For a while there, it was too hot to eat. At least that’s what some said, fanning themselves delicately and leaning back on divans whilst sipping flutes of spring water with lemon: “It’s too hot to eat.” The too-hot-to-eaters are a lot like the flat-earthers. They both believe something that is plainly wrong. It was too hot to eat, but I was hungry.
When it’s that hot, there are two choices: Eat something cool, pared back, barely there. (Most summers I subsist on a version of gazpacho so thick with olive oil it is basically a tomato-heavy vinaigrette.) Or eat something spicy as hell that makes you sweat. During the heat spell, I woke up one morning needing queso, the cheese dip that is everywhere in Texas but sadly scarce around here. One of Boston’s eternally glaring gaps is excellent Tex-Mex, and the person who really nails this food here could make a fortune. (In the meantime, I recommend cooking your way through the recipes of Lisa Fain, author of the Homesick Texan blog, who last year put out a whole book on the subject, succinctly titled “Queso!”) Once a year or so, usually in conjunction with a sporting event that is going to consume everyone’s interest but mine, I melt together a block of Velveeta and a can of Ro-Tel so I feel like I have something to cheer about too. But it’s best I don’t make a habit of it.
I sat at my desk and tried to work. The fan made impotent gestures. I peeled myself off my chair and grabbed my keys.
Soon I was at Lone Star Taco Bar in Allston in the middle of the workday. On my computer, the world was churning: Twitter in a lather, e-mail flooding in, as many streams of stress as I cared to tap into, available with a click. At Lone Star, there was a bar and a bunch of people drinking beer and eating tacos. There was good music playing, and everyone was hanging out, interacting with each other, not their phones. It looked like a secret meeting of the Men’s Grooming Club in there with all those bushy beards, and I felt like a bald-faced amateur when it comes to being hot and sweaty.
I was not supposed to be day-drinking, just eating queso, but before I knew it the bartender was saying, “I’d love to be crushing a marg right now,” and I was saying, “I’ll crush one for you.” I got the queso, a dish of deeply orange, runny cheese, and I dipped chip after chip and drank my salt-rimmed margarita, and there was nothing nutritious about it, but in some way it fed my soul.
It stayed hot, but there are only so many all-queso meals one can eat in a week. I needed something clean and serene. In the South End, Bar Mezzana is a “coastal Italian” restaurant specializing in raw-fish dishes along with handmade pasta. There’s a separate crudo menu, and all the way at the bottom is a $30 crudo tasting featuring the chef’s choice of six different fish.
The tasting arrives in two courses, each served on a long white plate divided into three sections. First came yellowtail with grapefruit oil and Fresno chile, bracing with citrus and the buzz of chile heat. Then rich salmon with a counterpoint of salsa verde. And lubina, a European sea bass, with shiso and avocado.
The next plate brought spot prawn with horseradish and celery: vegetal warm-up, vegetal cool-down. Next striped bass with “flavors of ceviche” — slivers of red onion, mainly, and a nice heat. And finally, a coda: hiramasa with grapefruit, chile, and a tangle of radish and shiso. (Because the crudo selections change from night to night, my tasting was slightly different from the one pictured. It didn’t look quite as polished, either, although it was pretty enough.)
Each crudo was split into two segments. Oh, was I supposed to share? (A friend who wrote a cookbook featuring recipes for one initially wanted to call it “Me, Myself, and I: Meals for My Three Favorite People.” Exactly.)
I ate my feast of six fishes. I drank a spritz, that most summery of Italian drinks. The house version, the Mezzana spritz, sounds sweet — containing peach and Moscato d’Asti along with Campari — but is perfectly balanced. When the plate and the glass were empty, someone asked if I wanted anything else. I did not. I was satisfied.
As I readied to leave, the skies broke open. I walked out into the rain, and it was officially no longer too hot to eat.
Lone Star Taco Bar, 479 Cambridge St., Allston, 617-782-TACO, www.lonestar-boston.com
Bar Mezzana, 360 Harrison Ave., South End, Boston, 617-530-1770, www.barmezzana.com