I’m going to the International Corporate Chefs Association conference in Newport, and I have trouble going to Rhode Island without popping up to Boston to visit a friend or two.
Tonight I’m keeping my old college friend Michael Gerber company. His wife, Shoshi, is in Israel with their sons, five-year-old Nadav and three-year-old Gilad.
Michael picked me up at South Station and then we headed to Newbury Street to have dinner at Boston Public Meat. That’s Pino Maffeo’s new restaurant, in the space of his old restaurant, L.
Michael actually found parking on Newbury Street, a feat at which he marveled for some time.
He is a good and proper New Englander, from Lexington, Mass., although he lives in Gloucester now, and as such will eat pretty much anything from the sea. Slime, tentacles, six or more legs, antennae — none of it troubles him. Down his Yankee gullet it goes.
But tripe, veal cheeks, rabbit? No way.
“It’s a cultural bias,” he acknowledges with a shrug. He’s a biologist and middle school science teacher by trade, a naturalist by avocation, so he knows it’s all perfectly fine to eat. But it’s still not going to happen (or not often; I did convince him to try veal cheek when we went to Toro, Ken Oringer’s Spanish place, during its family-and-friends night; I don’t remember whether I convinced him to put tripe in his mouth).
Michael also is Jewish, and, like me, comes from a liberal tradition that does not fuss with the troubles of dietary law. Shoshi, on the other hand, is a Yemenite-Israeli who was raised keeping Kosher and still sort of does, more or less, basically.
So when they were setting up a household together, negotiations were in order, especially since Michael is the family cook.
He agreed to abstain from consuming pork in the house. He would not mix milk and meat, but as a New Englander, lobster is simply part of who he is. He wouldn’t eat it in front of Shoshi if it bothered her, but he was darn well going to eat it.
Okay, so it’s Friday night and Michael and I are preparing to have our Sabbath meal at Boston Public. We agreed to throw ourselves on the mercy of the chef, and let him send out whatever food he wanted, and appropriate wine to go with it, with the caveats that Michael would not be eating rabbit or pork this evening.
Pork wouldn’t normally be an issue for him, but he and Shoshi are pretty serious about Shabbat, and although pig flesh is really no more anathema than anything else that’s not Kosher (it either is or it isn’t), the swine is nonetheless symbolic of everything that is (spiritually) unclean, and so to him it seems like a tacky thing to eat on Friday night.
Rabbit, as we discussed, is simply cultural bias, although it’s not kosher either (indeed, in Leviticus, it’s mentioned before the pig on the list of things not to eat; so is rock badger, whatever that is).
Pino, the chef, actually was at MIT that evening talking to an audience about molecular gastronomy, but he came back in time to make us steak and dessert. I introduced him to Michael, and they discussed the work of Michael’s friend, doctor Morgan Hott, who is using alginate, a popular molecular gastronomy tool, to grow materials for human joint replacement.
What we ate and drank:
Local striped bass with truffle and yuzu
Onset and Hood Canal oysters, garnished with a little salad of wakame, lotus root and sesame
Crémant de Bourgogne
Alaskan king crab with grapefruit and avocado
Tuna summer rolls with ginger soy sauce
Potato spring rolls topped with smoked salmon and crème fraîche (for Michael)
Pork and shrimp spring rolls with mustard sauce (for me)
Pappardelle with braised rabbit, summer truffles, truffle froth and wild mushroom (for me)
Beefsteak and cherry tomato salad with mozzarella (for Michael)
2005 Umani Ronchi Casal di Serra, Puglia
Porterhouse topped with Himalayan rock salt grated at table side, served with taro purée and three sauces: Hollandaise, red wine oxtail and Béarnaise
French fries stacked like a Jenga game, served with mayonnaise
2005 Buehler Zinfandel, Napa
Red Bull, flash fried cranberries and lotus root chips
Peanut butter-chocolate gianduja with malted chocolate ice cream and raspberry sauce
De La Force Curious and Ancient 20-year-old tawny port