fried calamari, but the one here is pretty stellar. The crunchy batter was not too thick or grainy, the squid was fresh (the body was cut into strips and not those rubbery pre-cut frozen rings), and there were plenty of leg/tentacle pieces to fight over. The sauce arrived piping hot!

Fried Calamari

Fried Calamari

Frankly, if I lived anywhere near the North End, you can bet I’d be lunching here on a daily basis. The dishes we ordered were delicious and I appreciated the no-frills (I’m sensing a theme here) atmosphere. Just remember to bring cash (and lots of it if you plan to experience the Lobster Fra Diavolo at about $75 for 2). Also, we were seated right away for our lunch visit, but we hear the wait could get crazy at times. And it’s small, so plan smart – don’t take your whole entourage here, just a BFF or two. Enjoy~!

Lunch of Champions

Lunch of Champions

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Check out The Daily Catch: thedailycatch.com

323 Hanover St
(between Lathrop Pl & Prince St)
Boston, MA 02113

See their Yelp reviews here!

North End Sweet Treats – Boston, MA

Boston, Food Adventures

So everyone knows that there is no shortage of cannoli in Boston’s North End, but since Martin has a sweet tooth, we decided to dedicate our limited stomach space to checking out other Italian dessert places. Our adventures led us to Caffe Vittoria, right in the heart of Hanover Street, and Parziale’s Bakery, a hole-in-the-wall situated off the beaten path among neighboring beautiful old brick buildings.

Gelati

Gelati at Caffe Vittoria

IMG_6253Martin had had a craving for gelato since before we even left LA,  so we definitely had to track it down while planning our North End visit. A quick Yelp! search led us to Caffe Vittoria. When we first walked in, we could not help but admire the shimmering stainless steel espresso machines, taking a seat next to this particularly crazy-looking contraption.

There were plenty of tables open on that Thursday afternoon, but I would imagine that Caffe Vittoria is a bustling hotspot for after-dinner (for no-frills places like Giacomo’s which does not feature its own dessert menu) and weekend patrons.

Coffee and Cappuccino Gelato

Coffee and Cappuccino Gelato

Martin loves coffee-flavored ice cream, so when he spotted the availability of both coffee and cappuccino flavors on the Gelati list, he seemed pretty excited. The gelato is homemade and bore an interesting texture – fluffy and creamy like ice cream but also a bit dense the way gelato should be.

Spumoni

Spumoni

Meanwhile, I spotted spumoni on the desserts list and knew I had to have it. Just seeing the word harkened good memories of my first spumoni experience – a little fancy scoop of tricolor ice cream topped with a maraschino cherry, lighting up my 4th-grader eyes during a field trip meal at The Old Spaghetti Factory. Caffe Vittoria’s spumoni is a wedge of hard-frozen gelati dotted with pistachios and cherry bits and served drizzled with some of the maraschino syrup straight from the jar! The ribbons of color were beautiful (that red really pops!) and the flavors were great.

Parziale's

Parziale’s

After devouring our frozen treats and feeling officially chilled to the bone, we continued our adventure, cutting through smaller streets and navigating away from the main throngs off Hanover.

Parziale's Store Front

Parziale’s

After we found the quaint little storefront, Martin took a moment to glance through the beautiful display of the window. The pastries beckoned to us and we quickly answered their call.

Pizzelle

Pizzelle

Pizzelle, an Italian crunchy waffle cookie. We picked up a package to bring home. The ones here are flavored with aromatic anise and taste delicious with ice cream. Hint: if their round shape seems familiar, it is because pizzelle cookies, freshly baked, can be rolled up to form cannoli shells!

Florentines

Florentines

The friendly woman behind the counter also convinced us to try the florentine cookies and boy are we glad we did. The crispy, lacy texture carried the essence of toasty caramelized sugar. Dipped in white or dark chocolate, these were amazing!

If you’re hanging out in the North End, grab some gelati or relax with a latte from Caffe Vittoria. Or pay a visit to a century-old bakery (seriously – they opened in 1907!) and bring home some cookies that are sure to please.

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Check out Caffe Vittoria: vittoriacaffe.com

296 Hanover St
Boston, MA 02113

See their Yelp reviews here!

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Check out Parziale’s Bakery: parzialebakery.com

80 Prince St
Boston, MA 02113

See their Yelp reviews here!

Giacomo’s Ristorante – Boston, MA

Boston, Food Adventures

With so many Italian restaurants serving pasta on the North End, it was difficult to know where to begin searching for the best. After looking up several local favorites, we came upon Giacomo’s Ristorante and felt reassured when we saw the line going out-the-door. We were well-trained in the art of waiting after the many visits to Daikokuya back home. Giacomo’s seemed to be one of those restaurants that, regardless of the time of day, there was most assuredly going to be a wait. After only a few short minutes in line, it became evident that we weren’t the only newbies to Giacomo’s; many people stopped and peered at the line and menu, often asking “Is this place really that good?” I’ll answer that question later.

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Giacomo’s Ristorante, located right on Hanover

An hour later, we were seated at a cozy two-top next to the “Specials” wall, making it impossible to view it but amazingly close to the open kitchen with its wall of copper cookware. Each one of the 20 or so seats had only inches separating it from the next. Despite being purely the luck-of-the-draw, the tables next to the window were definitely the worst spots simply because all the hungry, slightly irritated (I would know) patrons would be staring you down, Jedi mind-tricking you to eat faster and leave.

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The open kitchen with its copper back-splash and hanging copper pots

At Giacomo’s, the pace is fast and it may even be considered rude to nurse that second glass of wine. It’s reminiscent of the lack of pleasantries and hand-holding at some Vietnamese restaurants. Our waitress basically threw the menus at us, quickly explained how the combinations of pasta and sauces worked, and hurried off to another table. We weren’t offended at all and openly embraced this high-speed dining experience.

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Large order of fried calamari to start…with deep fried pickled peppers to my dismay.

Definitely one of the best calamari I’ve ever tasted. The batter was perfectly seasoned with a slight kick of the pickled peppers sprinkled throughout. They look SO much like a calamari ring the way they were sliced and totally blew my taste buds before Alice pointed out their true identity. She happily ate the rest of them. The marinara was so flavorful we had to ask for a second helping to accompany the calamari. I honestly could have gone with three large orders of the calamari and be content…sans pickled peppers.

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Garlic Bread – charred and packed with flavor

We also picked up an order of the garlic bread, which used olive oil instead of butter. The strong garlic flavor might have turned off other diners but we enjoy bold flavors like this. The drawback was that the edges of the bread were burnt, causing every other bite to be bitter even though we had removed most of the burnt edges. I was disappointed because although Alice had plenty of garlic bread middles (her favorite part), I was missing out on the garlic bread crusts (my favorite part).

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Special: homemade fusilli with lobster and shrimp in fra diavolo

Alice decided to branch out from the main menu and select a dish off the day’s list of specials – the homemade fusilli with lobster and shrimp in a fra diavolo sauce. With the allure of homemade pasta coupled with a sauce so spicy it bears the name of the devil himself, she just could not resist and was very happy with her choice. The pasta was al dente, the sauce was piping hot in temperature and spice, and the chunks of lobster and shrimp were fresh and plentiful. For those who can’t quite take the heat, Giacomo’s also offered this dish with the house Giacomo sauce (red, non-spicy marinara) or half-and-half with the fra diavolo to lessen the blow.

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Lobster ravioli in garlic cream sauce

I went with one of my favorites, lobster ravioli with diced tomatoes in a garlic cream sauce. The lobster meat was generous and ravioli thin enough to let the flavors of the lobster shine through. The cream sauce wasn’t heavy and along with the tomatoes, made the dish very enjoyable.

The check came as quickly as our menus. In the end, we gave up on the garlic bread due to its bitter, burnt crust. The rest of the meal gave us a better appreciation for authentic Italian flavors. Los Angeles does have some great Italian restaurants but the sheer density of delicious Italian eateries in Boston is truly impressive. Giacomo’s is one of those places we were glad to have saved our valuable, limited stomach real estate for.

In and out in under 45 minutes… less time than we had waited for our seats. And yes, it is THAT good.

So when in the North End with time to kill, drop by Giacomo’s. No time? Call ahead and pick up!

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Check out Giacomo’s Ristorante online at: www.giacomosblog-boston.blogspot.com

355 Hanover St
(between Tileston St & Clark St)
Boston, MA 02113

Check them out on Yelp! here!

Battle of the Cannoli: Mike’s vs. Maria’s – Boston, MA

Boston, Food Adventures

When we were planning our journey to eat our way through Boston’s North End, we knew we had to get some cannoli – a Sicilian pastry consisting of a rolled up tube of fried pastry dough with a (traditionally) ricotta-based filling. The local debate is pretty heated, we hear, with Mike’s Pastry, Modern, and Maria’s Pastry Shop all garnering an impressive fan base. We were too stuffed to try all three, but here are our findings during our visits to Mike’s Pastry and Maria’s Pastry Shop. At Maria’s, we even tried a few other non-cannoli Italian pastries!

Sfogliatelle from Maria's

Sfogliatelle from Maria’s

Mike's

Mike’s Pastry

One of our first stops when we arrived in Boston (after checking into our hotel and standing en queue for dinner at Giacomo’s) was at Mike’s Pastry. Just about everyone in the area and visiting the area has heard of Mike’s. The throngs of waiting patrons spilling out the doors and into the sidewalk was indicative of just how popular their cannoli are.

So many people!!

So many people!!

Their menu features a variety of 17 flavors of il cannolo from the traditional plain ricotta to America’s favorite cookie – the iconic Oreo. There’s something for everyone seems to be the unspoken motto here.

Cannoli!

Cannoli!

To handle the sheer volume of customers, the cannoli here are pre-filled and displayed in glass cases for your gawking pleasure, just in case you have trouble picking just one flavor. It was almost overwhelming, and this does not even take into account their many other pastries including cakes, cookies, Italian favorites, and American classics.

The Mike's Pastry Box

The Mike’s Pastry Box

The line moves quickly as the women behind the counter swiftly pack up your selection of sweet treats into their white boxes, tied up with string suspended from above. Walking through the North End, especially along Hanover Street, you are sure to spot passersby toting these boxes filled with goodies.

Limoncello & Espresso Cannoli

Limoncello & Espresso Cannoli

I selected the limoncello cannolo (one cannolo, two cannoli). I love to bake with limoncello (and between you and me, it’s the critical ingredient to shaking up an excellent lemon drop martini), so I was eager to try this cream filling laced with lemony goodness. The pastry dough managed to stay crunchy and cracked with each bite, while the cream inside was packed with flavor from both the limoncello and the ricotta.

A close-up of our cannoli

A close-up of our cannoli

Martin had his eye on the espresso flavor since he first set foot in Mike’s. Decorated with teeny-tiny chocolate chips and dusted with cocoa powder, the espresso and ricotta combination worked well. I was unable to finish my cannolo but he enjoyed his so much that he polished it off with minimal effort.

Maria's Pastry Shop

Maria’s Pastry Shop

The next day, we stopped by Maria’s Pastry Shop. We learned about this place through Andrew Zimmern’s episode of Bizarre Food America – Boston, and we knew we just had to check it out. Maria’s is situated on Cross Street just across from the park, a little off the beaten path.

Marzipan!

Marzipan!

Cookies!

Cookies!

We admired the display cases of beautifully painted marzipan “fruit” and colorful cookies in all shapes and sizes and hues. Finally, we approached Grandma Filomina and mentioned that we had seen her on TV. She was enthusiastic to show off the pastries that AZ had sampled, and Martin replied with a cool and confident, “We’ll take one of each!”

Ready-to-fill Sfogliatelle shells

Ready-to-fill Sfogliatelle shells

As she took the pastry shells into the kitchen to be filled, we couldn’t help but stare in awe at the stunning layers of the sfogliatelle shell. We later learned that sfogliatelle means “many layers” or “many leaves,” a fitting name for the intricacy of the clam shell shape.

Lobster Tail

Ready-to-fill Lobster Tail

As if a clam weren’t enough, Italian-Americans also created a spin-off of the sfogliatelle in the form of a giant lobster tail. See the resemblance? We grabbed one of these, along with….

Rack of delicious pastries!

Rack of delicious pastries!

Of course, a cannolo! Maria’s had rows and rows of cannoli shells in both plain and chocolate-dipped form, lined up on a pastry rack waiting to be filled-to-order.

Little Friend!

Little Friend!

While we waited for our three pastries to be filled and boxed up, we were surprised to meet a little furry feline who wandered in through the front door. We thought it was a stray that had come to visit but a woman from the bakery beckoned it to come inside and stay inside. Apparently it belongs at Maria’s and had gone on an adventure!

Cannolo and Lobstertail

Cannolo and Lobstertail

It was a beautiful day outside, so we bid farewell to Maria’s and took our pastries out to the park. The cannolo was pumped to the brim with fluffy sweet ricotta and was delicious in its simplicity. The menu boasts that it had been awarded “Best of Boston” for its cannoli and we could see why!

Massive Lobster Tail

Massive Lobster Tail

Oh my goodness. We had no idea how to eat this. The lobster tail is described on Maria’s menu as a “flaky pastry shell filled with a vanilla mousse cream – big enough to share.” It was bigger than my hand, dare I say it was bigger than my head! Beautiful crispy flakes of pastry dough gave way to a delicately sweet vanilla cream that was a welcome change from all the ricotta indulgence. Definitely grab one (or two or three) of your friends to join in if you’re planning to get this!

Sfogliatelle

Sfogliatelle

And last but certainly not least, my favorite of them all – Maria’s sfogliatelle. After the initial unbelievably flaky crunch, the doughy middle held a wonderful orange flavor that just made my day. This “traditional Neopolitan sweet” is “filled with cheese, semolina flour and citrus fruit” — the hint of orange really makes this pastry unique.

There’s no shortage of good eats when you visit the North End, but if you’re craving something sweet, I definitely recommend the sfogliatelle at Maria’s Pastry Shop. I know this started out as the battle of the cannoli but after sampling the ones at Mike’s, Modern, and Maria’s, I hope you’ll save room to try some of the North End’s lesser-known Italian pastries. After all, there’s always room for dessert!

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Check out Mike’s Pastry: mikespastry.com

300 Hanover St
Boston, MA 02113

See their Yelp reviews here!

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Check out Maria’s Pastry Shop: mariaspastry.com

46 Cross St
Boston, MA 02113

See their Yelp reviews here!