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MAINE EVENT: PAGU MAKES A SUPER FINE LOBSTER ROLL

PAGU black lobster roll. Photo by Jason Pramas.
Photo by Jason Pramas

 

October 18, 2018

BY JASON PRAMAS @JASONPRAMAS

 

People all over the US labor under many misapprehensions about the Boston area—to the extent they think about us at all. One of the worst of these is the idea that lobster rolls are a local delicacy. Or that Bostonians eat them all the time. Or that we have lots of joints that specialize in their production.

 

This is not, of course, the case. It’s certainly true that lobster rolls are a regional speciality, found all over New England. But they’re really a Maine thing. So, it’s not particularly easy to find a really good lobster roll in or around the Hub. Not to say that there aren’t several places that do a nice job with the old standby and a few spots that even specialize in it.

 

So it was with some surprise that I found a great lobster roll at PAGU—a fairly upscale Cambridge establishment at which I recently chose to celebrate a special occasion.

 

Because, heretofore, I’ve been something of a purist when it comes to the crustacean creation in question. The roll has to be a split-top hot dog roll. White bread, naturally. I allow for either of the two traditional condiments: melted butter or mayonnaise. But nothing else. And the lobster itself has to be as fresh as possible. Having had rolls featuring lobster that had literally just come off a boat, I can’t accept frozen product or meat more than a day out of the ocean. It should be lightly boiled or steamed by an expert hand so it has that all-important snap when you bite into it. If it’s chewy at all, it’s not going to make a good roll.

 

I had already heard about PAGU’s version long since. It, and chef owner Tracy Chang, have hardly lacked for write-ups. Which is why I knew it was notable for its black roll. And figured, “What the heck, I might as well try it.” Very glad I did. It was super fine. The roll was made with squid ink and sake, and just tasted like really light savory bread—which it was. Instead of mayo or butter, the lobster was dressed with pear, avocado, and an unusual soy aioli. Giving it a really bright flavor without adding unnecessary and distracting acidity. And the meat had that perfect snap.

 

Some might consider the portion small for the $23 PAGU was charging the day of my visit. But I think of the eatery’s offering as a more traditional-sized roll. Like the ones I very occasionally got to enjoy on trips to the Pine Tree State in my childhood. Before the fad for “overstuffed” sandwiches took hold. With the house-made chips it’s served with, it’s solid light supper for the average person. I certainly didn’t feel ripped off, or that I was in need of more lobster when I was finished. And its price point is comparable to other rolls around town. So check it out some evening soon. Sit at the bar, as I did—obviating the need for a reservation—order a roll, let friendly and knowledgeable mixologists like Andy and Veronica take care of your libations, and reflect that the old ways of doing things are not forever the best ways.

 

PAGU. 310 MASS. AVE., CAMBRIDGE. GOPAGU.COM.

CARAMEL’S CARAMEL

Caramel at Caramel French Patisserie. Photo by Jason Pramas. Copyright 2018 Jason Pramas.
Caramel at Caramel French Patisserie. Photo by Jason Pramas. Copyright 2018 Jason Pramas.

 

A taste of the new French bakery cafe’s gateway dessert

 

March 21, 2018

BY JASON PRAMAS @JASONPRAMAS

 

The Boston area has been in the midst of a bit of a bakery renaissance in recent years. The growth of small upscale cafe chains like Flour and Tatte is testament to Hub dwellers’ love of sweets, and we don’t seem to have hit the “peak pastry” threshold yet.

 

Which is lucky because if there wasn’t room for more artisanal confections, then French chef Dimitri Vallier and his business manager sister, Sophie, would never have launched Caramel French Patisserie in downtown Salem in 2015, and at a second location in Davis Square, Somerville, last year.

 

And that would be a shame… because their baked goods and pastries blow every similar place in our region completely out of the water.

 

I mean, seriously, I spent the better part of a month in Paris in 2010. And I ate at over a dozen different bakeries there—all highly rated by locals—and Caramel is better than most of those. I’m no expert. But I’ve eaten lots of stuff at pretty much every noted Boston bakery, and I’ve never been to a place where, like the best Parisian bakeries, literally everything is delicious.

 

Visitors will need several visits to eat a representative sample of the array of croissants, tarts, macarons, and assorted fancy pastries on hand, but I recommend starting with their signature dessert first time out: the eponymous Caramel. It’s one of those creations that sounds simple enough when you read the ingredients but has clearly taken real mastery to perfect.

 

Delicate caramel mousse enrobing perfectly poached pear slices. The sweetness of the mousse cut by the freshness of the chilled pear. Presented in an artful shape and served cold. It’s a must try.

 

CARAMEL FRENCH PATISSERIE. 235 ELM ST., DAVIS SQUARE, SOMERVILLE;  ALSO 281 ESSEX ST., SALEM. CHECK THEM OUT ON FACEBOOK AND INSTAGRAM. WEBSITE COMING SOON AT CARAMELPATISSERIE.COM.