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recent cases of sticker shock / delight

Sasso: wine special, an Isole e Olena Supertuscan, was $22/glass. Contorni, $8 a pop.
o ya: holy crap.
When did EVERY OTHER restaurant in Boston come to offer the sort of splurge you'd be paying for for months to come? Since when has EVERY OTHER restaurant been a place mere mortals can't set foot in? How am I just now noticing this? (Perhaps because I'm broke...)

By contrast, POPS: How are they going to pull those prices off? I hope they can; the food I had there was every bit as good as at Sasso, with quite a bit more wine, for half the price. (The Cobb salad wasn't really a Cobb, but the flavors were lovely. Where the coconut bread pudding erred a tad in texture, it compensated in flavor. But the food at Sasso showed flaws too--a bit of oversalting, something I generally never notice.)

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  1. I think I saw that Super Tuscan at Martignetti's the other day for $60-70, so maybe $22/glass isn't egregious. Uni, O Ya, and Oishii Boston are all scary-expensive, but perhaps they can justify it with the cost of flying in lots of little-seen seafood from far away.

    I do think Pops is a surprising value for the neighborhood, especially given the notoriously high rents on that block. Maybe Samson was able to negotiate a more rational lease there. I sure hope he can preserve those prices; we've been enjoying it quite a bit.

    We sat at the "bar" (actually just bar seating on the glass divider looking into the kitchen) the other night, which is fun, and now the only way to get served sandwiches at dinner, so I guess there already is some sensitivity to average check sizes. I'm hoping to try lunch soon.

    7 Replies
    1. re: MC Slim JB

      Don't get me wrong, I'm already impressed by what o ya's doing. Expecting both affordability and exceptional quality from a sushi bar may simply be impossible. But the speed with which prices at your average semi-upscale place have jumped in this town--from wines by the glass around $7, apps around $10 and entrees around $25 in, say, 2000--to what seems to me the now far more common $10/$14/$32 (or so) seems to me to point to something beyond inflation.
      Granted, I know nothing about economics. I only know dining out in Boston is putting me in the poorhouse! Sigh.
      My problem is that I gots to have me some ambiance. But it ain't easy to balance budget and aesthetics. I love Lupita as much as anybody, but for me the thought of a leisurely dinner for two there is depressing. So, to keep this on topic, let me ask this: Where do you think you can get the most atmosphere for the least money (good food being a given)? The fact that the first 2 places that come to mind--POPS and Orinoco--are both in the South End is a bit of a shock in itself, but there you have it.

        1. re: tatamagouche

          this always gets me too, since a glass of wine and an appetizer are often the same price!

        2. re: tatamagouche

          my favorites for ambiance and bang for the buck are central kitchen, via matta's enoteca, eastern standard, and the lounge at rialto

          1. re: Clos Vougeot

            Been back to Rialto since the makeover? I'm curious to hear more about the redo.

            1. re: MC Slim JB

              i think it looks very pretty. menu more italian, but very accessible. prices same as before.

            2. re: Clos Vougeot

              i love central kitchen and eastern standard, but the wine mark-ups at via matta are off the charts.

        3. I was at Sasso almost three weeks ago and I also found the food very salt! The leek garnish served with the Gazpacho of Octopus was very salty, as was the short rib of beef.

          1. Isole y Olena is an outstanding vineyard and produces consistantly excellent wines. It's not surprising that their supertuscan is that much/glass. They have other wines that are less money but also very good. Getting harder to find as prices are high. Worth a try, before the prices go up again; and they will.

            8 Replies
            1. re: CocoDan

              I know the vineyard. Are you suggesting that the bottle was probably worth $110, or even $88? Or if, as MC Slim suggests, the bottle was more like $60/$70...doesn't the markup strike you as staggering?
              Another Q out to all hounds--who has paid $20 or more for a single glass of wine in town? Where was it and was it worth it? At Bricco the other night I saw a Barolo & an Amarone on the by-the-glass list for $16 each, which (depending on the labels; I didn't check) actually seems reasonable, though I'm still surprised they sell enough to list them as regular offerings.

              1. re: tatamagouche

                I can't remember ordering an over-$20 glass of wine lately, but I am seeing them on more and more wine lists in Boston. I think the Butcher Shop was the first place that shocked me with overpriced by-the-glass offers in the high teens, especially for the level of the food.

                In general, I hate buying wines by the glass. My logic is that if I'm going to spend on wine, I should economize by buying the whole bottle. I'd rather do that and leave a glass for the staff than pay the absurd markups on most individual glasses.

                There's an old argument, largely true I think, that the worst deal on the wine list is the cheapest glass of wine. The counterargument is that many people who prefer wine to cocktails want the same snob appeal in their order that their friends are getting by calling for super-premium liquor, and I think some restaurants are beginning to exploit that.

                1. re: MC Slim JB

                  Troquet has more than a few I think, I ordered a glass of Chateau Yquem sauternes for about $35 once. It's a bottle I couldn't afford on my own and don't have enough friends to split it with who would appreciate it. Drinking a whole bottle of sauterne on one's own probably wouldn't be much fun anyway. I'd apply the same logic to the types of wines that you would probably only want a glass or two of anyway. One of the reasons I like Troquet so much is that I can do things like that. I personally think it was a great deal.

                  That being said, I agree with your post in essence.

                  1. re: sailormouth

                    Troquet is one of the rare good ones by the taste and glass, I agree, along with Les Zyg. I like Bin 26, too, though I haven't really explored the list very far.

                2. re: tatamagouche

                  when the "new ritz" opened about 5 or 6 years ago, they had dominus napanook btg for about $25. that was the 1st time i'd seen something here in boston over $20. the only thing i'll spend that much for a glass is champagne.

                  1. re: tatamagouche

                    Hi T, The markup is staggering, but that bottle at an intown liquor store could be $70-80 on the shelf. I know their prices have gone up. As I'm sure you know, the restaurant is going to mark that up more. I agree, $20.00/glass is extremely high, and I have not paid that much for a glass of wine, but I'm sure eventually I will. That's the way it's going. Who can stop drinking the nectar of the gods. Enjoy.

                    1. re: CocoDan

                      I hear you, and I love how you always add "enjoy"--a nice reminder that's what it's all about!--but I do think I can at least limit my drinking the nectar of the gods to the confines of my own home if otherwise it means shelling out $20 a glass. I would rather drink a lesser glass of wine, esp. if it enhances my meal perfectly well, than support/encourage gouging. Someone's making money off this glass of wine, and it sure as hell, I suspect, ain't the people working hardest to get it from vine to table.
                      This may be melodramatic or uselessly provocative, I'm not sure which, but I'd venture to say there are 2 kinds of people who'd pay $20 a glass on a regular basis (I'm excluding, in other words, rare opportunities to try truly unusual wines): 1) conspicuous consumers for whom it's a show of wealth and power and 2) us, chowhounds seeking whatever it is we're seeking, willing to seize opportunities where we may. But it's the #2 group who also has the presence of mind, the luxury of not having to impress clients or trophy spouses or what have you, to say: I refuse to let this happen.
                      Doesn't mean the #1 group won't ensure it keeps happening. But it does mean we're at least absolved of some responsibility for its happening.

                      I was just at Bacco, which is around the corner from me in the N. End, where I sat and nursed a perfectly decent glass of $8 Shiraz (OK, 2, but who's counting?). Will I remember that glass forever? No. Will I continue to frequent the bar at Bacco where I can sit quietly and drink a decent and decently priced glass of wine and write in my journal? Yes. By comparison, I don't foresee returning to Sasso anytime soon.
                      OK. Off high horse (for now).

                      1. re: tatamagouche


                3. I would put Grotto squarely in the range of good ambiance, delicious food, and not-horrible prices (especially if you do the 3-course dealio.

                  Gargoyles (bar area)
                  Petit Robert Bistro (Kenmore)
                  Washington Square Tavern (Brookline)
                  Bin 26

                  6 Replies
                  1. re: heathermb

                    My list is quite similar to heathermb's

                    Gargoyle's: the bar menu is a steal
                    Petit Robert Bistro: Kenmore local
                    Ten Tables: the wine Tuesdays are a bargain
                    Grotto: even without the 3 course prix-fixe, she has great prices
                    EVOO: Not everyone is in love with the room, but the food is a delight

                    1. re: gini

                      I'd add Eastern Standard and Franklin. I think Columbus Cafe is cute and everything is about $15 and below. Cafe D and Alchemist in JP. Birch St. Bistro in Roslindale, maybe Delfino too.

                      1. re: Joanie

                        I like Eastern Standard too, and would add Good Life.

                        1. re: Joanie

                          I agree with Eastern Standard and Petit Robert (the Kenmore one--haven't tried the South End), and I'd add Teatro--most entrees under $25, and the half portions of pasta are more than enough after splitting the antipasti.

                          I also like Khao Sarn for nice atmosphere, good cocktails, and very good food. You have to be in the mood for Thai, but I think it's very good value (compared to similar atmosphere, though perhaps not similar cuisine).

                      2. re: heathermb

                        To add some more to the great lists above:
                        Tamarind Bay
                        Cafe Baraka (even the order in advance squab bastilla is only $16 iirc)
                        Ken's Ramen (well, the expected cozy ambiance of a ramen joint)
                        Salt and Grain
                        Shanghai Gate
                        Taberna de Haro
                        Khao Sarn
                        New Jumbo
                        Aneka Rasa
                        Buk Kyong II
                        Tu Y Yo
                        Trattoria Toscana (although it might be hard to linger here giving how bustling it can be)

                        1. re: limster

                          Yeah, but for the booze issue, Baraka's definitely on my all-time list. I love that place.
                          Taberna's another one where I can personally do a load of financial damage..again, the upshot may really be I should just try restraining my appetite a bit!
                          Anyway, helpful list...thanks.

                      3. market economics for restaurant developments are such that slots for low-end and high-end fill in first. boston is an affluent city and the rents and other costs of doing business are very high. (liquor licenses now are running about $500,000!!! :o) it's a city whose residents have a lot of disposable income and dine out ALOT.

                        but the middle is starting to see the light. witness the success of eastern standard. some new places that are on deck in the deep south end will be hitting a similar price point. gaslight, from the aquataine group, rocca from the group that formerly held rialto and a few others yet to break ground are all seeking that price point you're chasing.

                        pops did not get a sweetheart deal on the rent, so let's hope he can hold onto the middle.

                        expecting exotic sushi, like that from uni or o-ya, to not break the bank is akin to teaching a pig to fly. not gonna happen, lol.

                        5 Replies
                        1. re: hotoynoodle

                          I hope you're right about the middle. As we've all discussed, it's where Boston's sorely lacking. And for years I've been living well beyond my means--but it's finally catching up with me, so I thought it might be less depressing if I were to put together a list of all the places I can actually go and dine, not just eat!
                          Although it may be the way I eat too--as I can actually do a fair amount of single-handed damage at the above-mentioned Eastern Standard, Neptune and EVOO. Maybe I should tighten my belt in more ways than one!

                          1. re: tatamagouche

                            I agree with Neptune, I tend to spend a lot of money there - I think it's because they're so many creative choices, it's hard to decide, and then the oysters, and the Bellinis, and the wine....

                            I just posted this on the Prezza thread, but sounds like it would fit right into this discussion. It's a new "bar flight" menu at Prezza - 3 three courses paired with wines for $75 per couple, $45 without. Does this mean it's going to be even harder to get a seat at the bar now? ; )


                            1. re: Rubee

                              Wow, that's a deal and a half. Do you think they''re just tastes of stuff or real sized portions?

                              1. re: Joanie

                                They're usually pretty generous with their portions. We might check it out this week. If I do, I'll report back.

                            2. re: tatamagouche

                              i can do some serious damage at these places too. but they're shooting for check averages of $35 p/p. as opposed to sasso which is looking to hit $75 p/p, or $100 p/p at oishi.

                          2. I totally commiserate, tatamagouche, I justify it to myself in that this is the whole reason I live in this city in the first place. I can buy that SE condo when I'm dead.

                            I'd concur with all of the above and I know I can drop a fortune at most of them. I would add Les Zygomates and, when I'm REALLY broke, I tend to go ethnic, so dim sum brunches, the Tibetan place is Davis, Cafe Polonia. I know none of them are really dining, but I might just end up somewhere nice afterwards for a cocktail or two.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: sailormouth

                              Actually, Polonia's a good call--it's not fancy but IMO it's awfully cute. As long as the lights aren't fluorescent and the service is tableside--and, again, there's at least a wine license--I can probably make a case for atmosphere.

                              1. re: tatamagouche

                                Somerville (and maybe Cambridge) have BYO places too.

                                The hostess/waitress at Polonia addressed me in Polish the other day mistaking me for a Pole [insert joke here], but that made the atmosphere for the rest of the night, or at least tided me over until the beer kicked in. I have no idea what she said, but it was nice!