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Boston's Lobster Rolls

March 26, 2013

We can pretend food isn't political but of course it is. On my way to Boston early this month I was assaulted by a Chick-fil-A stand at the Atlanta Airport, which shoots up like a blithe finger in the face of any gay traveler racing for their plane. Almost as depressing was the lobster tank sitting in the front of the first seafood restaurant I sampled in Boston. Stacked up in a torturous wedge, their antennae snaking out like a call for help, their stalked eyes a stunned black hole of despair (and I don't care if I'm projecting), the crustaceans were hapless. As the Swedish chef Magnus Nilsson says, in the recently published book on his elegantly rustic, locavore estate Fäviken (incidentally one of the most flat-out gorgeous food titles of the past year), even carnivores--especially carnivores--still have a moral responsibility. We owe animals, particularly if we eat them, a painless, sweet life and a quick death. Thankfully all the other the Boston restaurants I plowed through in my hunt for the perfect lobster roll were tankless. And a lot were thankless. In fact I tasted so many bad lobster rolls I started second-guessing the dish itself. Lobster is famously hard to cook right. For all its haute appeal it can be relentlessly tasteless, and it too often materializes as a chewy, overcooked wad of bleached blandness. Throwing in some mayo and wrapping the whole thing up in an ovesized, dumb sponge of a bun, the signature of a mediocre lobster roll, doesn't justify any fish tank. I'm sure Bostonians can claim their own insidery finds and backstreet seafood shacks, diners, and food trucks that do things right. But I was limited, by time, to more obvious restaurants, like any witless tourist, and I still found two lobster rolls that vindicated the overhyped dish. The first was at Barbara Lynch's South End B&G Oysters, where you can get a slightly skewed version that will, for some people (aka me), read like an improvement on the traditional roll. That's because B&G's lobster BLT adds thick smoky planks of bacon that play off the understated lobster, teasing out a duet of flavors. And it stacks the surf and turf duo between a sliced crusty ciabatta that came as a relief after too many loofah-like rolls. Just avoid the overpriced deviled eggs topped by a little dab of tasteless crab. For traditionalists, though, the real redemption of the lobster roll (pictured) can be had at Island Creek Oyster Bar. The cubes of lobster here are actually tender and tossed with a light creme fraiche that makes for a clean, bright seafood salad. And the freshly baked, almost brioche-like roll, accented with rosemary, even turns the bready frame into an elegant improvement on the usual cigar-shaped bun. The side of crunchy coleslaw doesn't hurt a bit either and neither did our server Emily, one smart, funny Zooey Deschanel doppleganger. My only other Boston tip: sleep off all those rolls at XV Beacon, which...

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