See Jim O’Connell give a fully illustrated presentation on “Dining Out in Boston” at the Weston Public Library on October 12, 2017.
I teach in the City Planning-Urban Affairs Program at Boston University and have been interviewed by that program about my book Dining Out in Boston. The interview provides a different slant on my book, which I discuss at the BU Food & Wine program on March 21 at 6:00 PM.
OAK Long Bar & Kitchen, Fairmont Copley-Plaza
Max Grinnell’s insightful blog, The Urbanologist, recently featured an interview with Jim O’Connell about historic and contemporary restaurant trends in Boston. Check it out.
The Tremont House (1829-1895) was Boston’s leading hotel during the antebellum era. Built at the corner of Tremont and Beacon Streets, the Tremont House introduced the nation’s first indoor plumbing, private room keys, and gaslights. Charles Dickens remarked: “The hotel (a very excellent one) … has more galleries, colonnades, piazzas, and passages than I can remember, or the reader would believe.”
The menu for the inaugural Tremont House dinner featured six courses with several dishes offered for each course. The Tremont House served a number of French dishes, including perdix au choux (partridge with cabbage); fricandeau de veau (larded and braised filet of veal), voul au vent aux huitres (oysters in pastry shell); pate froid (cold paté); and blanc fromage (a cross between ricotta and mascarpone).
For many years, the Tremont House was the champion of French gourmet cooking for Boston’s elite, offering more French-style dishes than almost any nineteenth-century Boston restaurant. Early hotels like the Tremont House used the bill of fare to establish a French-inspired sequence of courses which were served to all diners—soup, fish, meat, game, sweets, cheese, desserts (originally, fruit and nuts), and beverages. Restaurateurs understood how a well-crafted, variegated menu could make the mouth water and draw in patrons. Though vestiges of Puritanism persisted in New England, many of Boston diners enjoyed luxuries of the table at the Tremont House and its competitors. Well into the 1880s, “King’s Handbook of Boston” ranked the Tremont’s dining room among the best in Boston.
Jim O’Connell is interviewed about Boston restaurant history on Quincy Public Access Television.
Jim O’Connell was interviewed about the history of Polynesian restaurants in Massachusetts in a Boston Globe article, “Flaming Drinks, Pupu Platters and a Side of Bread: How Chinese Restaurants Came to Embrace Tiki Kitsch” (Jan. 24,2017).
“A Culinary Historian’s Surprising Account of Boston’s Restaurants through Time,” Boston Globe, December 27, 2016.
Co-worker Ruth Raphael has shared this “Curtailed War Menu” offered at Durgin-Park. During World War II, restaurants were subject to rationing and were limited as to the dishes they could serve.
Everyone is in search of new restaurants and taste treats. In writing “Dining Out in Boston: A Culinary History,” I have discovered scores of menus for a remarkable array of Boston restaurants that no longer exist. Despite the fact that it is impossible to actually eat at these restaurants, these menus are tantalizing. As I peruse them, I imagine dining at these establishments and sampling different dishes. How would they have tasted? If the ingredients were fresh and the dishes skillfully prepared, the eating must have been good. The adventurous foodies of today would certainly want to sample meals at Boston’s leading bygone restaurants.
Here is a brief review of what I consider to be the “Ten Best Boston Restaurants Where You’ve Never Eaten”: 1. Julien’s Restorator.
Julien’s Restorator was both Boston’s first true restaurant and an example of the first restaurants being invented in Paris during the late eighteenth century. In 1793, Jean Baptiste Gilbert Payplat (in Boston, he called himself Julien) opened his restaurant near State and Congress Streets. Julien, who had served as a cook for the Archbishop of Bordeaux, was a refugee from the French Revolution and the Reign of Terror. The original Parisian “restaurants” specialized in serving “restoratives,” particularly bouillons, which were concentrated meat essences—usually made from ham, veal, or fowl. Women and sickly people, in particular, patronized Parisian “restaurants,” which started serving complete meals by the 1790s.
Chef Julien advertised that his “Restorator” was a “Resort where the infirm in health, the convalescent, and those whose attention to studious business occasions a lassitude of nature can obtain the most suitable nourishment.” Julien specialized in “good Soups and Broths, Pastry, in all its delicious variety, Alamode Beef, Bacon, Poultry, and, generally, all other refreshing viands.” He claimed that the customer could order individual dishes at a fixed price from a bill of fare and would not be forced to pay for a full meal, as at inns and taverns. This marked the beginning of restaurant service in Boston. In a 1797 advertisement, he proclaimed that he “had received a fresh supply of GREEN SEA TURTLES of middling size, and would kill one every day.” Julien was dubbed the “Prince of Soups.”
The famous French gastronome Brillat-Savarin, who was also fled to America from the Reign of Terror, visited Julien in 1794 and gave him a recipe for a fondue casserole of Gruyere cheese and eggs, which Brillat-Savarin claimed “became so much the rage that Jullien [sic], in recognition of his indebtedness to me, sent me in New York, the back of one of those delicious little roe-deer that are shot in Canada in the winter months.”
In 1805, Julien died, but his wife Hannah carried on the restaurant for another decade. Julien’s was a beachhead for French culinary fashions, which would shape the city’s dining habits in the decades to come.
Jim O’Connell at Newtonville Books Book Launch
All are invited to upcoming Powerpoint presentations by Jim O’Connell on “Dining Out in Boston.”
November 2, Tuesday, 7:00 PM – Brookline Booksmith, 279 Harvard Street, Brookline
November 10, Thursday, 7:00 PM – Harvard Book Store, 1256 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge
November 16, Wednesday, 6:00 PM – Boston Public Library, 700 Boylston Street
December 6, Tuesday, 7:00 PM – Trident Booksellers, 338 Newbury Street
December 13, Tuesday, 12 Noon – State Library, Room 341, State House