Is it my imagination, or has this year seemed longer than most?
Nope, not my imagination.
Well, at least it feels as though we’ve had more time to enjoy things. This is the season to reflect back on what we are grateful for. The big things, and the little things — like good food.
Here are 10 dishes I was thankful for in 2018.
B&G Oysters: fried oysters
It had been ages since I last crowded in at the marble bar here for dinner, and it was a joy when I finally did to find Barbara Lynch’s South End oyster bar still going strong. Ordinarily I’m not a fried oyster person. Why would you do that to a bivalve when you could suck it down, cold and quivering, with a drizzle of mignonette or a dollop of cocktail sauce? But the fried oysters at B&G are in a category of their own. Perfectly crisp, excellently salty, served in their shells atop tangy remoulade, they may be the best fried oysters in town.
550 Tremont St., South End, 617-423-0550, www.bandgoysters.com
The Buffalo Jump:
crudités with “aioli that tastes like sunshine”
Dinner at chef Brandon Baltzley’s popup-turned-restaurant on Coonamessett Farm in East Falmouth is fascinating, challenging, and often delicious. The Buffalo Jump is sort of like a punk-rock, D.I.Y., on-a-shoestring Blue Hill at Stone Barns, serving food that is hyperlocal, labor-intensive, and bristling with ideas. This past summer I loved a dish called “Sweet Peas Were the Kind of Flowers Fairies Slept In,” a cracker of wild rice topped with an unlikely mix of pea blossoms, pea pods, horseradish, lemon jam, mint, and clams. There was a beautiful silver tray one night, laden with treats for dessert: a green sassafras tart, a sourdough doughnut with caramelized goat’s milk, and more. But the dish that lodges in my memory was utterly simple and very beautiful: a platter of vegetables and flowers from the fields, sprinkled with nori, bee pollen, and powdered nasturtium. They came arranged around a dish of “aioli that tastes like sunshine,” flower petals rimming the bowl’s edge so it looked like a sunflower. The Buffalo Jump closes for the season Nov. 25 and is slated to reopen in April.
277 Hatchville Road, East Falmouth, 508-361-2361, www.thebuffalojump.com
It’s a restaurant; it’s an art project; it’s an intimate dinner party. Celeste feels like all three, a tiny space run by a filmmaker and an architect who got their start running a pop-up out of their home. Chef JuanMa Calderón serves dishes he learned to cook from his mother in Peru. Ordering ceviche is mandatory: The definitive Peruvian dish of seafood “cooked” in citrus juice is the cornerstone of the menu. It’s bright and refreshing, with a mellow heat from the Peruvian chile ají amarillo. (You can also order it hot.) The mixed seafood version is an artful pile of blue cod, shrimp, and squid with red onion, sweet potato, and kernels of Peruvian corn. Supplement it with the excellent causas — cold terrines of cooked, mashed potato layered with various fillings — and comforting, flavor-packed tongue stew and lomo saltado.
21 Bow St., Union Square, Somerville, 617-616-5319, www.celesteunionsquare.com
Sometimes one bite of a dish is all you need to know a restaurant is going to be good. That’s what happened the first time I trekked out to the Seaport’s edge to eat at Chickadee. Chef John daSilva’s porchetta was impeccably unctuous, served with watermelon, chiles, mint, and peanuts, spiked with the fish sauce colatura. Spicy, bright, and savory, it tasted as much like Southeast Asia as Italy. The dish has been adjusted for the season; it’s now made with Brussels sprouts and pears.
21 Dry Dock Ave., Seaport, Boston, 617-531-5591, www
Cultivar: squid ink messinesi
The food at chef Mary Dumont’s Cultivar, informed by seasonal, regional ingredients, is beautiful and carefully composed. But the heart wants what the heart wants, and mine wants messinesi: short strands of black pasta tossed with squid, lobster, clams, and tomato, the whole thing glowing with Calabrian chile. It doesn’t have quite the same elegance as a scallop crudo or blue cheese and pear salad, but it makes up for it by tasting so good.
Ames Hotel, 1 Court St., Boston, 617-979-8203, www.cultivarboston.com
DakZen: khao soi
A group of young Thai expats opened this tiny Davis Square restaurant so they could make (and eat) the food they miss from home. The dishes on the tightly edited menu veer from standard American Thai fare: hoi joh, fried puffs of tofu skin filled with crab, the best drinking snack that has yet to happen to America; boat noodles in a deeply savory broth flavored with pork blood. But my favorite is the khao soi, a Northern Thai dish I order any time I see it. The bowl is filled with rich curry broth, strewn with herbs and pickled mustard greens, and crowned with a tangled nest of crisp noodles. It is vibrant and fresh, just what we’ll want for the weather that’s just around the corner.
195 Elm St., Davis Square, Somerville, 617-718-1759, www.dakzen.com
haley.henry: smoked eels
This tiny, quirky wine bar specializes in pours from small producers and tinned seafood — cockles from Barcelona; spiced sardines from Porto — but I rarely make it past the smoked eels from Lisbon. They are plump, silky with olive oil, and just smoky enough, served in the tin with aioli, lemon wedges, parsley, and coarse salt. They’re just the thing to snack on while sipping that intriguing orange wine a staff member recommended. Proprietor Haley Fortier has since opened a second joint, the handsome nathálie in the Fenway, which I also like a lot. But my heart remains with this ship’s galley of a wine bar in Downtown Crossing.
45 Province St., Downtown Crossing, Boston, 617-208-6000, www.haleyhenry.com
Oasis Vegan Veggie Parlor: everything plate
I don’t lightly say that food is made with love, but it is so clearly true at reggae musician Jahriffe Mackenzie and fashion designer Nahdra Ra Kiros’s vegan restaurant. The place is a reflection of their spirituality, which is influenced by Rastafari and African traditions; they opened it to be a place of healing for their community. The food is soulful, delicious, and highly spiced, the menu based around stews, vegetables, and grains: the brick-red Ethiopian spiced lentils called misir wat, veggie korma, curried cabbage, bright green kale, spicy African couscous. It’s hard to choose, and with an “everything plate,” you don’t have to. It looks like a rainbow, so colorful in its takeout container. Don’t leave without a restorative juice or smoothie.
340 Washington St., Four Corners, Dorchester, 617-237-9033
Splendid house-made pasta, a pork chop I sang the praises of: Why is it a simple piece of toast felt so special side by side with those heavy hitters? Because it wasn’t so simple after all, piled high with fluffy ricotta and a tangle of wild mushrooms, crowned with slices of jalapeno. The flavors and textures meshed perfectly, harmonious. Pam and Chris Willis’s trattoria brightens this corner of Cambridge, and its crackling fireplace beckons.
928 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, 617-945-1761, www.pammyscambridge.com
Rabottini’s, a pizza pop-up in Lower Allston, blew me away with its “square” pies (they’re really rectangular) made with a bread baker’s sensibility. Chef Dan Roberts fine-tuned his craft at Apizza Scholls in Portland, Ore., a pizza-nerd favorite; previously a farmer at Waltham Fields Community Farm, he tops the slabs with local, seasonal produce. Right now that means roasted potatoes and poached onions, but it’s a summer special I’ll be dreaming of until the snow melts. It was topped with corn, cherry tomatoes, and pesto, a whole season distilled in one glorious pie. It’s a good thing the plain pie, one topped with greens, and the pepperoni version are equally appealing. The pop-up will operate through Dec. 22, so there’s still time to eat some of the finest pizza in town.
182 Western Ave., Allston, 617-903-4576, www.rabottinispizza.comDevra First can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @devrafirst.