What he’s having: Lockdown dining options from lobster and tater tots to Volcano Tofu
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.
Alive & Kicking Lobster
The motto “When is a lobster roll not a roll? When it’s Alive and Kicking” might be a head scratcher for those not in the know, but it’s a well earned revelation for anyone who’s had A&L’s lobster sandwich: generous chunks of succulent lobster tossed lightly with mayonnaise between two pieces of airy sourdough toast, and nothing else. Normally during this time of year tourist buses swarm the small seafood outpost on Putnam Avenue near the Riverside Whole Foods, but now all you have to do is call and swing by to get these highly sought lobster sandos – a true game changer. Alive & Kicking also has a lobster pound should you want to do your own whole lobs, and fresh scallops and daily catches as well.
Alive & Kicking Lobster (269 Putnam Ave., Riverside)
House of Chang
Before the shutdown, this was my comfort spot for dim sum – hot juicy soup dumplings, steamed sticky rice in lotus leaves and congee rice porridge – but it’s the tofu offerings that have me coming for takeout, specifiably the Family-Style Spicy Tofu and Black Peppered Tofu. The latter (found under “specialties”) is a revelation, with its delicately fried silken slabs of tofu in a slightly spicy black pepper sauce perfect on a bed of stir fried broccoli. If the Family-Style isn’t hot enough for you, House of Chang has Volcano Tofu (under “authentic Chinese specialties”) with a “secret blend of spices.” As a fan of all thing ginger, my interest is piqued also by the basil- and ginger-sautéed tofu.
House of Chang (282 Concord Ave., Observatory Hill in West Cambridge)
The classic Harvard/Lesley pub is back – with limited fare, but at least it’s back. The classic angus burger and boneless Buffalo chicken wings are all there, but the winner that I don’t recall from the regular Cambridge Common menu is the Grilled Chicken, Bacon & Avocado Sandwich with applewood smoked bacon, perfectly melted cheddar cheese and chipotle aioli on a bulkie roll. The thing missing from the menu is kids’ selections, but there are orders of mac and cheese, chicken fingers and the tummy-warming tater tots. Order and pay online, and pick up the food waiting for you on a table in the foyer the separates the restaurant from the Lizard Lounge nightclub. The food is packed well for warmth and travel. One thing that might raise an eyebrow: inclusion of a brownie sundae. But it’s just the brownie and sauce; you provide the ice cream. Beer and wine available too.
Cambridge Common (1667 Massachusetts Ave., Agassiz between Harvard and Porter squares)
I was super disappointed when the old Pho House shut down a year ago. What I thought was a much needed remodeling was in fact a rebranding into something new and more ambitious by the owner. Gone was the old go-to for a bowl of soul-warming pho ga (Vietnamese chicken noodle soup) and fresh spring rolls; what replaced it was a spartan eatery with excitingly unique and fresh gourmet Thai fare. Fortunately, the appetizer items that cemented Chalawan as a destination are on the takeout menu: a seared Alaskan scallop, complemented by green nahm jim, ginger, scallion, shallot and caramelized crispy duck; and a crispy chicken skin with eggplant relish. From the entrées, my go-to has always been the savory Black Pepper Chicken with its medley of vegetable and traces of ginger and chili, but I’ve had my eye on the Stirfry Snapper and Crispy Fish (turmeric, chili, lime and pineapple – yum!). Keep in mind when ordering that most dishes require rice (and Chalawan’s rice is pretty great), but it doesn’t comes as part of an order; you need to add it à la carte. Asian beers and a great wine list are available too.
Chalawan (1790 Massachusetts Ave., Neighborhood 9 near Porter Square)
Yes I wrote before about Gran Gusto, but had to check back in on its ’O Re (Italian for ’O King) pizza. And I’m more than happy I did, with its sweet dollops of fresh mozzarella di bufala, pate of truffles and super lean prosciutto, drizzled with truffle oil and wood fired in a classic open brick oven. It’s addictive, with dough that’s sweet, soft and delectable but thin enough that your taste buds remain focused on the main event. Best to be there waiting for your pickup, as these pies are extra satiating hot out of the oven.
Gran Gusto (90 Sherman St., across from Danehy Park in Neighborhood 9)