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REPORT: Charles Street on Saturday

Thanks to all the Chowhounders for suggestions for my husband and me to eat in Boston for our Urban-to-Urban escape from NYC for the past wknd. I thought I would report on our culinary adventures to pay back the favor.

We arrived on Friday to Beacon Hill Hotel and Bistro for a wknd package that included dinner one night and two breakfasts. We arrived around 5 and had time for a couple of cocktails before dinner. We first went to 75 Chestnut and had two bloody marys - they were fine - a bit heavy on the celery salt and horseradish. The olives were gigantic and green and tasty, though. We had dined there once a couple of years ago and at that time, the place seemed to have had a much more sophisticated and upscale feel to it. On Friday, there were Heinz ketchup bottles on every table. Maybe the approach of the restaurant has changed?

Anyway - we didn't stay for a second. Instead we walked aroudn a bit and ended up in the bar/bistro at No. 9 Park. We had the best time there! The room is nice and spacious (tables far apart - a luxury for NYers) and it wasn't too crowded. We were seated at a large table all to our selves, even though we explained that we were just there for a drink. We had two drinks -- one called a Jack Maple was the BEST drink I've had recently. YUM -- applejack brandy, maple simple sugar and a cinnamon stick. Maybe something sour, too, not sure. Anyway - it was so yummy. The other drink was a champagne cocktail w/ bitters, brandy and a lemon peel - it was tasty, but no where near as nice as the Jack Maple. We still had time to kill before out 9 PM resie at Beacon Hill Bistro - so we ordered a martini flight of their three signature cocktails. These were tasty, as well, but awfully fruity for my taste.

Beacon Hill Bistro -- fantastic! I love the room with the big windows facing the street. Leather lined benches along one wall and bistro tables. The waitress brought us a 'small' basket of delicious house made bread and warned us that we would be having a bunch of even more delicious bread products with our meal, so not to go overboard. We started with a house-made pig belly terrine with traditional fixins (mustard, cornichons) that was really incredible. Meaty and chunky and not too fatty or genatinous. Really flavorful. We then ate an order of fois gras (it came two ways, seared and cold - both wonderful, especially the cold on brioche) and an order of escargot. The escargot appeared to have been baked in the shell on a flatbread 'pizza' and then a bunch of mesclun was thrown on top. It is nice in presentation and concept, but there was FAR more bread than there were garlic butter or snails to soak up, so it didn't work out so well execution wise. We ended up pouring out the snails on the triangles of bread and eating just enough bread to deliver the snails and butter to our mouths. We had these first dishes with a white rioja and a montbazillac to go with the fois. The montbazillas was delicious - I don't think I've ever seen one on a menu, certianly not by the glass.

Next came the mains with a bottle of vacayras. My husband had the venison rare with the most incredible braised vegetables I've ever had and I had the steak frites rare with a tasty butter sauce. The saucier there has got something great going on -- bc the sauces with both dishes were really wonderful. The meat in both dishes was well cooked and tasty. Those veggies were amazing -- they tasted quite acidic and buttery and perfectly cooked - I have no idea what the chef might have done to make them so tasty.

Mmmm....desert! Molten chocolate cake (just the right small size) and three scoops of homemade icecream/sorbet. The sorbet that stands out was cherry sage (or rosemary or some other green herb) -- it was very perfect and refreshing. Extremely tasty with the molton chocolate cake!

The next day we had breakfast at the same place we had dinner (so nice to just roll upstairs after a big meal and then back downstairs for breakfast the next day). Breakfast was OK -- I ordered crispy chicken hash, which turned out to be large slices of chicken breast tossed with their regular hash browns and chopped onions and red peppers -- really random and not what I expected. The eggies and the delicious bread were right on, though. My husband had a salmon omelet -- it was very good, but monsterous -- too big to finish, really. Especially considering our culinary adventures yet to come!

We walked quickly to and through the Gardiner museum - it was lovely and I've been meaning to go for years. On the way back to Charles, we meandered through the south end. Stopped at B&G Oysters for some oysters (raw and fried) and a lobster roll. Very cute place -- I liked the vibe a lot. Funny to us that we saw the chef at No. 9 the night before and then again at B&G the next day -- that woman works hard! The raw oysters were delicious -- great selection and reasonable price ($2.25/oyster). The fried ones were small and just OK (Pearl has way better ones). The lobster roll, which I know a lot of you rave about, was disappointing. I seem to always compare lobster rolls to those at Pearl Oyster Bar in NYC -- I read some food critic that grew up in Maine and said that Pearl has the best lobster roll he's ever had. I went to college in Maine and I agree. The bun wasn't nearly as salty (from browning in butter) sweet (pepperidge farm hot dog buns) as that at pearl. And, the lobster salad didn't seem to have a lot of flavor or to necessarily let the flavor of the lobster shine through. Great beer, though, including a 25 ozer of Casco Bay (I think) and PBR tall boys for $3!

We hit the South End Fromagerie or Cheese Monger or something like that on our way out of B&G -- what a wonderful little shop! We picked up two macaroons - raspberry and a white one (pretty good, though not as good as some from France - a sign in the place claimed the macaroon maker had been makign macaroons in France since he was a little boy). Also got really delicious pate de fruits (passion fruit and raspberry) -- though they were a little sticky/chewy/gummy for my taste and I didn't like the raspberry seeds in the candy - I felt it took away rather than added to the consistency. Also got some salted caramels from Montana that were out of control good.

After lunch we went back to Charles and stopped at Sevens for desert -- an order of bratwurst w/ kraut (no potato salad). I've been going there with my family for years (since boarding school in the early 90s) and love being there in the afternoon. The brat was delicious as always. Two Seven's ales to top off the experience.

After all that - a nap before our dinner crawl. We walked to the north end to Neptunes to have a comparison of lobster rolls and oysters to B&G. The oysters were great also -- but I didn't like the fancy cocktail sauce that they serve (slightly sweet doesn't work for me). They were out of lobster meat, which was so disappointing bc we so wanted to compare to B&G (and to Pearl!). Then, we ordered two dishes to share. One was sea urchin served on a wedge of iceberg dipped/soaked in squid ink with strips of grilled eggplant and fried chickpeas -- WHAT? No - seriously, that was the dish. I understand creativity when it works, but this was just random. All the ingredients were great separately (except for maybe the iceberg in squid ink -- not a whole lot of flavor -- but it looked really cool), but together they were nothing. And the other dish was a salad with shaved botarga and parmesean with grapes, fennel and an aoli of some sort. I love botarga and it was delicious in a salad, but I didn't necessarily think the grapes or fennel enhanced the dish and there was a LOT of aoili and also olive oil -- so the dish was somewhat heavy and goopy. All in -- good oysters (pricer than at B&G -- maybe $2.10 to $2.70 a pop - adds up for a dozen), but I wouldn't recommend the two other dishes to anyone and seriously question what exactly the highly-touted chef was tryign to accomplish.

Next we went to Grotto -- which looked like a fun place. We walked in at 8 and the place was less than half full. The waitress asked us if we had reservations, we said no, and she said well im sorry but we can't accommodate you until 930 -- a little strange considering the place really had only a handfull of people and there was no one waiting. Ok.....

Onto Bin 26 for wine and snacks. Great snack of grana padano with aged balsamic to dip -- $8. Husband had a savory bean soup that was super tasty ($9) and a beef carpaccio ($9) which was quite small and unexciting. Aglianico to drink.

Finally we went to Upper Crust for a slice. I must say -- great pizza. Excellent crust, tasty chunky tomato sauce and just enough cheese. I wish there was one in my neighborhood in NY. And -- the best deal of the night at $2.85!

Sunday we went to the new contemporary art museum on a pier (highly recommend) and then to No Name for fried seafood. Like we really needed more oysters. Mind you, this is right after our farewell breakfast at the Beacon Hill Bistro of french toast (which was so incredible - highly recommend - and my husbands eggs and toast and sausage). I have also been going to No Name since 1990-ish and haven't been there in a good ten years. We ordered one order of half clams/half oysers and two lite beers. The waiter accidently brought us half clams/ half scallops and realized his mistake and brought out a whole nother huge place of oysters! I've never seen so many oysters on one plate before! It was completely unnecessary for us to eat there, but so good and so CHEAP -- total bill was $30 for three beers and all that food! Fuel to take us on our drive back to NYC.

All in - a great trip with lots of good food. Next time, we'll eat at No 9 and make a resie at Grotto. And, save a day to order a whole pizza from Upper Crust.

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  1. What a great trip, and a great report.

    A while ago I ate the lobster rolls at Pearl and B&G on back-to-back nights and much preferred the B&G roll (my review is around here somewhere). That said, I ate at B&G on Friday night, and although I had a GREAT meal, the lobster roll I split with a friend was not nearly as good as the one I remember raving about in comparison with that at the Pearl. They must be doing something different, and not nearly as good. Could it be a seasonal thing?

    Upper Crust has a lot of detractors on this board. I've just moved within their delivery range and I'm a huge fan. I'm not sure what the issue is.

    1. Wow, you packed a LOT in for a couple days.

      1. Thanks for the great report. I wonder if the shut-out at Grotto was due to Restaurant Week?
        They are ususally very accomodating to walk-ins.

        3 Replies
        1. re: takeoutgirl

          It probably is because of heavy RW bookings - we have a reservation for tonight that I tried to shift from 5:30 to 6 without success (they're doing RW for two weeks.)

          1. re: Allstonian

            Although even then, I don't think the room was more than half full the whole time we were in there.

            1. re: BarmyFotheringayPhipps

              Yeah, I don't know what was up with this. I realized a week ago that I hadn't allowed myself adequate trip time when I'd made a 5:30 reservation, so I phoned and asked if there was any way that we could shift it to 6 without messing up their whole evening's bookings. The answer was sorry, no, they were fully booked but they'd give me a call if they had any cancellations. So - I leave work early (!) to hop on the streetcar and rush downtown, we get there at 5:30, and there are perhaps two other parties already there. We were done and out in under 90 minutes, and while all of the deuces and 4-tops were full at that point, there were still quite a few larger tables open and no sign of anybody waiting for our spot.

              BTW, our other RW dinner was at Beacon Hill Bistro - see my review here:
              http://www.chowhound.com/topics/378025
              We also loved everything from the design and ambience of the room to the service to the food and the excellent wine pairings, and will definitely be back.

        2. Wow, you know how to do a weekend! Kudos to you!

          1. Thanks for the review. I just sent it along to my BF and suggested we spend the weekend eating ASAP. ;) It sounds like a terrific weekend!