An American Truth

There are those, here in Boston, who will say that Paul Revere never made his historic Midnite Ride, that he actually sent a neighbor to warn the countryside. And some people will giggle at your naïvety when you mention the Boston TEA Party, as if everyone should be so silly to think that it was actually tea being stored in those rum barrels.

It’s enough to shake a history buff. But if you run back to your historic hotel, where you decide to take refuge in culinary history, you might not be comforted.

I admit that part of the reason I chose to stay at the Parker House was because it was the birthplace of the Parker House Roll and the Boston Creme Pie. I can put up with tiny, cramped, stodgy rooms and early morning construction noise as long as I can get a bite of the past.

I wasn’t expecting much from the rolls. After all, they’re white dinner rolls. But after having to actually pay extra to add one to my meal, the forthcoming roll wasn’t even warm. And you’d think an icon would deserve to be accompanied by more than just a common foil wrapped chunk of frozen butter. Was a small dish of whipped and salted butter simply too much to ask for a national treasure?

And still, it got worse. It turns out that the place which claims honor for the original Boston Creme Pie (a true inspiration for doughnut eaters everywhere) has done the unthinkable: THEY’VE CHANGED THE RECIPE. Instead of a classic 1855 dessert of dense cake and custard, covered with a deeply chocolate ganache, we now have a fluffy, spongy thing covered with coconut and drizzled with white chocolate in a modern spidery design.

And so you lose a little religion.

But I did find faith again in a little restaurant called The Ivy, tucked away down an alley off of Boston Commons. It’s an Italian small-plate restaurant with a nice wine list: any glass $9, any bottle $26. We showed up a little late and asked if the kitchen was still open. The manager at the front was nice enough to run downstairs to check. As we settled into a booth, resigned that we were going to get a glass of wine regardless, he came to inform us that the kitchen had closed. I asked if there was even any bread we could snack on, and he again ran down to check.

Upon his return he informed us that, although he couldn’t cook anything from the grill or the fryer, he’d be happy to whip us up a salad or make something from the saute side. We said we’d be happy with just about anything and would take what ever was easiest. When he suggested the bolognese and brought it to us within a minute, it hit us like a ton of bricks…"Is this supposed to be YOUR dinner?" He had given us the meal prepared for himself. As restaurant people, we all knew the value of sitting down for a hot meal after a night on the floor, shuffling plates, dealing with guests, running up and down stairs … sometimes that meal is the only thing that keeps you going.

Of course we protested, and of course he wouldn’t take it back, claiming he ate it every night and could use a break from it. Wide, flat pasta was richly covered in a pink veal and pork ragu. The soft meat was perfectly done and not a bit greasy, like some bolo can be. With a bite of pasta it was almost creamy, yet subtly tangy with just a touch of red pepper. We ate it hungrily and gratefully. We drank our wine and vented our lives and tipped graciously.

That bolognese is my new Boston icon.