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January 25, 2010

Peach Farm

Spicy Salted Shrimp Dominic Armato

Back to Boston for a little more of the backlog!

Cambodian is one of the cuisines that is most new and interesting to me, and Peach Farm doesn't serve it. But there's a logical connection here, I promise. When the possibility of our move to Phoenix arose and we thought it would occur in the spring, my chow pals in Boston informed me that we'd better get working if we were going to hit the stuff I needed to hit before skipping town. Then, when our move was suddenly accelerated and we had just a few weeks to get ready, it simply became a question of where we'd get together for my last taste of Boston with the food nerds. Since I'd been hitting the lobster pretty hard, it was decided that we'd do Cambodian, an area where Boston's apparently pretty strong.

Peking DuckDominic Armato

So on a rainy winter night, we all converged upon Floating Rock, only to discover that the beloved little family-run Cambodian joint had been booked for a private party that night. Regrouping in a dive-y but incredibly friendly neighborhood bar to dry off and warm up (the latter by means of liquid fortification), talk turned to an alternate plan. Amy, a fellow food nerd who I'm sad to have not had the opportunity to spend more time with, declared that if this would be my last dinner out in Boston -- a strong possibility at that point -- our destination was a foregone conclusion, especially considering my affinity for Cantonese seafood. We'd hit Peach Farm, one of the crown jewels of Boston's Chinatown. And so it would be that my last dinnertime taste of Boston seafood would be of the less-than-traditional variety. And this was just fine with me.

Duck Stir FryDominic Armato

Peach Farm is tucked away, quite literally, in a basement space on Tyler street, accessible only via a steep, narrow staircase, and it's in this basement -- perfectly well-appointed for a casual Chinatown joint -- that pretty much all of the standards of Cantonese seafood are available. And since the suggestion was Amy's, I sat back and put myself in her hands. We got off to an absolutely stellar start. The spicy salted shrimp are swimming just minutes before they hit your table, and it shows. Tiny whole shrimp, fried hot and crispy with scallions, fresh jalapeno and an abundance of salt, they fulfilled the promise of so many similar dishes. Shell, head and all is, as far as I'm concerned, the most enjoyable way to eat a shrimp, but getting that shell crisp requires an incredible amount of heat. Most places get 90% of the way there, making it edible but a little tough. Not so here, where they were fried to a perfectly light and crispy consistency. Little bite-sized morsels, it's easy for a small crowd to tear through an enormous plate of them very quickly. I've had their equal in China, but I don't believe I've seen them done better. They almost made my Deliciousness of 2009. They probably should have.

Salt & Pepper Squid and PorkDominic Armato

Even though it's not exactly Cantonese, we couldn't pass on the Peking Duck. Amy momentarily expressed reservation at the prospect of straying from Peach Farm's core mission, but I assured her I had no hang-ups about thematic unity. 'Sides which, it had been a very long time since I'd had a good Peking Duck. That Peach Farm does it very, very well was not a surprise, given the quality of our first dish. That they did so without any advance notice was. Peach Farm does it as a two-course affair, first sending out the skin with pancakes and the usual accoutrement. Here, they're definitely on the minimal size. The skin is almost completely unadorned by any bits of meat, which suits me just fine. It's a great iteration, lacquered to a beautiful golden brown, and though perhaps not quite as glistening with juicy duck fat as I prefer, it's exceptionally crisp and delicious, and you'd be hard-pressed to find a better version at a place that doesn't specialize in the dish. And even at many that do, frankly. Stage Two of the Peking Duck was a simple stir fry of the shredded meat with bean sprouts, woodear mushrooms and the other usual suspects. It was a fresh and tasty treatment of the remaining duck meat, even if it wasn't quite up to the exceptional standards set by the previous courses. I've no complaints whatsoever, it just wasn't a standout dish.

Clams with VermicelliDominic Armato

It could be argued that our next dish was somewhat redundant, but I had a hard time complaining. We attacked a plate of fried salt and pepper squid and pork, executed with precision. Both had just enough chew to play hard-to-get while remaining alluring, and the intensity of the flavor on the pork was great. Our only disappointment of the night was the closing number, enormous clams that had been given the classic vermicelli and garlic treatment. Boston, of course, does big clams well, and while I'm accustomed to getting smaller varieties in China, I liked that the macro version served as a reminder that clams are not beasts of uniform consistency. They'd been diced for ease of consumption, and you could really get a sense of the differing textures and flavors of the individual parts in a way that isn't possible with a smaller clam. Sadly, the dish was otherwise lacking. My compatriots thought they suffered from noodle overkill, symptomatic, we suspected, of the fact that they were short the number we'd wished to order and had perhaps tried to compensate by piling on the toppings so there'd be enough for everybody (this was not an issue -- these things are huge). Rather, I thought the issue was one of flavor. I found them light on both the garlic and the oil to carry its essence. I'm used to this being a big, bright wow dish, and this version was simply flat.

But our final dish aside, this was an excellent meal and one I'm sad to no longer have available to me. And the same goes for the company. It's always frustrating feeling like you're just discovering things as you're permanently skipping town, and the sentiment applies here on both counts. I should've had many more meals at Peach Farm, and even more importantly, I should've had many more meals with the good folks with whom I shared the table. Thanks for the wonderful sendoff, guys!

Peach Farm
4 Tyler Street
Boston, MA 02111
617-482-1116
Mon - Sun11:00 AM - 3:00 AM

Comments

Am I reading you correctly, that the way to eat those shrimp is with the shell still on? I had no idea.

I'll have to give Peach Farm another shot; my last time there was good and cheap, but not too memorable.

Jonah... shell on, head to tail. It always kills me to see people peeling them or removing the heads :-)

In the right hands, they're fabulous. The shells get light and crisp. If they aren't fried hot enough, they can be tough and difficult to chew. But these were right on the mark, and that's absolutely how they're meant to be eaten.

Incidentally, if you can believe it, I saw the same treatment applied to lobster shells in China. And that's without the meat. The shells were the dish. And they were pretty darn good.

You never made it to the Elephant Walk? The original opened when I moved to Boston in 1991 & I was there as soon as I found it.

I quite possibly missed something with a broken laptop for 2+ months at the end of last year.

I'm a Cambodian food fan, having had a Cambodian boyfriend who could REALLY cook 20+ yrs. ago (Tokyo). And yes, north of Boston, there's a strong immigrant community.

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