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Best lunch in the Back Bay?

I'm taking a friend to lunch in Boston, preferably the Back Bay, and am looking for a place where the food's very good and interesting -- but not stuffy. Any suggestions? Thanks.

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  1. Try going a bit outside the Back Bay and enjoy a wonderful lunch at Trattoria Toscana on Jersey street in the Fenway.

    Back Bay is just not a great food neighborhood.

    1. Back Bay is weak, but not hopeless. Some places I like at lunch: Via Matta (creative Italian), Restaurant L (very creative New American), Laurel (solid American comfort food in a slightly fancy setting at good prices), Kaya (casual Korean and Japanese), Douzo (fancy Japanese, lots more than sushi), Domani (another creative Italian place), Chili Duck (good Thai, especially the specialties menu), Sonsie (sleek but casual, better at lunch than dinner, good fancy pizzas and apps), Jae's (pan-Asian), Bhindi Bazaar (good Indian that covers some regional ground).

      10 Replies
      1. re: MC Slim JB

        Out of respect to MC Slim JB's great suggestions elsewhere I will have to give some of the new ones a try and perhaps give a second chance to a few on the list.

        I think those of us who live here, walk our neighborhood and see so many really second rate places designed to sucker the conventioneers from the Hynes and shoppers on Newbury that we automatically leave the Back Bay when we are looking for great food.

        I have had iffy experiences at a few places on the list, but restaurants do have bad days, and I fear that if they are in an area like this, with so many really bad places, you just don't give them a second try.

        1. re: BostonZest

          Or you could just let fly with your bad experiences! I don't lunch in the Back Bay nearly as much as I used to, so your perspectives as a resident are likely keener and more up to date than mine. I appreciate your kind words about my suggestions about other neighborhoods, but if you've got some bad news about Back Bay places, it's practically your Houndly duty to spill. You might save me and the OP from a bad lunch!

          1. re: MC Slim JB

            I haven't tried Kaya , Douzo , Chili Duck -- they are going on the list of places to lunch.

            At Domani we had a very bad experience with a server who spent the entire meal hard selling. "Are you quiet sure you wouldn't like a salad with your husband?" "Perhaps if you sit for a bit, you'll change your mind about dessert."

            We ordered a bottle of wine in the $60 price range, he presented us with a $120 bottle, with a quick show of the label. Unfortunately for him, I knew the wine and stopped him as he began to cut the foil. By the end of the meal, I did not believe the wine mix-up was a mistake. It was dreadful and we did not return.

            After a couple of meals at Restaurant L, we were tired of the stunts and silliness. I hear it has been toned down but nothing on my plate ever impressed me enough to draw me back.

            Sonsie I find tired-- the menu-- the room-- the attitude. That said, I'm one of those people who find the whole "restaurant as scene" theme a reason to run in the opposite direction.

            1. re: BostonZest

              This is very useful input.

              I've had similar issues with service (Domani, Sonsie) and kitchen consistency (Domani, Sonsie, L) at dinner, but I think they are decent bets for lunch, especially at lunch prices.

              Your Domani service story is horrific: there's nothing that riles me faster than aggressive upselling. Too bad, as that chef has real flashes of brilliance. He just can't seem to put all the pieces together in an attractive package.

              Sonsie's self-impressed attitude has been a laugher for years -- only the rubes think it might still be a scene -- but I still value the place at breakfast (Wi-Fi plus good coffee and pastries), brunch, and lunch. I do like their cafe seating, especially when the French doors are open on a warm day.

              I actually like L's weirdness, and am disappointed that they have toned it down. I'd like to see more local chefs experimenting with molecular gastronomy, but it doesn't look like the market will support it yet.

              1. re: MC Slim JB

                the market def can't support molecular gastromy and too bad a certain chef in somerville is totally missing the mark. The ones doing it right Pino Mafeo and ken oringer.

                1. re: admiralackbar

                  Would you be referring to Jason Santos at Gargoyles? I had dinner there recently, expecting something wild, and while it was good, I didn't see a lot of edgy technique being applied, at least not to what I ordered.

                  Maffeo seemed a lot more experimental in his early days at L. He has chosen (or, my guess, been ordered) to tone it down, which is too bad. I don't see a lot of new technique in Oringer's work, either, beyond the occasional use at Clio of foamed sauces and dehydrated or crystallized ingredients.

                  If you know of chefs in town who are doing more science-lab kind of stuff, or specific examples of it at the places you mentioned, I'd love to hear about it.

                  1. re: MC Slim JB

                    Clio's tasting menu is an interesting case, in that at least to a degree, one can dictate how edgy or conservative the meal is going to be.

                    Since it's a hotel restaurant, they are of course obligated to purvey a number of accessible choices on the menu. However some of their offerings are definitely Adria-esque in spirit.

                    Upon ordering the tasting menu this fall, our waiter asked how adventurous or traditional our tastes were; we asked for adventurous. And while some of the courses were more staid, a few notably science-y standouts:

                    Tomato "martini" - a clear, savory (non-alcoholic) concoction of vegetable extracts, with nifty green circles of tomato water floating on the surface.

                    L2N gazpacho - gazpacho frozen, table-side, into a sorbet using liquid nitrogen, apparently purchased from the labs at MIT. If MIT + Oringer doesn't = "Boston food science", I don't know what does.

                    1. re: MC Slim JB

                      I think L is currently being remodeled and will not reopen until late February, or thereabouts.

                      Rumors are swirling that the food will be "toned down" even more.

                      1. re: MC Slim JB

                        Maffeo just took over Restaurant L and is renovating the interior and menu. I have heard he will bring the dinner back too what it was when he was very experimental and will leave the lunch for the "ladies that lunch" crowd that shop at Louis.

                        I think Ken oringer is capable of doing way more than he shows off at Clio because like I said before there is not a large enough market in boston to support a truly experimental restaurant like Cantu in Chicago or Wd-50 in NYC.

                        The chef I was talking about was from Gargoyles. I recently ran across his menu on bostonchefs.com and had to laugh...."liquid spain" come on now, who finally read the el buli cookbook. Anyway, went to check out the food thinking I was going to have a chicago or nyc experience like at cantu or wd-50 and was very dissapointed. His menu read like a science experiment and his actual plates were a horrific mismosh of to many flavors and sloppy presentation. Sometimes people should stick to what they know before trying out their failed experiments on their customers. Don't like to be a hater but I dont have much respect for posers either. Wasnt he given the mad scientist chef award in the weekly dig or stuff at night? Do explain that one. On a positive note, he makes a really good burger.

                        1. re: MC Slim JB

                          Heard a few weeks ago that Maffeo bought the space to restaurant L. I think he can pretty much decide what he want to cook there now.

            2. Caffe Jaffa for Middle Eastern would fit the bill for an inexpensive lunch. Domani (creative Italian) or Douzo (Japanese) for something more pricey.

              1 Reply
              1. re: limster

                Yes. Cafe Jaffa is perfect...a sunny, cozy cafe with wonderful food.

              2. If you're going to try Kaya, stick to the Korean. Their Japanese offerings are pretty weak. If you want Japanese, I'd walk the two extra blocks down to Douzo. I'll 2nd (or 3rd) recommendations for Chili Duck, Cafe Jaffa, and Laurel's. I also like the Piattini's on Newbury St and the lunch buffet at Kashmir (at $9, a much better deal than dinner time and much better than Tantric's).

                1. I think I saw that Piattini went before licensing for a change to open a different restaurant in that same spot. I'm not sure what happened on it.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: BostonZest

                    Wow, 9 months without working in the area and it seems like the Back Bay is completing changing on me. I always found Piattini to be great for lunch - a nice mix of different things on their menus with reasonable portion size and a reasonable price range too. I've had their sandwiches and several pasta items and found them to be much better than the usual "vat of boring pasta" on a plate at the other Italian options nearby. I think this place sometimes get ignored because of the words 'wine bar' in their name. I hope it doesn't go away.

                    1. re: BostonZest

                      Which Piattini location is changing: Newbury Street or Columbus Ave?

                      1. re: MC Slim JB

                        Neither is moving. The owner of Piattini wanted to open an additional restaurant with a different menu at another Newbury St. location but the real estate part of the deal fell through.