Boston

Via Matta 4Via Matta's got location and style as it dazzles regional flavors of Tuscany. Sitting on prime real estate in Back Bay, Boston, Chef Michael Schlow dishes Italian with flair and a sense of humor. Know what "matta" means? It means "joker." Via Matta is "joker's way" in Italian and I wonder about it but no one's saying, at least not to me. It's nice, not taking yourself too seriously. I mean, his Facebook page says he plays with food for a living.

Schlow gets interviewed a lot. He was on the radio last week and of course, he brings food to the hosts. As you would expect, doughnuts make the guys happy. On his website, he lists places he likes to eat, not just in Boston. I see that he and I agree on the local places. As well, he posts recipes with pictures that make you want to run right over to Via Matta. I ate this calamari as soon as Julie snapped it. (See recipe below.)

It's capered and you taste the squid in its peppery red sauce; no breading. So relieved that it comes with not a single lima bean. For his kitchen mood, Schlow has a list of tunes he likes to cook by. I can picture him on an endless loop of "Grazing in the Grass," "Walking to New Orleans," and "Baby, I'm Yours" leaning over the grill putting together our meal. Well, maybe not him, but still. What are they playing now and have they moved on to Graham Parker's 1976 "Between You and Me" and Cressy St Breakdown's "Cookin' on Three Burners."

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tremontpatio-diningWe wait all year for summer in New England. Sometimes I think we'd eat anything if you give it to us on a patio with a couple of drinks. No, but we can report it's cooling off for evening forays to places we missed earlier. Here's the plan: we're sitting out until it snows. Tonight, we're on the patio at Tremont 647 with 20 other lucky people and it doesn't get much better than this.

In another lifetime, I met owner Andy Husbands when he was putting together his hip New American space in 1996. And here he is, still holding the corner at West Brookline Street to the good fortune of his South End neighbors. It's prime for food and for people watching.

You have your usual Tremont characters thankfully hanging several doors down, dogs, a smooching couple, baseball caps, shorts on people who were never meant to wear them, more dogs and a ton of guys having a good ole time at the bar. I wish I could drink. When I walk back to see the grill, there's not a plate of anything resembling food on the bar, just glasses. Eat something already.

Lan and I open with Pimms cocktails. Our starters are two ice cold lobster tacos, the crispy shell kind and they're a special - sitting on a tiny mustard green salad - all for five bucks. (They do taco Tuesdays featuring six styles, of which this is not one, and more about this later.)

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escalamariThese guys are pros at brasserie: noisy, friendly, and day or night, busy. If you're upstairs at Boston's Hotel Commonwealth, nix room service and come on down when breakfast rolls at 7 with granola, fruit, oatmeal, bagel and lox, home fries, eggs any way and French toast with berries and bacon. Lunch takes over at 11:30. After 2:30, the raw bar is in full swing and if you're in the mood for salads, sandwiches, a burger, meat balls, mussels, or steak, it's all there smack in the middle of the afternoon.

Fried calamari appetizer is my personal taste test. Eastern Standard's is lightly breaded with a side of lemon aïoli, never messed with peppers, tomato sauce, garlic or peanuts. Of all the fried calamari I've had, this is five-star. It pairs with their Bibb salad and of course they're able to find perfect heads I rarely see in the best markets.

Dilusha is the best orderer. She chose Faroe Island salmon and there were dueling forks over the bean salad. In November, Julie started with mushroom soup that came with brioche croutons and lucky for me, two spoons. She complemented her moules provençal with Kiralyudvar Tokaji Furmint Sec (KEE-rye-oohd-var), a white Hungarian grape. Our waiter also poured tastes of Hirsch Grüner Veltliner that she loved. Other by the glasses: Cristalino Brut Cava, Wimmer Czerny Blanc de Noirs, Nicolas Cole Merlot-Cabernet, and Henri Milan Grenache-Syrah.

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zasaladWe've had lunches up and down Third Street and we like eating outside. Le bébé is now a contributing eater and she gives Za her approval for whatever she got her hands on which was everything on the table. We agree.

Za's parent is EVOO, right next door. We sat outside for pizza and salad. Listen to this: tomatoes, cucumbers, kalamata olives, radish, feta, and oregano all on a bed of, are you ready, mashed potato. Who ever thought potatoes would outdo crutons; well, it's here and so full we nixed the dressing. Le bébé ate the olives and cucumbers; at this time of year, we agree.

Dilee created our pan pizza (not flat and not quite deep-dish) with bacon and carmelized onion and the 10" splits nicely for two ($10). You can have Black Forest ham, homemade sausage, picked hot peppers, onions, garlic, green pepper, anchovies, chorizo, potabellos and chicken on yours. Mac 'n' cheese pizza fans can roll in it with cream sauce and four cheeses (9.50).

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butcher 3The Butcher Shop is a South End mecca for meat. It's part of Barbara Lynch's restaurant group that takes in B&G Oysters which is right across the street. This is a wine bar and a full-service butcher shop with beef, game, poultry, sausages and hot dogs along with prepared dishes from the kitchen. Butchers are hacking away and we see Monday is the day to stop in if you're a vendor. It's busy and so cold you could hang meat in here.

We're partial to places that cook better than we can and make things we never do and it is a long list. Why have out what you can make at home? The menu designates lunch by the month so today you can have antipasti, charcuterie, terrines, cheeses, and lots of Italian meats but no fish or salad so be meat happy.

TBS burger, with the onions but without the Cheddar, is good. . . and $18. As New York goes, so goes the nation, I guess. It's medium rare on a sesame seed bun with a pickle hat and a green salad, which isn't mentioned on the menu.

I'm grateful since something's got to duel the house-cured bacon or maybe I need to move in to this house. The bartender's cute asking: "Do you need ketchup?" and I say, "I better not." We laugh and we're hoping I'm right and I am: so rich when it's straight from the butcher.

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