A Taste of Boston, with a Side of Chicago
A waiter placed a flute of Pol Roger in my hand before I even stepped onto the elevator. It was a promising sign for the coming evening at the Taj hotel in Boston. When I reached The Roof, it was already teeming with foodies savoring hors d’oeuvres before the James Beard Foundation’s Taste America dinner.
I knew I’d be seated later with Chef Thai Dang of HaiSous restaurant in Chicago, so I made a point to try his Goi Xoai > Young Mango, Marinated King Crab, Calamansi, and Vietnamese Herbs. It was fabulous; the crab was tender, and the textured flavor was slightly sweet from the calamansi and wonderfully balanced by the herbs.
I also enjoyed the Chipotle-Braised Beef Short Ribs with its bed of Golden Beet Polenta from the Taj’s own Chef Gurminder Gidda.
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I loved the creamy Kerrygold cheddar, aged with Irish whiskey.
And I was delighted to discover a new cider, the sweet but light Somersby.
Real dinner chimes rang, like something out of Downton Abbey, and it was time to take a last look at Boston through the floor-to-ceiling windows and head down to a delightful dinner. The Prawn Dumplings with Lemongrass, Oyster Leaf, and Nasturtium in Tom Yum Broth by Chef Karen Akunowicz of Myers + Chang was light but richly flavored. I was looking forward to Chef Daniel Boulud’s Coq au Vin for two reasons: 1) Growing up, coq au vin was one of my favorite dishes; I used to ask my mother to make it for my birthday. 2) Shortly after Bar Boulud opened at the Mandarin Oriental, I shared a wonderful lunch there with an editor from Boston Common magazine and a representative from Sugar Beach resort in St. Lucia, and so I was looking forward to enjoying his cooking again. It didn’t disappoint, the tender chicken matched well with the Carrot Confit, Lardons, Trumpet Royale Mushroom, and Watercress. (I won’t say whether it was better than my mother’s.)
But owing to my sweet tooth and love of innovative Mediterranean cuisine, my favorite dish of the dinner was dessert: Quince Dolma with Roasted Quince, White Chocolate Labneh, and Pistachio Kanafeh by Chef Maura Kilpatrick of Oleana.
Chef Dang and his wife Danielle Pizzutillo Dang were fun and interesting table mates. They opened HaiSous earlier this year as their second restaurant. They lost the first when their business partners Attila Gyulai and Komal Patel systematically cooked the books, looted accounts, and then disappeared, leaving a trail of wreckage totalling up to $1.5 million. Despite sending a strange message to customers hinting that they welcomed invitations to “wine dinners, movie nights, gallery openings, weddings, birthdays, Oscar parties, ski trips and even camping”, the cheeky couple fled the United States and have been living large in Canada, Hungary, the Netherlands, Italy, Mexico, Ireland, and Germany, according to bank records. Meanwhile, the Dangs have been waging court battles to rebuild their life and their dreams. They named the new restaurant HaiSous because it means “two pennies”, all they had left to start over.
At least, that’s what I learned from Crain’s. The young and cheerful Dangs mentioned nothing of all this, focusing firmly on the now. They were especially excited about the coffee shop they recently opened adjacent to the restaurant. We compared travel notes. They raved about Japan; I said they’d love Israel. The Chef pulled out his iPhone to type in the places I recommended for their brief stay in Boston. I talked about how much I always enjoyed Chicago; one of my favorite places to return again and again is the Drake Hotel and its Prohibition-esque Coq d’Or bar.
Conversation lulled for the live auction. Of the five offerings, most intriguing to me was the Nantucket Wine & Food Festival — Food & Wine Lovers’ Paradise package, featuring VIP passes to the premier Festival and three nights at The Wauwinet hotel. But the wow package was apparently the Private Dinner with Karen Akunowicz–a dinner for ten in your own home catered by Chef Akunowicz. As emcee Jenny Johnson led the bidding above $14,000, the chef brandished a magnum of Pol Roger and doubled the offer: She’d provide two dinners. The package sold for $15,500. A lot of money for dinner. But if it’s as much fun as Taste America, it might be worth it.
Wow! What an amazing experience! I bet you will remember that forever!!
Yes, a Taste America dinner is a very fun evening!
Wow! What a great experience, it all sounds so magical. The food looks delicious, and meeting so many incredible people in the restaurant business must have been amazing. I hope to do something like this soon!
I hope you can attend a Taste America dinner soon! It really is fun.
Boston is one of my favorite cities, I went several times years ago. It has now been years since I have been and I want to go back!!! I love the cobblestone streets, the charm all over, the convenience of the train…. Thanks for letting me relive it a little.
Boston is one of my favorite cities too. I hope we both get to go back soon!
Those crab legs look sooo good. You have a lot of valuable information.
Thank you! And yes, the crab was good!
Food and traveling are two of my favorite things. Your blog made me want to visit Boston. I live in Cincinnati. Come and visit us! I have a tiny post on how to travel for free.
Food and travel are definitely two of my favorite things also. I have been to Cincinnati and really enjoyed it. I hope you can visit Boston soon.
As I have never been to Boston, I would have taken the VIP passes to the food festival and the three nights at the hotel. Thanks for sharing!
I hope you get to visit Boston soon! It is a fascinating city.
This sounds like it was so much fun. I wish I could do something like that. You were treated like royalty.
It was great fun. I hope you can go to a Taste America dinner sometime soon.
I love food and getting dressed up! This sounds like a perfect event I would attend!
I hope you can attend soon! It sounds like you’d love it.
That food looks amazing! Especially the crab legs.
Yes, the crab was fabulous!
What an awesome experience! Thanks for sharing!
Thank you for reading!
This really did look like a lot of fun and super classy! Definitely wouldn’t fit in but that’s the point right stepping outside of your comfort zone and experiencing all that there is in this beautiful world? I think it’d be a great event to go to and try… thanks Leslie for sharing!
I hope you can go to a Taste America dinner sometime soon. It is enjoyably grand.