A literary staycation embraces downtime.
Boston is a place where many of America’s most treasured authors — think Edgar Allen Poe, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Raymond Chandler and Louisa May Alcot — called home, and where contemporary authors such as Stephen McCauley (“The Object of My Affection”) and Ben Mezrich (“The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook” a.k.a. “The Social Network” film) still live. To further enhance its literary heritage, Boston’s Hotel Commonwealth, a boutique hotel, created the Reading Suite with homage to the joy of curling up with a good book — and your dog (on approval) if you so choose.
With my Chihuahua in tow, I headed to one of two Reading Suites, where a library filled with an assortment of books held several familiar titles, and then some promising to tell the story of Boston’s Italians and the Mob. Within the suite were an assortment of magazines and a Nook, as well. I grabbed an F. Scott Fitzgerald novel, Wine Spectator Magazine and the Nook, settled onto the cushioned window bed in lieu of cozying up in one of the two leather wingback chairs, and began to read. With all the Kenmore Square action below to gaze at, reading quickly gave way to watching the street crowd, and soon thereafter, a nap.
I awoke with hunger pains and headed downstairs to Eastern Standard, one of two restaurants within the Hotel Commonwealth’s building. The contemporary design of Eastern Standard is upscale and welcoming at the same time, and a full house on a Saturday evening tells the tale of its success. It is a chilly December evening and I can’t help but notice many patrons are seated outside. Apparently the heat lamps, according to my server, are like the sun, and year round nobody needs a coat out there.
A booth inside is where I cozy up, however, at least for a few minutes before my cell phone rings and I am told my dog is barking and must be attended to — so my glass of Grenache/syrah blend from Provence will have to wait. Fortunately, closing the French doors in the suite alleviates the barking. Freddie now has full reign of the reading area, which is away from the ice machine and corridor of provocation, and my dinner downstairs begins.
Homemade bread is baked in a specialty oven, so it is as fresh as the oysters shared with its brother restaurant, Island Creek Oyster Bar, which offers the best of the best in local sustainable seafood. A plate of 10 oysters ($2.50 each) originates from Chatham, Duxbury, Barnstable and Wellfleet — all from Cape Cod. Personally, the Duxbury oysters rank the highest — and come from co-owner Skip Bennett’s oyster farm. Chatham and Wellfleet are second and third runners up.
When you peruse the menu at Eastern Standard, it’s difficult to decide from so many decadent choices, but when Hudson Valley foie gras is on the menu, it’s an easy decision. This indulgence comes pan-seared and served over brioche and Brussels sprout slaw ($15) with bacon jam, best enjoyed with a glass of sauternes. For entrees, the menu special this evening is porcetta, with its rind as crisp as a potato chip. But, then again, there’s a homemade lamb sausage and the ever-popular mushroom ravioli with taleggio and Swiss chard. If you love smoky flavors as much as I do, you’ll love the latter dish that mixes two types of mushrooms in a light, creamy sauce ($18).
Page 2 of 3 - Dessert is a must, if only to listen to the entertaining descriptions of the dessert wine pairings. I opt for a glass of Brachetto, which is both a region098765432q and a varietal — to pair with sticky toffee pudding, served with milk chocolate ice cream and fleur de sel. This dessert has been on the menu for eight years, due to demand.
Ready to roll out of Eastern Standard and head back upstairs to the Reading Suite, Freddie is calm and snuggled in his deluxe doggie bedding provided by Hotel Commonwealth.
It is quite easy to sleep in when you feel cozy and comfortable, and that’s exactly what I did before checking out to head downstairs for brunch at Island Creek Oyster Bar, located to the left of Hotel Commonwealth from its lobby. Open for two years, this is a palatial gathering hole for oyster aficionados and for foodies who seek out local and sustainable seafood.
Its design is galvanized metal meets oyster shells once boiled, bleached, dried, and then washed again, dried and vacuumed. In fact, over 110,000 shells fill the grill that runs through the entire back wall of this restaurant.
The menu at ICOB is a folded piece of paper — because it is changed daily according to what seafood is freshest, and it lists the farms from where each oyster selection arrived. Raw bar selections of the day include Duxbury Island Creek and ICO Row — also of Duxbury in farms owned by Skip Bennett. A colossal piece of shrimp cocktail complements the oysters, as does the specialty cocktail of the day: The Riviera Sparkler ($12), which is described as “Mediterranean bitters meet tropical fruit.” This lemon-colored cocktail is served in a tall stem cup and tastes light and slightly tropical — a perfect alternative to the traditional mimosa.
A must-order item is an oyster slider, or perhaps smoked trout under walnut pesto, topped with citrus — either choice will not disappoint. One lobster omelet later, I cannot fathom eating another bite. But I will be back again, next time for dinner of lobster roe noodles garnished with braised short ribs, grilled lobster, oyster mushrooms and pecorino ($27) — and, of course, more oysters!
Once checked out, an optional walkabout to explore Boston’s literary landmarks is available through a walking tour that may be arranged with the hotel concierge. And once you return home, you can re-create your staycation experience with the following recipe, courtesy of Island Creek Oyster Bar, and a cocktail, courtesy of Eastern Standard.
Island Creek Oyster Stew
2 large shallots, sliced thin
1 clove garlic, smashed
2 sprigs thyme
One half-cup dry white wine
2 cups heavy cream
2 t lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste
Page 3 of 3 - 1 T canola oil
Heat the canola oil in a medium saucepan. Add the shallots and garlic: sweat for three minutes but do not let brown. Add the wine and bring to a boil, turn down the heat and simmer until the wine is cooked down by half. Add the cream and thyme; continue to simmer until reduced by half. Remove from heat, strain through a fine mesh strainer, add lemon juice, and season with salt and pepper.
16 Island Creek oysters, shucked and liquid saved
1 small Spanish onion, diced small
1 leek, washed and slice, white only
1 small celery root, peeled and diced small
1 medium Yukon gold potato, peeled diced and blanched
1 medium carrot, peeled and diced smallHalf cup diced slab bacon
2 T water
8 large flat parsley leaves, julienne
4 slices of brioche, 3 inches thick, crust removed and lightly toasted
Zest of 1 lemon
Salt and pepper to taste
Add the water and bacon to a sauté pan that is large enough to hold all the vegetables. Cook until the bacon is golden brown and crisp. Remove the bacon from the pan but leave 2 tablespoons of the fat from cooking the bacon. Add the vegetables and potato and sauté until they begin to lightly color. Remove from heat. Pour the sauce into the vegetable mixture, slowly bring to a simmer and let simmer for two minutes. Remove from heat and add oysters with liquid, lemon zest, parsley and season with salt and pepper. Place the toasted brioche in four bowls and carefully spoon the oyster stew over the brioche and serve immediately.
Anatolia historically refers to what is known today as the western two-thirds of the Asian part of Turkey. The first recording of cultivated cherries being brought to Europe is in 72 BC, coming from Anatolia. Furthermore, the English word “cherry” comes from the Roman name of a city in Turkey, Cerasus (today Giresun), from which the cherry was first exported to Europe. Today, most major commercial cherry orchards in Europe and West Asia are in Turkey, mainly in the Anatolia region. It is usually forgotten that coffee is the seed of a fruit, often called coffee cherries.
1 oz. Pierre Ferrand 1840
1 oz. Luxardo Cherry Liqueur
1/4 oz. Cinnamon syrup
Top with coffee and whipped cream, sprinkle with powdered cinnamon
Charlene Peters is Editor Special Features at GateHouse Media New England. She can be reached at email@example.com.