Our purpose for coming to Boston: two nights of Bob Weir and Phil Lesh playing at the Wang Theatre. We saw Bobby and Phil play together at Sound Summit at an amphitheater outside of San Francisco last September. The Wang Theatre is an enclosed, intimate space with lovely, ornate architecture. The concerts in Boston each lasted for about three hours, with an hour-long set break. They played Grateful Dead classics such as “Uncle John’s Band,” “Lazy River Road” and “Tennessee Jed,” plus Dylan covers of “When I Paint My Masterpiece,” “Girl from the North Country” and “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue.” For those of you at a certain age, the concerts were in the style of “MTV Unplugged”; heavy on acoustic guitar. I would’ve like to see the camera pan more often on Bobby’s fingers so I could follow his guitar playing. The guest stars for the second half of the shows were Larry Campbell and Teresa Williams. Campbell is an impressive musician, breaking out the guitar, mandolin, lute and fiddle while on stage. His solos were melodic, adding more energy to the stage dynamic. Oddly, Williams had a great voice but rarely showed it; she only sang harmony a few times. I don’t know why she hesitated, but the music would’ve been enhanced with more of her voice.
During the day, we explored the city. Boston Common was our first stop since it was just up the street from our hotel. It’s part of the famed Freedom Trail, a 2.5-mile route through the city with 16 sites that are integral to American history, including the American Revolution and the Civil War.
The Union Oyster House in Boston is located along the Freedom Trail, near the Faneuil Hall marketplace, which is a mini-mall with food vendors. It claims to be the oldest restaurant in the U.S., dating back to 1826 inside a building that’s even older. The hostess pointed us to seating upstairs, but we decided to park ourselves at the bar on the ground floor. I overheard the family next to us who had just flown in from California and surmised that they were in town to see Bobby and Phil, too. As is fitting for where we were, we ordered oysters, plus chowder and a crab cake salad. The oysters were surprisingly unsalty and had a cucumber finish. The crab cakes were excellent, full of crab meat mixed with what I imagine to be crushed crackers or bread crumbs.
Lobster rolls are a big thing in Boston; this is a seafood town after all. I have to rave about the lobster rolls from Lobstah on a Roll. We happened upon it on a snowy day, wandering around a residential neighborhood. A woman beckoned us to come in, and after looking at the menu, we obliged. The lobster roll I got was unbelievably good. It was full of so many complete hunks of claw in between slices of soft but substantial bread, with lettuce and just a touch of mayo. I could not get over how meaty this sandwich was. It’s certainly pricey, but well worth the cost. I was full after I ate it, and I don’t get full easily.
Boston is known for its pubs, and we picked Jacob Wirth, a German restaurant that’s been around since 1868. The evening we showed up, the place was packed. We snagged one of the last remaining empty tables and ordered fish and chips and schnitzel. I love pub food because they don’t skimp you on portion size. This pub had a lively, fun atmosphere, and the food was good pub grub. The fish had a classic crunchy coating, and the schnitzel came with an egg on top as a sort of improvised gravy.
For dessert, I recommend cannolis from Modern Pastry. We were a bit turned off when we walked in and got blasé customer service, but the cannolis did not disappoint. The shell was the perfect texture balancing crunch and give, and the generous filling had just the right amount of sugar.
The blue-collar enclave of Southie is a well-known neighborhood in Boston, and we walked through it to get a feel for the place. The housing was mixed, with some looking run down and others being renovated for improvement. There was a smattering of Victorian houses. Even with the rundown-looking homes, there was a sense of pride, trying to keep things clean. I recommend walking through Southie on your way to Dorchester Heights, the National Historical Park high on a hill where George Washington and his troops fought off the British in 1776. The park offers sweeping views of Boston and the water.
After the park, we visited the Museum of Fine Arts. I didn’t know anything about the museum before we came, and I was impressed at this collection of paintings and antiquities. One of the featured exhibits when we were there was of Takashi Murakami, a Japanese artist who takes inspiration from classic Japanese art. I learned that the tradition of manga goes way back in Japan. I thought it was something that just popped up in modern times, but the exhibit shows cartoon-like works dating back centuries (see dragon below). Fascinating to see.
There was even a tie-in to the Grateful Dead’s visual symbolism in an old Japanese art piece that featured skeletons dancing and playing music. Makes me wonder if the Dead themselves were inspired by this type of art, or if the concept is something that lives across cultures. A thought-provoking exhibit.
For our last dinner in Boston, we ate at the excellent B&G Oysters, a small, diner-like space that’s constantly busy in the evening. The open kitchen enabled us to watch the linemen prep our food. We ordered a dozen oysters, and I loved their large sizes. They made me miss the times we spent at a beach house on Vancouver Island, picking up massive oysters on the shore. Again, the oysters were not salty; they had a clean taste, on the cucumber and melon side. The charred octopus we ordered was tender and smoky, and the branzino I had was lightly breaded and fried just enough to cook the fish all the way through without overdoing it. A classy, scrumptious meal.