Take a deep breath - and now exhale very slowly. We did it. We’ve reached the end of 2020. It’s worth taking a moment to reflect on the positives, and here at The Infatuation Boston, those have mostly come in the form of food and drinks. In a year that brought the restaurant industry to a grinding halt, we were still blown away by the quality and creativity of restaurants across the city. From stellar condiments to complex dips, Champagne-like cocktails to unique ice cream, these are the most memorable things we tasted this year - the meals that helped us see, however dim, the light at the end of the tunnel.
The Best Meals Of The Year
It’s not often that we have a fried chicken sandwich and think, “Boy, the sauce was the best part of that breaded wonder.” But that’s exactly what happened with Neighborhood Kitchen’s star condiment - their bacon jam. Sure, it pairs well with spicy chicken breast and chipotle mayo in sandwich form, but also with oatmeal, grilled fish, and even ice-cream. How do we know? Neighborhood Kitchen sells the stuff by the quart and we had a lot of time to experiment in our home kitchens this year. And please don’t critique our inner monologue voice.
Chicha Morada Pisco Sour
In a year filled with a lot of cocktails - including many that we made at home - the chicha morada pisco sour at Tambo 22 really stood out. Refreshing and well-balanced, it’s basically the antithesis to 2020, and the perfect way to start a meal at one of the year’s most exciting new restaurants. Sadly, Tambo 22 will go into hibernation this winter, but here’s to many more pisco sours for us all when warmer weather returns.
Best Bar B Q Restaurant
No matter how it’s cooked, we’re big fans of duck. But there’s something really special about Chinese barbecue duck, and few places do it better than Best Bar B Q in Chinatown. Somehow, they consistently produce a bird with crispy skin and moist meat, which is quite a feat. And when served on top of some rice that’s drenched in the ever-present mixture of drippings and soy sauce at Chinese barbecue spots, we think it’s one of the best meals you can have in Boston, which is exactly why it’s one of our favorite spots in Chinatown.
Berg Butter Rolls
Dinner at Cobble is supposed to feel intimate, curated in such a way to make it seem like you’re eating in the apartment of that chef-friend you never had. Six months into the pandemic, we would’ve been happy with microwavable chicken nuggets on a well-sanitized cloth seat on the Orange Line - as long as we could (safely) be anywhere but our own home. Luckily, our time at Cobble was infinitely better than that, with some incredible butter rolls made from the chef’s grandmother’s recipe. They were so good that we’d happily go back even if the nightly menu was just five courses of those. If you’re not comfortable with dining indoors right now, Cobble is now also including the rolls as part of a new to-go pack.
Pumpkin Grilled Cheese
There are grilled cheese sandwiches and there are grilled cheese sandwiches with brown sugar - one of our favorite at-home recipes. Then there’s the grilled cheese sandwich loaded with roasted pumpkin and caramelized onions at Cafe Beatrice, which is the best pumpkin thing we’ve ever had. That may not really be saying much given the available options out there - who thought pumpkin pie milk would be a good idea? - so we’re going to call it the sandwich of the year. We hope you’re placing an order right now.
Jasmine Tea & Sea Salt Ganache
We used to think that jasmine tea was just an enjoyable drink and that Merryl Streep could do no wrong. Well, both Honeycomb Creamery and The Prom rocked our world this year. The former served a summer scoop that was just like a perfectly brewed glass of cold tea, but in edible form with a sprinkling of salted chocolate. Just like the movie, it was a surprising sensory rollercoaster. Unlike the movie, we actually enjoyed it.
Salt & Pepper Shrimp
Some days, all we need is a big bowl of head-on shrimp that have been salt-and-peppered and fried to a nice crisp. There were a lot of those days in 2020, which is why we ordered them from so many different Chinese restaurants this year. Some were too soft, while others were under-seasoned, but the ones from East Ocean Seafood in Quincy were in the Goldilocks zone. Now that we think about it, we should order a side of porridge next time too.
Salva Fritta Con Acciughe
Our last dinner at La Morra happened prior to the statewide shutdown in March, and in retrospect, we should have ordered more fried sage leaves with anchovies. If we had it our way, these salty, crispy, and fish-shaped wonders would be served at the beginning of every meal - especially since they pair so well with a Mezcal Negroni, a cocktail that fuels a number of our late-night writing sessions. The anchovies are also a major reason why La Morra is one of the best Italian restaurants in Boston.
Ivory Pearl Bar
We enjoy Champagne but tend to need something with a higher ABV these days, which is why the Champagne Papi from Ivory Pearl Bar is ideal. It’s an effervescent cocktail that’s made with vodka, koji, and honeydew, and it tastes amazingly similar to actual Champagne (even though there’s none in the drink). This past summer, on an outdoor patio with a drink in hand and a large platter of shucked oysters by our side, the world felt almost normal. We’re looking for a similar feeling on New Year’s Eve, which is why we’re ordering bottles of this cocktail to-go.
We’ve only dined indoors at a restaurant three times during this pandemic, and thankfully one of those times was at Kim’s Tofu in Allston. Our small party of three were the only guests in the whole restaurant, but that didn’t stop us from ordering a feast that could’ve fed 10. Almost every dish was great, but the tender and well-marinated kalbi deserves a special mention. Sure, the fact that it was served on a hot plate helped, but after many subsequent leftover meals, we can also attest to the fact that these barbecue short ribs are just as good when they’re reheated.
Curry Pickled Fish
There’s a lot happening in a bowl of curry pickled fish from Cambodian spot Thmor Da in Revere. It’s sour, sweet, spicy, and refreshing at the same time, which is a level of complexity that we didn’t taste in anything else this year (we didn’t see it in Kanye’s brief run for president either). And the fish is even better when paired with the sliced cucumber and cabbage that come on the side for dipping purposes. This dish is definitely at the top of the list for our first post-pandemic party.
Mezze Bistro + Bar
We’ve come to expect a certain experience when we order bolognese, namely a weighted blanket of tomato, ground meat, and a lot of cheese. So we were confused when Mezze, one of the best restaurants in the Berkshires, served a dish filled with breadcrumbs and, therefore, some unusually crunchy noodles. But once we got over our initial shock, we realized we really enjoyed the added texture. The breadcrumbs made every bite interesting, serving almost as savory pop-rocks for pasta. We’re all in.