What he’s having: Lockdown dining options from Simon’s, Rudy’s, Fishmonger, Nirvana
A weekly notebook about dining options during the Covid-19 shutdown, with a focus on quality and ease of pickup and delivery. Remember, the people serving up the food are part of the front line; keep it in mind when tipping.
Simon’s Coffee Shop
No, you can’t camp out and read the paper in this cozy cafe, but you still can get one of the best cups of coffee in town (beans supplied by George Howell, Barismo and other discerning roasters). The key to the Simon’s charm is the attentive staff and small, fresh-brewed pots, as well as baristas expert at putting artistic designs on perfectly blended lattes, Gibraltars and Americanos. The food selection is limited, but there are scones – including plump oatmeal scones with maple icing. My daughter always asks me to get the one with the most icing. The social distancing arrangement is perfect, and Simon has used the downtime to refurbish the cafe. Opened daily until 2 p.m. I can’t wait for the shop to get back into full swing, because most of my copy here is brewed there.
Simon’s Coffee Shop (1736 Massachusetts Ave., Neighborhood 9 near Porter Square)
This family-owned Mexican cantina and tequila bar has served the Tufts community and other thirsty (and hungry) sorts since 1982, and continues to be open for takeout. I discovered Rudy’s early on via a dinner date and then again through my cousin, who lived nearby and loved the vegetarian dinner plates (No. 2 and 3). The thing to know about Rudy’s, however, is its rich, cilantro-heavy salsa, smooth and clean but also chunky and with the right bite of heat. The chips are never greasy, but large and crisp, and don’t break when you rake them through the silky and sublime guac or that unforgettable salsa, with its rib-hugging quality. You can get Rudy’s classic margarita mix too – it’s a juice, not a powder; make sure you have some next-shelf-up tequila and fresh limes for it. The combo plates we ordered for takeout recently were as good as onsite, though the guac taco in the crisp corn shell was mushy from sitting too close to the bean mini burrito and cheese enchilada. Rudy’s takes care to line takeout containers with foil, so next time I would ask that they wrap the taco in foil too. I usually try to sub out the bean burrito for the enchilada verde, but my request on the online order form went unheeded this time. (You can call in your orders too, which is what I will do next time.) Sub black beans for the Mexican rice that comes with most of the dinner plate entrees.
Rudy’s (248 Holland St., Teele Square, Somerville)
Since Whole Foods was taken over by Amazon, the fish quality dropped and I’ve returned to this local staple. (Also to Courthouse Seafood and Alive & Kicking Lobsters.) The Fishmonger, serving since 1979, is small and quaint, with plenty of prepared foods to pick from, including seafood accented salads, soups and hors d’oeuvres; best are the sole and monkfish, which are always so pure and clean all you need is lemon, white wine and capers or a cajun seasoning to prepare. I also occasionally grab a few precooked lobster tails to sauté lightly in butter (what else?) and serve on a bed of wilted spinach done in a wok with olive oil, fresh garlic and a trace of lemon. Cheryl Williams, owner since 1991, has had the store open during the lockdown. She says the supply is strong and there’s near contactless exchange at the store, including card processing. Only one person is allowed in the store at a time, but you can call in orders and leave a card on file.
The Fish Monger (252 Huron Ave., Huron Village in West Cambridge)
Whole Foods Market
Two things you can get with confidence from this Amazon-owned retailer’s fish counter: the hot, house-smoked salmon steaks and Christopher’s crabcakes. Since the shutdown, it seems you can get the smoked salmon only at this location. Stick with the classic, traditionally smoked version – the flavored ones (maple, teriyaki, etc.) detract from the salmon’s natural flavor and (healthy) oily goodness. The crabcakes (not sure if the name is a nod to the restaurant in Porter Square; all the counter servers I have asked have no idea of the name’s origin) are loaded with generous chunks of crab meat and very little filler, unlike most cakes, which are heavy on the bread. They fry up in the pan in just minutes and make a great appetizer or centerpiece of a light meal. No need for sauce, really. Perhaps a tiny squirt of lemon.
Whole Foods Market (45 Beacon St., Ward Two, Somerville near Inman Square)
Your basic pan-Indian fare, served with reliable quality. The naans are quite good – the garlic and mozzarella are my favorites of these breads – and sealed in foil to stay soft and warm for when they get to your table. Each order is just one piece of naan, so buy accordingly. The comfort I go to Nirvana for is a silky chicken saagwala, with just a bit of spicy zing, and the creamy chicken korma. The moist but not mushy basmati rice has staying power, and these dishes hold up well as leftovers. Nirvana also serves dosas (crepes with savory fillings) and beer and wine.
Nirvana (1680 Massachusetts Ave., Neighborhood 9)