seeking the SF/Ten Tables/Central Kitchen paradigm--the neighborhood place you'd take the T to
I've been away from San Francisco for more time than I like to think about, but there are still various things I miss from there, including several chow-related things. One such thing is the large number of small-ish places that emphasize fresh and creative cuisine-y food, but where a tie would be out of place, and where the waiters would probably be wearing t-shirts when they tell you about the wine. (Any other SF exiles remember Val 21 in its great days?)
Oleana is a bit bigger than most such places, but it _feels_ similar; Ten Tables seems like (in my one visit there) very much an SF-style kind of place--a place that both feels like a neighborhood place in a diverse neighborhood, and also serves food that can beat larger and fancier places. (I had the vegetarian tasting menu which I thought was adventurous and often great, and a member of the evening's chowteam gave me tastes of some of his bluefish which is really a standout.)
Central Kitchen is another place that has had this feeling to it, and though it's fallen a bit out of favor with my chowteam lately (another topic entirely), at its best it feels like a neighborhood place you might drive or take the T from somewhere else to go. You could get a 20 dollar entree there and an expensive bottle of wine, but you could also get a bowl of mussels and fries and a pint of beer and feel just as welcome.
All these places are places where lots of people have come there by walking a few blocks, and many others have come from across the river. (Admittedly, Oleana is a little more elsewhere > locals because of its size and reputation in the summer especially, but still.) Maybe another way to put it is that all of these places can be both a special occasion place (any of the ones I've listed would be suitable for a couple's birthday dinner), and also (Central Kitchen might be the best example of this) a "tonight is a special occasion because we say it is" kind of place.
So--these are three often-mentioned places on Chowhound--what are the others that have this feeling? (And if there is some restaurant-industry way of describing this kind of place, I will cover my eyes and then peek out between my fingers to read the phrase.)
thanks for any tips...
A random & select list:
Strangely, the North End's 2 best non-Italian places both have this sort of vibe--Neptune Oyster and North Street Grille (Disclaimer on latter: I'm one of those folks who's never experienced the weird grease-funk or smoke-smell or whatever it is others talk about.)
South Enders can say whether they'd agree with me that Anchovies, delux and the Dish all fit the bill, but I personally think the Dish is a little cutie. And of course there's the Franklin, however overhyped.
In Cambridge, there's River Gods and West Side Lounge...
On Beacon Hill, the Paramount, though I've only been for dinner, which is so-so; it's their breakfast/brunch that's famous.
In Brookline, The Publick House and...well, Village Fish used to but that's been on a downhill alert for awhile, unless anyone has a recent update?
Can't say for sure about Village Fish, but it was jumping on Saturday night, as was Pomodoro -
I would add Matt Murphy's to the list - ultra-casual but has some surprisingly good chow - not really avant garde cuisine but really good all the same.
Might also through B-Side Lounge in for the Cambridge equivalent.
How about Gargoyle's in Davis Square?
Ultimately, it's going to be hard to find that laid-back attitude that you'd find in SF.
Bob Dobalina gives a favorable mention to Matt Murphy's but I have to say that although I used to be a **big** fan, I'll never go there again. The bar is gone -- replaced by a divider which looks much like the side of a Home Depot shed. What is a pub without a bar?? And now, the service was RUDE. I had ordered a fish soup which was listed about halfway down the menu in with what could only be considered an entree, at a price which suggested it would be a meal. It came and honestly it was uninteresting and only about less than 1" deep, with a couple of small clams and that was about it. Hardly a meal. I mentioned it to the waiter who told me it was soup, not a meal (I already knew that by then!) and then paid me back by not filling my water glass again... Well that sure taught me!
I too am a native San Franciscan and have often lamented the lack of what I call good "neighborhood places" in Boston. Have been here 17 years (I get back to San Francisco 3-4 times a year) and quickly jump when someone mentions a non- big name resturant. For some reason here in Boston they pop up from time to time, but don't stay long. I like quite a few places in the South End, but if you don't live there (I don't) its a bit of an ordeal. One of my favorites has been Tremont 647, I liked the Butcher Shop, but have only been once, Sorriso in the Leather district, Masona Grill in West Roxbury (although the recent Boston Globe review has made it way too busy) CK Shanghai in Wellesley for Chinese, I like Oleana, East Coast Grill (this was one of my first favorites when I got here) , Lineage in Brookline has potential, I have been 3 times and liked it. A little more upscale - more like Oleana - is lumiere in West Newton, might want to try it before it moves, right down the street for very casual is Blue Ribbon BBQ. I like the Blue Room in Kendall Square, food is good and not too hard to get into, I have a soft spot for the Elephant Walk (first time I went they were about 6 months old and someone gave me gift certifcates they had gotten for barter). Have you tried Tuscan Grill in Waltham? very North Beach like, great food too. And on a pricier note La Campania also in Waltham, Bukhara for Indian food in Jamaica Plain and the Centre Street Cafe, Cafe D - which used to be Arbor ( I liked Arbor, but alas), James Gate (don't go for the food, but the bar is fun and very local. Sorry this is so long, I was used to going out 5 or so times a week in SF, something not easy to do here. Let me know if you find some other SF like neighborhood places here., I am going to SF in November and trying some new places, will post what I find out. By the way, as was true in San Francisco, the places where you become a regular - well makes all the difference.
Chez Henri isn't that small, but might otherwise fit what you're looking for.
Cafe Baraka won't have waiters in t-shirt talking about wine, since they don't serve alcohol, but is otherwise chowy.
Perhaps the Franklin? (I've always thought of it as a poor man's version of Delfina.)
I really like The Independent in Union Sq. Somerville. They have a good bar/decent bar menu (though smallish, and I wish the salads were more exciting to me) when you are feeling more casual, and the restaurant is comfortable, and very nice too look at. I've been consistently happy with the food, and the service has been great every time I've been there.