Saturday, March 28, 2009

Day 3: North End -- GaGa for Gelato

Napoli Pastry Shop.

Come get your gelati! The glossy picture menu featuring 40-odd varieties of decadent desserts drew me into Napoli Pastry Shop.


Rachel and I got our double scoops on.

Rachel had the green apple and mint straciatella (left). I ordered the cafe (coffee) and fruity forest. Fruity forest tasted like Stride forest fruit gum -- the one with the yellow wrapping that they hand out for free on Comm Av at B.U. But the flavor would be more aptly described as "funky forest," much like the Japanese film of the same title. I imagined Ryo Kase with a bowl cut dancing the robot and spazzing into interpretive dance on the beach while holding red streamers.

Yeah. So it was like that, in my mouth. Explosion in the mouth! Watch the movie and you'll know what I'm talking about. Actually, just watch the trailer. Sitting through all 150 minutes of it might give you permanent brain damage. My sister wonders why I subject myself to these types of "weird" films. "Funky Forest" is a comical commentary on the mind-numbing reality of everyday life.

Luckily, the rich, strong flavor of the cafe gelato helped to cancel out whatever residual funkiness I encountered in the forest. The creamy, full-bodied cafe conjured hot cups of kona coffee. I'm still trying to decide whether I liked funky forest. The texture was a cross between playdough and those Chinese strawberry sucker candies with a slight stickiness at the end.

A four-tiered wooden shelf in the pastry shop displayed Italian cookies, coffee and nutella for sale. To quench your thirst, you could take your pick of the Italian sodas and fruit juices in the back. Surprisingly, Napoli didn't offer hazelnut gelato this time around.

Look -- it's the Joe and Rachel Show!

I'm not even sure what they're holding, but their wide eyes hypnotize you into wanting to try it. Whatever "it" is...

We moved on to Chinatown. I was craving boba, so Missy suggested Dong Khanh, but they're closed until April for renovation. Bummer. Instead, we settled on Bao Bao Bakery down the block, where we found "Cute Cake" (a spongy cupcake with whipped cream snowmen on top, $1.95 each) and green tea and sesame thins ($3.25). I bought a lychee boba made with actual lychee fruit ($3.50).

Puffed up much?

Blowfish. The edible version.

This has been a very mind-numbing day. My taste buds are confuzzled.

After today, I realized that some of us were meant for stand-up comedy (Joe). Others should stick to our industry of choice. Joe had Rachel and I doubled over in a giggly spell. We commented on how Missy was "the only adult" of the four of us, which is sad but rather true.

Napoli Pastry Shop: 4 out of 5 stars. It might've been different had I tried one of the "safer" flavors, but then I wouldn't have a fun story to tell, would I?

Bao Bao Bakery: 4 out of 5 stars. No complaints on the boba. I would stick to the drinks. The pastries might be more questionable.

Napoli Pastry Shop
120 Salem St
Boston, MA 02113

Dong Khanh
81 Harrison Ave
Boston, MA 02111

Bao Bao Bakery
77 Harrison Ave
Boston, MA 02111

Day 3: North End -- Earnest for Ernesto's


Tread down the cobblestone path from Maria's and you'll pass by Ernesto's Pizzeria. My friend Joe suggested the place, as it's known for its thick, meaty slices for just $3.75 each. One slice is equivalent to two New York-style slices (if you know what I'm talking about, that's huge).

There's retro appeal aplenty. On the walls you'll find black-and-white Frank Sinatra portraits, including my personal fave, Sinatra's mugshot. Green and red Christmas lights blink next to green, wine and white frescoes, which add an old-world flair to this pizza parlor.

Sausage slice.

Joe eyes the sausage slice in a face-off before he swoops in for the kill...

While we were waiting for our slices, Joe recounted the story of how he was hit on by a homeless guy on the T earlier that day. The homeless guy, who introduced himself as Tommy, took Joe's hand and kissed it, saying, "I lahhhve you."

Followed by: "Do you have blue eyes?"

Joe: "No...."

Tomato-basil slice.

The tomato-basil combination was a little too tomato-heavy, adding to the "droop" factor. When I bit into the slice, the watery tomatoes slid down onto my paper plate, creating a puddle of soup. Otherwise, the basil was right on the money. I personally prefer more cheese, but this was great for the lactose-intolerant or people who aren't too keen on dairy.

Chicken-bacon-onion slice.

Yes, that's all one slice. Almost resembles butt buddies, no? Missy ordered this one and we split it three ways. Love the bacon, could do without the grease. This was very oily, but for a non-onion fan, I have to say that the ingredients worked well together.

Two children, a girl and a boy around 2 or 3 years of age, sat behind us and kept me on my toes. The girl shouted to the boy: "Let's PLAY!!! Understand??" The little boy (bless his heart) bobbed his head noncommittally. The girl then proceeded to scream hysterically.

At the counter, Grandma raised her head in alarm and her eyes dilated into fierce mode as her retina zeroed in on the little girl. No auditory command was necessary to shut her up. Finally, Grandma came back with two plain slices. The girl munched on her pizza happily, and all was well with the world again.

Skull Candy.

As we were wandering the pebbly steps of the North End, we ran into a skull.

Well, let me explain.

Someone dropped their cell phone on the ground and the skull decal is what I saw first. I snapped this shot before Missy called the owner and tried to arrange a meet-up to give it back to her. We later dropped it off with the waitstaff at the restaurant she was last seen with it in. My friends joked that I was more excited about taking the picture than returning the phone. Ermm, typical photojournalist behavior.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars. I love cheese. I love big slices. Thus, I love Ernesto's.

69 Salem St
Boston, MA 02113

Day 3: North End -- Markets & Maria's

Saturday, 3/22, I took a day trip to the North End with my three food-loving friends.

I've raved about farmers' markets before. Fruits, vegetables, honey, jellies and jams -- everything bursting with color and the hearty aromas of the earth. What's not to love?

Something about this piece of architecture is both grand and comforting. Perhaps it's because the steel horizontal panels create the illusion of an indoor ceiling and thus, a living room area. I hope the couple sitting on the bench didn't think I was being creepers.


Mike's? Modern's? Forget those overpopulated destinations and keep walking until you get to Maria's Pastry Shop. Now this is what I'm talking about. Powdery sugar sprinkles. Crispy on the outside, moist on the inside (like curd, although I know that might sound like a weird reference). Sfogliatelle, or a clam-shaped layered pastry, has a stacked symmetry that resembles seashells by the seashore. Sally would want one of these...

Sfogliatelle is not lacking in the richness department. The buttery dough is drenched in shortening (or, for more authentic renderings, strutto, i.e. pork fat). The dough is then rolled up and cut into thin cylindrical discs. The center is typically filled with orange-flavored ricotta, but citron peel works just as well.

In case you were wondering, you pronounce this sfog-j'ah-TEL-e.


Amaretti is the Italian word for macaroon, which literally means "little bitter things." But I didn't find anything bitter about these. If anything, the sweet almond taste perked me up instantly. Macaroons have an elastic texture -- crunchy on the outside, soft inside. They were created during the Renaissance period in Venice, Italy. Usually, two cookies are squished together with jam, buttercream or ganache inside. Try them with ice cream or sherbet! Note the crinkles and fine sugar flecks.

Maria's Pastry Shop.

Remember, GO TO MARIA'S. You will not be disappointed. You might even get the lanky young blond guy with the Italian accent who sheepishly asked me not to tell his boss that he didn't know where the hot amaretti was stored. Don't worry, buddy, your secret's safe with me. And the readers of my blog.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars. For someone who's not especially fond of rich pastries or cannolis (yeah, I know...I'm "crazy"), Maria's left me wanting more. And I did help myself to seconds of the amaretti.

Maria's Pastry Shop
46 Cross St
Boston, MA 02113

And There Was Darkness for One Hour

Are you participating in Earth Hour? It's tonight from 8:30-9:30 p.m. All you have to do is shut off your lights. Yup, it's that simple.

This event started in Sydney two years ago and branched out as a worldwide effort to save energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by up to five percent. That's equivalent to removing 75,000 medium-sized cars from the road. Residences and corporate offices are expected to join in. Even the Empire State building and major New York landmarks (read: tourist traps) will be celebrating Earth Hour.

It requires almost no effort on your part, so why not get in on the game? Lights out, baby!