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Graduation Dinner

Probably jumping the gun, but like a true CH, the meals are the most important part of the trip!

We'll be in Boston/Cambridge for my sister's graduation in June...as will thousands of other families I'm sure. Looking to you for some recommendations on restaurants.

Most of us will not have spent much time in Boston, so everything will be new to us. And those who live in Beantown are college students, so outside of pizza, things will also be new to them. Would like to dine at THE Boston establishments...the places you'd recommend to people visiting for the first time. We'll have 8 in our party and we do love to laugh, so nothing too romantic or quiet in atmosphere. Price is not a concern, however, we don't need to go to the most expensive restaurant if they don't have the most wonderful food to go with it. Upscale is great, but the meal should not = tuition for the year.

Cuisine, we're well travelled and from the west coast, so from what I read, places like Ming's Blue Ginger won't appeal. If it's ethnic cuisine it should be very authentic or a well executed variation on a theme. Otherwise, we eat everything. Dad likes Italian and French. Brother in law loves Asian (any Asian, really). Mom loves seafood. We can all generally eat happily with any type of cuisine. Except maybe Scottish--haven't quite learned to stomach haggis yet.

Thanks in advance for your help.

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  1. mare and mama maria in the north end. l'espalier for very fancy. troquet and pigalle in the theater district. mistral and sorrelina for modern mediterranean. locke-ober is downtown for classic old-school boston. in harvard square, rialto is renovating and will be sparkly new. clio is very good, but a disaster on those weekends.

    you don't mention if there are small kids in the party...

    btw, you are not jumping the gun. literally tens of thousands of people come to this area on those graduation weekends. make reservations NOW.

    1 Reply
    1. re: hotoynoodle

      hotoynoodle, thanks for the recs. No small kids in the party. My sister (the graduate) will be the youngest.

    2. I'm a North Ender, so here are my Italian recs:

      Terramia (small, charming, fun, delicious)
      Mamma Maria's (ignore the cheesy name; excellent food)
      Carmen (another small, charming, fun place, the very essense of the North End)
      Rabia's (Italian/Med. cuisine)
      La Galleria 33 and/ or La Brace (excellent grilled meats in the Italian style)
      Taranta (an Italian/Peruvian fusion. Sounds weird, tastes great)
      Sage (waaa! It's moved. Sorry.)

      Outside of the North End, Sorellina is excellent, on the upscale side.

      For French, I enjoy the bistro food at Hamersley's, and the affordable French cuisine at Sel de la Terre (near the aquarium).

      Clio is absolutely wonderful (be sure to do the tasting menu), but quite expensive. Worth it though. Even though you're from the west coast, you might also want to give Uni (next to Clio) a try. Same chef (Ken Oringer), superb, innovative sushi.

      No. 9 Park is good, but IMHO, quite spotty. Locke Ober is quintessential, old school Boston, but with Lydia Shire at the helm the food can be very good.

      1. Ethereal, All great suggestions from Hotoy and BB3 but if i had to pick one, i would pick Clio (and get the tasting). Might be best to book an early dinner if you anticipate crowds. They also have a private room if you want to go that route.

        1. i will just offer this about clio: the kitchen crashes VERY HARD on these high pressure/high volume weekends. it's not pretty and at those prices not acceptable.

          2 Replies
          1. re: hotoynoodle

            i've been there on high volume weekends (i must confess i've probably eaten at Clio over 100 times) and not been overly disappointed (I've only sent back a dish once, it was a kurabota pork). I think it's worth the risk given that there is nothing of that caliber in Seattle (hometown of the original poster). An early dinner (like, 5:30pm) should help ease the slam factor, hopefully. i HAVE experienced a big slowdown in their service between the main courses and the desserts when doing the tasting menu, though, and often skip dessert.

            1. re: barleywino

              Damn, I haven't been any place in this city 100 times, much less a $40 entree place. Can I have your job?

          2. Just a thought - for my graduation we went to Gargoyle's on the Square in Davis with a group of 6. It was very intimate, cozy and the food was perfect. Simply perfect. There were a good number of recent grad families in attendance, but the service was still attentive and smooth. A much more low-key idea than those previously mentioned.

            1. Mamma Maria in the North End is amazing. Went there for my 21st bday and the food was exceptional!! Clio is great for french as is Mistral! Also look into L'espalier for for something really special.

              1. Thanks for all the input.

                My sister has requested one of the evenings be a little more laid back. So I am having visions of the movie "My Best Friend's Wedding" and the serenade/lobster dancing. Anything seafood restaurants like that in Boston (I know the movie is supposed to be Chicago)? I did a search and was considering Neptune Oyster.

                For the second night, I'll try to get reservations at Clio. Graduation is actually mid-week so I'm hoping it might not be the rush that other graduations (on weekends) might experience.

                Any comments on Neptune Oyster? We're heading out to Cape Cod for the weekend following our time in Boston, should I just hold over on the seafood until we get there?

                3 Replies
                1. re: ethereal

                  Neptune might be a little tough with 8 people since it's so small. For some reason, Grotto came to mind when you said you wanted a little more laid back. Not a ton of seafood but that trout dish is amazing.

                  1. re: Joanie

                    Agreed. Neptune is great, but tiny. Only a few tables... place to be is at the counter. Forget it with an 8. Go some other time though. The owner, Jeff, is there every night and is a real pro. Great chow.

                    I think you're on track with... Clio... has become one of Boston's culinary treasures... fine dining in a smallish well appointed setting, without a lot fuss. Arguably the best chow in town.

                    For your other meal... suggest one of the following:

                    Olives... great for an 8. Went thru an uneven period but back in the swing now. Not quite up to what it was in its heydey but still very solid. You'll like it. or,

                    Locke-Ober... for the Old Boston ambiance. Food good, not great... but that's not why you go there.

                    If its gotta be seafood... 2 good options with an 8...

                    Anthony's Pier 4... Ok, CH's calm down. The bloom is off the rose here, and I still miss seeing Anthony bossing everyone around, but its great if you follow this advice. Don't order anything but LOBSTER. This place is steeped with the old time Boston feel. You'll see pics of every politician and movie star who has gone there over the years all over the walls... good view/ on the water. Sure the food has slipped, but the Lobsters are still great (order large ones and have them steamed). If you have to order a diff entree, stick with anything they can't mess up in the kitchen... simpler the better. The popovers are still great. Request a large ROUND table for 8, guaranteed everyone will love it. Otherwise,

                    Legal Seafoods (Many locations around town). They can handle an 8 well. They have more of a solid menu so if you don't all want lobster, you'll be fine. Good choice if you need a seafood place.

                    Personally, Id book Pier 4... your parents will love it.

                    1. re: WineTravel

                      Locke Ober is not where you'd go for a "laid back" evening as she requested (esp. if you're shelling out for Clio the other nitej). I'm not sure Anthony's is either.

                2. Mantra off Boston Commons is a really funky place, that would be fun if you would like to head that way.

                  where in Cape Cod will you be?

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: strephking

                    Near Chatham. I was just planning on scouring the new england board for recommendations there...but I'm all ears on this board also.

                    Is Mantra good for groups? Not sure if it's a fit based on "funky". My parents are kind of traditionalists when it comes to food. Fun/festive is okay but they get weirded out easily.

                  2. You should try Olives in Charlestown. Great for big groups, laid back feel, not a hush hush place. Big hearty portions, comfortable upscale dining.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: serpachef

                      olives is definitely good for large groups, however they are a bit inconsistent! i've had both good and bad experiences there. although i do enjoy most of todd english's restaurants!

                    2. Mantra is definitely good for large group. i actually went to a business dinner there.

                      Are you staying in Orleans? If so i can recommend Abba for a fabulous dinner and Joe's for oysters.

                      Let me know if you are staying in Orleans and I will give you my take on the tourist traps vs. the local favs.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: strephking

                        Respectfully, I would avoid Maintra. This place has a nice ambiance but things have changed a lot from when it opened. The original chef is gone (he was good), and its turned into more of a club now than a restaurant. The last time I went, about 2 years ago, there was only one other table in the place during the whole time I was there. Supposedly, thie place is packed on the weekends with 21+ at the bar and downstairs... if not for that, it would prob be curtains for this place. So, unless there's been a remarkable turnaround (doubt it)... not recommended for dinner.... or a place for your parents.

                      2. If you want institutions, and you want lobster, I'd recommend Union Oyster House..very laid back, very much an institution. I have gone a few times and been very happy with the seafood. CH's may poo-poo it as a tourist trap, but I can't complain about the quality of the food I got there.

                        For Italian, I agree with a few other posters on Mama Maria's and Rabias. Both are laid back, and both have excellent Italian food. (Try the eggplant rollatini if you go to Mama Maria's...my favorite!) Both of these places can accomodate a party of 8 as long as you make a reservation.

                        For something a bit different, Addis Red Sea is an Ethiopian restaurant that is a lot of fun with a good sized group. Cool decor, very friendly and helpful service, and great food. Of course, there's no cutlery - all is eaten with the special flatbread they provide. Not fancy, but lots of fun.

                        1. So sounds like we'd be safe (and happily stuffed to the gills) going with Clio and Mamma Maria's in Boston. Maybe we'll just save the seafood for the nights we're out at the Cape? Seems as if most of the recommendations for Cape Cod tend towards seafood anyway.

                          StephKing, we're staying in between Orleans and Chatham (supposedly less than 10 minutes to either), so recommendations in either town are much appreciated.

                          Thanks so much Boston CH's! You've been so helpful!

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: ethereal

                            Mama Maria's is good but I don't think of it as "laid back" if you really want a much more casual dining experience the 2nd nite.

                          2. Just booked dinners Olives for one night and Clio for another. Thanks Boston hounds for your help! We are very much looking forward to it!