AUTHOR: Julia TITLE: My Ten Favorite Dishes: #2 - Faux Virtue at the Shack DATE: 5/19/2008 11:25:00 AM ----- BODY:
Jasper White garnered his acclaim during his years at his eponymous, white-tablecloth restaurant in the North End. Imagine everyone’s surprise when he shuttered the doors to work at the chain Legal’s Seafood, and then a clam shack!

The original Summer Shack is located at Alewife...a sprawling restaurant that, unfortunately, does not resemble a shack. Nor does it feel like summer with little natural light flowing in from the small windows. But what it lacks in décor, it makes up for in the food experience. Food is indeed love here.

One of the first things I notice when I walk in is the guy standing in the walk-in cooler (with a window so I can see him and he can see me) shucking clams. These clams don’t come from a gallon tub whose provenience is unknown; they come from fresh clams. In the open kitchen, a cook is cutting corn kernels off the cob for the fritters. As a person who opts to make fresh pasta for an idle Tuesday dinner because it’s not that time-consuming, I appreciate these extra touches for the sake of quality. The fried clams burst with sweet-brine, slightly chewy but mostly tender. The bellies, which can be a turn-off for the novice clam-eater, are subtle if even discernible.

But what keeps me coming back time after time is the Vegetable Platter: a mélange of faux virtue that allows me to order the clams and feel that I’m actually eating healthy. I’ve studied enough nutrition to know that a salad has little nutritional value and lots of fat since we make it taste good with dressing. Vegetables, on the other hand, are loaded with vitamins, minerals and fiber. And that Jasper makes them taste good…

Brown Rice, Seared mushrooms and Corn on the Cob regularly star on the plate. The rice is firm and chewy with a richness that only butter can offer. The mushrooms are seared so hard that they are crispy and caramelized brown with a nuance of roasted garlic. The corn, despite the season, manages to be crisp and sweet. To color the plate, other vegetables appear depending on the season. In the winter, broccoli raab is sautéed with garlic and chilies and glisten of olive oil, in the summer, squash is bathed in fresh tomatoes, in spring it’s asparagus roasted with parmesan. And in fall butternut squash with a hint of sage and honey. Though, you can never be sure what you’ll get since the kitchen takes advantage of what’s at peak seasonally. No matter what’s on the plate, each vegetable has its own treatment that showcases its particular virtue. And the abundance and variety make it the perfect dish to share with the table.

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