Bite out of Boston, Number Two

30 Jul

With the experiences on Boston’s T being the rhythm and pulse of the trip, my friend Alex and I embarked on a conquest that the British failed in 1776. All summer, my friend Alex has been up in Boston suburb Arlington, so he’s got a discerning eye, and can tell the difference between North and South End.

Even so, we wandered aimlessly.

A lot.

I think there are two ways to travel. There’s the stone n’ chisel, stick-up-your-rear way of attending every event, seeing every statue, and eating only at the highest peer-rated places on yelp.com.

Then there’s the wayward way. You travel like a dandelion on the wind, defiant of one-way streets and cracked-up hobos. Danger is glorious in one, abhorrent in the other.

I think we fell (or stumbled) into the other category, but regardless, I think we successfully saw (and sampled) everything of note in Beantown. When thumbing through my Fodor’s book later, I realized we found the big listings often by accident.

The tendency to drift came in handy during our Saturday night dive into Chinatown. Jason, Alex’s lecherous older cousin, was our host and corrupting influence. He is in his early thirties and lives in his parents’ basement. Among other activities, he likes Playstation 3 and opulent pool parties. Like that cool older brother, he was the driver to the downtown , but kept a relaxed distance while explaining the city he grew up in. Somewhere in-between commenting on some girl’s rear-end and taking drags while driving, Jason gave an honest and informative tour of the downtown’s theater district. He’d be a great journalist: blunt, observant, and gritty.

“It’s right there where I saw a guy break a living chicken’s neck.”

Boston’s criminal underworld is a media project, seen in George V. Higgins’ dirty and depraved novel, The Friends of Eddie Coyle. Here, the people “don’t partronize these high class joints. They’re down scrounging, just like you would be if you couldn’t write it up.” Jason the Forager was our nearest exposure to the Coyle side of Boston, where four letter words are salutations and rough-housing is like shaking hands.

“I was standing outside of that bar right there, drinking a beer and holding a cigarette, and this guy was glaring at me. ‘Whaddya looking at,’ he says, and he just slugs me across the face.”

The next thing you know, Jason drops his bar accessories in the story. He gets stretched across the hood of a police car at the end of this story. In another, his car sinks in the waters of Chelsea on New Year’s Eve. and ending up with the cops. He wasn’t pulling punches in any of the anecdotes. In a way, he didn’t need to.

We were on a mission to get dim sum, an assortment of miniature Chinese dishes. The experience, a progression of different steamed dumplings, fried nibbles, and simple seafood and nibbles, is best for sharing with group.

It’s also a common lunch offering, and that was a problem for three guys strolling around at 9 p.m. Our first stop, Chow Chau City, is a three-story empire with a third party parking lot making deals with them over the table.

Three stories, but no dim sum. The host answered with a gleaming smile.

“No, there’s no dim sum anywhere in Chinatown now.”

It’s 9 o’clock and we might just be on that mission from God. Giving up also isn’t an option for those who travel like flowers.

With our own smiles, we slinked out of the place, consulted the Internet, and found an alternate location on the other side of Chinatown with dim sum. Rotisserie ducks spun in store windows, inscrutable conversations buzzed in the nooks of the ‘hood, and piles of garbage littered a walk that felt like a movie set.

“It’s the dirtiest part of the whole city,” Jason said earlier.

We made some lefts, some rights, and once onto Tyler Street, we “found” Winsor Dim Sum Cafe, the only location in the district with 9:30 dim sum. Mount some stairs and in two sets of glass doors, and we were inside.

And the place was empty.

Except for a passive-aggressive host and an intimate group of diners, us ruffians from Arlington were the only ones in the cafe. I’ve realized this can either mean a personal experience is on the horizon, or the health inspectors have been taking points. The walls were sparse, and there were goldfish bowl-shaped fixtures. The clear bowls stirred a curdled liquid. Whether it’s a humidifier or part of Winsor’s dim sum repertoire, I’ll never know.

Jason flipped through the dim sum menu with a detached air. With his way of circling dishes, you’d think he was keeping score for a golf game.

“Pork dumplings, yeah, let’s get that. If it’s lousy, I’ll just throw twenty dollars on the table and we can go to that crowded place. You know some place that crowded has got to be good.”

Our food came to us in weird waves. Like a demented kid’s coloring book, the colors were in some wrong places. Shrimp stuffed eggplant seemed to liquefy, while the fried shrimp balls looked like Medusa heads made with tempura. It was a feast from a dark fantasy, but then again, this is Chinatown, not Disney World. The dumplings were a highlight, and I think part of a dim sum experience should be about guessing what everything you ordered is.

We left full of both dumplings and suspicious looks.

Jason started driving us back to our house, but dumped us at a golf course. It’s a popular meeting place for teens Jason nicknames “The Farm.” Just like the purpose of the Winsor milk bowls, I’ll never understand his motive.

My criminal career may have begun with Chinese food, and a wonton beauty is born.

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