Mei Mei - The Force Be With You...

The Menu at Mei Mei Street Kitchen. Rarely has a sandwich been more accurately named... 

It's somewhat inevitable that, come December 31, you find yourself looking back over the highs (and lows) of the year. And it's similarly inevitable that this first blogpost of the year (insert own irregular gag here) will: a) focus on the best things consumed in 2013; and b) come across as monumentally smug even by my own high standards. 

In short, 2013 was quite a year. Professionally, it was a year of real progress. I wrote two books for The Bluffer's Guides people (The Bluffer's Guide to Chocolate is published February 2014, and The Bluffer's Guide to Food is due April 2014), and also started contributing "gourmet destination guides" to Escapism Magazine, a new national travel magazine: my first piece for them - on Seattle - appeared in November. 

Because of the books, I vowed that this year wouldn't be such a big one for travel... and, yes, I was only fooling myself. As well as Seattle, I went to Beijing to drive the new Bentley (which was, er, interesting as the euphemism has it), Singapore, squeezed in a weekend in Amsterdam, hit Texas (yes, again) for more BBQ research (and that feature is coming, really it is), had a week in St Lucia at two of the most remarkable hotels I've ever stayed in and, in October / November, spent the best part of two weeks eating my way through Boston and Washington DC. And many days in the gym since attempting to get back into the six shirts I bought in Austin... 

The basically unforgettable Craig Jones
The highlights then are too numerous (and way too smug) to mention in detail. I have particularly fond memories of a morning spent with Craig Jones, the white, Welsh, Rastafarian, power-lifting chef at Cap Maison in St Lucia (if ever a man was memorable...), pottering around the remarkable Castries Market and then cooking jerk lobster in my, ahem, villa. 

Jerk Lobster. Oh yes. 

Singapore was incredible and, while the World Street Food Congress was to world street food what the World Series is to international baseball, much of the food consumed was terrific and the company - in the form of Richard Johnson and Ed Smith and two fabulous French ladies - was always thoroughly enjoyable. I'm writing that one up for Escapism shortly but I'll be pushed to do better than Ed who blogged about the week brilliantly over at Rocket & Squash. DC's thriving food scene is also worthy of note - for example, the formerly best avoided 14th Street has seen 25 restaurants open and mostly succeed in the last 18 months. One of these, Kapnos, is certainly in my top three for the year. Hell, any restaurant where the first thing you see as you walk in is a row of spits slowly roasting lambs, goats and pork shoulders is always going to get my vote.
THAT Sticky Bun, c/o Flour in Boston. 
A small selection - cough - from the raw bar at Finz, Salem

But the place that really stole my heart in 2013? Boston... and the surrounding area. I'd explored the East Coast a little last year for MSN, but was very aware I'd barely scratched the surface. That's probably still the case as there are many places and towns on my list that I didn't reach (and Portland Maine you're top of that list) but, as my waistline and straining shirts can testify, my research was thorough. It was a trip full of great highlights - Joanne Chang's sticky buns at Flour, the cosy joys of Union Oyster House, the impeccable raw bar at Finz in Salem, a brilliant Seven Deadly Sins menu on Halloween at Barbara Lynch's small-but-perfectly-formed Stir to name but a few - but two places stand out above the rest. 
The dining room / school / table at Stir. 
"Envy" at Stir's Seven Deadly Sins meal. Why envy? Every diner had a different variety or style of egg. 

The Double Awesome. Oh my. 
Mei Mei Street Kitchen is a Boston foodtruck owned and run by three siblings (and the story is told in much better detail here). In November - and I was fortunate enough to be there for the soft opening - they launched Mei Mei the restaurant, offering the street food menu at lunch time and a few more options for dinner. Their philosophy is sound, sustainable and locally sourced. More importantly, the food is superb, a delicious, hearty and healthy take on American Chinese food and ingredients and, in the form of the Double Awesome, one of the finest (and most accurately named) sandwiches I've ever consumed. Seriously, every time I see these guys Tweet about today's location for the truck, I find myself craving one. On paper it seems so simple - a pesto made from local greens, Vermont Cheddar and a poached-then-fried egg served in a spring onion pancake. In the mouth, it's like every comforting dish you've ever had, rolled into one, and made, well, doubly awesome by the presence of the crispy-but-oh-so-soft egg oozing warm yolk into the melting cheese and vibrant greens. Christ, I'm drooling just thinking about it.

The Fat Schantz
In retrospect, some of the other dishes are just as good, if not better. There's not a wintery day that a pot of 24 Carrot Soup couldn't improve (the garnish of house pickles, local sea-brined feta and crispy garlic panko is genius) while the Fat Schantz - roast beef, potato salad, sliced apple, cranberry hoisin sauce and greens on another one of those pancakes - is every bit as glorious as it sounds. But my heart will always belong to the Double Awesome. 

The 24 Carrot Soup. 
As for the best meal of 2013? Twitter followers may have already worked it out (I've gone on about it enough) but I think I'll leave that to another day partly so I can come up with a better pun / Boston reference for the title but mostly because the Double Awesome deserves its own post. Mei Mei, I salute you. And if you do find a way to ship Double Awsomes to London, well, you know where to find me... 


Anonymous said…
Great Article fella ...its good to see a dedication to food testing for the benefit of us all... No finer a man than thou dear chap.. never trust a slender chef nor a slender food writer
Have a wicked 2014... hopefully the gym will get you in trim for another bout of food testing ...
Kavey said…
I has a little bit of the envy, but mostly really pleased for you that you've had such a great year, both in terms of some great writing commissions and some fabulous travel. Now, if 2014 can be the year of clients paying up promptly, you'll have it totally nailed!

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