Thursday, January 7, 2010

Boston: Surprisingly good lunch at Kingfish Hall

After some business meetings in Boston's financial district, I had some time to kill before my flight home, so I wandered up to the Faneuil Hall area to grab a little lunch. I briefly considered the Union Oyster House, previously a favorite spot for dinner with the parents on their occasional visits during my tenure here many moons ago, but I decided that I didn't want to be that much of a tourist. The theme-park atmosphere seems to have taken over and I am no longer as enamored of the flour-thickened variety of clam chowder as I used to be, now that I (occasionally) make my own. Durgin Park was also considered but rejected as being too depressing for a solo diner.

Most of the eateries in the area are either fake Irish bars (or real Irish bars, for all I know) or variations on the theme park tune. I did happen on a place called Kingfish Hall, an offshoot of the burgeoning Todd English empire, and decided to give it a try. Not without misgivings, mind you, as our last foray to one of Mr. English's eateries, the flagship Olives restaurant in DC, was very disappointing if not an actual disaster.

The room was OK looking but undistinguished, with canvas-backed chairs and faux-rattan fans overhead. I feared some cuisine along the line of Bubba Gump's Shrimp Factory or some other monstrosity, but gee, it was only lunch, and I didn't have that much invested in it. I took a seat at the long, virtually deserted bar and decided to go for the full New England experience, ordering clam chowder and a lobster roll.

Well, I must say I was pleasantly surprised by both. Neither was the best I have ever had, but certainly respectable. The chowder was creamy and rich, with a reasonable amount of salt pork and potatoes in the bottom. I would have preferred more clams and the whole thing could have been improved by a richer fish base and a bit less cream. It was topped by a single perfect cherrystone clam, steamed, which was superb.

The lobster roll was also a pleasant surprise. Plenty of lobster in the proper top-split, buttered roll. The roll was a little too deep for the amount of lobster so I ended up leaving the bottom third, below the split, but that's a minor critique. It also had lettuce on the bottom which no Maine purist would tolerate, but at least there was no celery or other undesirable filler. It came with cole slaw that perfectly balanced the creamy and tangy (although the dressing was too watery) and some baked beans that had a nice bit of barbecued something mixed in, plus a generous portion of house-made potato chips seasoned with Old Bay that I ate more of than I should have.

The lobster roll was $21, which isn't bad when you consider the one at Red's Eats in Wiscasset is $17 and that's with no chips, no cole slaw, no beans, and no place to sit, and no service, and you stand in line to get it. It was not the best lobster roll I have had, but far from the worst either...even in Maine it could hold its head up with pride, if lobster rolls had heads that is.

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