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mbasnack Apr 4, 2007 11:32 AM

I'm having dinner with a girlfriend Friday night and I'm stumped. A long time 'hound, I feel like I keep recycling the same places for a fun night out...over and over.

We're both in our early 30's, both single and would love to find a new place for dinner & have a good post-meal cocktail and potentially make some friends at the bar (ahem). Our usuals tend to be Silvertone, Douzo, Washington Square or Beacon Street Tavern(s), Toro, Franklin Cafe, Bin Enoteca, Grotto, etc.

I'd like to aim for entrees under the $20 mark so we have spare room in the wallet for a few drinks.

Any suggestions? I've heard Excelsior might be worth checking out? What about the new place in the South End that replaced Nightengale?

  1. MC Slim JB Apr 4, 2007 11:37 AM

    Excelsior won't do: many of its entrees exceed $40 and are hardly worth it, in my view. You could eat more cheaply in its first-floor bar (which remains a kind of weird dating scene of a bar, lots of May-December romance going on), but it would still bust your budget.

    Pops in the South End (in the old Perdix space) is very, very good. Pretty, all entrees $20 or under, very solid Eclectic cooking. Beer, wine, cordials only at this time (they're bucking for a license upgrade); the "bar" isn't a bar, rather counter seating overlooking the kitchen through a pane of glass, which really opens up the space nicely. The place that replaced The Nightingale is Mela, a decent but rather overpriced Indian.

    What about some of the other "bars with above-average food"? I like the Alchemist, dbar, Ashmont Grill, B-Side, Green Street, and The Biltmore, though those aren't downtown places. The Enoteca at Via Matta (which has a more casual bar menu with some good pizzas) might also serve, and has good cocktails.

    1 Reply
    1. re: MC Slim JB
      Joanie Apr 4, 2007 12:14 PM

      If the OP can get to Exc. from 5-7, they've got that special cocktail/app menu which is nice.

      In addition to others mentioned, Columbus Cafe down by Mass Ave. is cute and reasonable. Much of the universally recommended Eastern Standard menu would work. Union and Stella if she hasn't been there.

    2. hiddenboston Apr 4, 2007 11:45 AM

      How about the Mission Bar and Grill in Brigham Circle? It's a nice spot, with some good dishes (excellent burgers!), a decent beer list, and is in the same "near-upscale comfort food" vein as Amrhein's, The Biltmore, Ashmont Grill, Zon's, etc.

      1. kittychow Apr 4, 2007 12:15 PM

        Great question! Has me thinking I'm in a similar rut but I don't go to all your stand-by spots so you've already given me a nice list to work with. ;)

        Sorriso - order food in the bar (same menu it's just more, ahem, social). Maybe head to Les Zyg for a cocktail after...

        Sel de la terre - again try to eat in the bar. Entrees are $26.... After dinner it might be a nice walk over the bridge to Lucky's for cocktails if the weather permits.

        Eastern Standard is a solid stand-by. I always have fun there.

        1 Reply
        1. re: kittychow
          jdubboston Apr 4, 2007 12:57 PM

          I would highly recommend Les Zygomates for the entire meal & post-dinner imbibing... over the food at Sorriso. I think Fridays especially are a good crowd at Les Zyg. Range of ages, friendly, not too loud. We tend to eat at the bar, which provides great interaction with staff & clientele!

        2. Bob Dobalina Apr 4, 2007 12:29 PM

          Preamble: I notice that the places you've listed tend to be peopled by the same types of potential "friends" so keeping in mind you might like a change of scenery in more ways than one...

          I am going to try to focus on the making friends + chow, rather than chow first - and so suggest the following places:

          Maybe a Cambridge crawl of sorts: Bar scene at Chez Henri (good food, good cocktails, scene somewhat coupley, but a good place to start), then head up Mass. Ave. to West Side Lounge, Forest Cafe (if more toward slumming), Temple Bar (post-graduate-y), then if no luck, work your way back down the other side to Cambridge Commons for a nightcap and a spin at romantic roulette. ;)

          I also feel like the B-Side has its share of friends, makes some excellent cocktails and decent chow, although judging on your usual haunts, may not be your fave crowd.

          Matt Murphy's in Brookline Village has a friendly vibe and good chow -

          Was at Cafe D in JP last night - food was VERY GOOD - not sure of the crowd, but there appeared to be an intimate bar at the back.

          Agree with Ashmont Grill as well.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Bob Dobalina
            hiddenboston Apr 4, 2007 12:35 PM

            Oh God, romantic roulette at Cambridge Common? :-D I love the place, but based on the fact that some of my friends are semi-regulars there, I'd say have fun there, but avoid eye contact with the drunks in the corner with the Red Sox caps!

            A Cambridge crawl might be just the thing, though. Chez Henri is a terrific idea for food (Cubanos), and CC is just across the street if you want a drink or two afterwards.

          2. p
            paulgardner Apr 4, 2007 12:52 PM

            No bar but great food at Delfino's, Roslindale Square.

            1. NiKoLe1625 Apr 4, 2007 12:57 PM

              My best friend and I love going to Match. They have great food (try the mini burgers), great drinks, and a fun atmosphere. You can have dinner at a table or at the bar, and then hang around for drinks after. Its a pretty trendy place and gets busy later.

              3 Replies
              1. re: NiKoLe1625
                Bob Dobalina Apr 4, 2007 01:16 PM

                As a thirty-something, I find Match skews a little young for me.

                Also, they made me an absolutely horrid Manhattan (but of course, everything is geared toward sickly sweet snapple-tinis, so naturally Manhattans should be sweet too [sic], and they loaded it with vermouth. *gaah*)

                The burgers were tasty, however. And they went great with the one beer on tap, Stella.

                1. re: Bob Dobalina
                  NiKoLe1625 Apr 4, 2007 02:15 PM

                  Thats unfortunate that your drink was bad. I really like the food there, but I will admit that their drinks are definitely not extraordinary!

                  1. re: NiKoLe1625
                    Bob Dobalina Apr 4, 2007 04:11 PM

                    You know, I went there on NYE and I actually rather enjoyed the meal.
                    Also, forgot that we split the "exotic" mushroom pizza for starters last time, which was yummy, but not exactly festooned with exotica.

              2. h
                heWho Apr 4, 2007 01:04 PM

                What about The Good Life? They've got a new chef there that's getting rave reviews and the bar scene is great. Entrees are all under $20 I think, too.

                Another good spot is Pho Republique. The food isn't the greatest, but the bar has a very cool scene, especially for the late 20's/early 30's crowd.

                I'd definitely avoid Mela, I don't think it's what you're looking for.

                2 Replies
                1. re: heWho
                  t
                  twentyoystahs Apr 4, 2007 01:19 PM

                  Yes the Good Life does have a good chef and yes, the bar scene is hopping. However, I was there last weekend (fri night i think?) and the bar was packed...you literally couldn't find a place to stand. All tables were full, I'm thinking it was around 7pm. The dining room area, on the other hand, was completely subdued, ie. empty. There was just one other table (beside us) dining. However, by the time we left, I'm guessing at around 8:30, it had filled up a bit more. So it's sort of an all or nothing scenario. I guess if you got to the bar area early enough and scored yourself a seat, maybe a table in one of the corners, it wouldn't feel so claustrophobic and crowded. Otherwise it might not be the best choice. (On a side note, which should never be a side note with chowhound..we thought the food was just ok. I got that famed carbonara and honestly thought it was a little heavy, flavor just sort of "eh.." I'm always on the lookout for true traditional carbonara and no doubt this is the most authentic I've had in Boston, but still, it didn't really do it for me. S.O. got the steak frites (without the frites) and she said it was flavorful but the meat was a bit gristly and chewy. So....our experience certainly wasn't phenomenal by any means, and we probably won't be rushing back anytime soon)
                  I do think Eastern Standard is a great rec. Again, you'll need to get there early enough b/c the place is busy, but if you're ok with hanging out in the bar while you wait for a table, it's a great option. Bar is always packed with lots of people.... And I think MC's suggestion of the Alchemist in JP is a good one. Food is fairly solid, nothing earth shattering but I enjoy the vibe there. It's warm, relaxing, with an interesting mix of people hanging out both at the bar and at the tables, eating. I like it there.

                  1. re: twentyoystahs
                    saridt Apr 5, 2007 04:18 PM

                    You know, we had the same experience at the Good Life on Sat. I was so excited to try it & while it was solidly "good" nothing about it blew me away. There were six of us & this seemed to be the concensus. I had the mac & cheese and the crispy salmon. I also tried the tartar, risotto, and carbonara. The carbonara was most disappointing after all of the raves on here --the two who got it found it quite bland. The standout for me was the risotto & scallop appetizer --it was perfect. DCs said that the roasted farm chicken was excellent & also liked the cuban. I did not try the desserts but those who did found them forgettable. Service was good except for the fact that they forgot an appetizer & then when they did finally bring it out, they served the entrees 30 seconds later so DC was stuck with them both at the same time. Also, it took a long time to flag down a waitress to let our waitress know that it was missing, although the dining room was not very busy. I really wanted to love it because I was a regular at the old GL back in the day (for the drinks, not the food back then!).

                2. gini Apr 4, 2007 02:01 PM

                  Les Zyg is a great choice - ate at the bar recently and their moules frites are completely rich - though the frites needed more salt - and every single one of their wines is available by the glass, which makes asking for recommendations from fellow bar-mates practically mandetory.

                  Think the chow at B Side is above average and the cocktails benefit from all their housemade juices. Green Street always seems a little sleepier to me.

                  I'm with Bob on Match - the few times I've been there I've always felt as thought I was wearing too many clothes to fit in. The burgers are good (especially the lamb), and that cookie dessert is heavenly, but the cocktails taste like pop rocks. Wait, there might be a pop rocks drink, even.

                  The bar at Spire sounds like a nice scene for you, but my last meal at the bar wasn't all that tasty - though the cocktails were superb.

                  1. NiKoLe1625 Apr 4, 2007 02:16 PM

                    I would definitely agree with Eastern Standard. Great drinks, food, and atmosphere!

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: NiKoLe1625
                      d
                      drewames03 Apr 4, 2007 02:44 PM

                      Definitely Eastern Standard. I like Harvard Gardens as well. Om in Harvard Square is expensive, but if you eat in the lounge area, it's cheaper and can be fun. I also enjoy Stella although I agree it's not terrific.

                    2. a l i c e Apr 4, 2007 08:03 PM

                      I almost always meet someone interesting at River Gods (when was the last time you had a discussion about string theory in a bar?). To top it off, the food is always good (love the Korean handrolls). If you decide that's not your scene, you could always walk down the street to any of the other Central Sq. spots, like Enormous Room, Middle East, ZuZu, Cuchi-Cuchi, Miracle of Science, or Middlesex.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: a l i c e
                        kittychow Apr 5, 2007 07:19 AM

                        I also think River Gods is a good choice. Depending on music is booked ZuZu is also good. I love Cuchi Cuchi but find that it doesn't take much to spend far more than intended.

                        1. re: kittychow
                          gini Apr 5, 2007 07:58 AM

                          And for some reason, the bar at Cuchi Cuchi is usually so packed you can't even move. If you do sit at the bar, prepare for some bumping. Not necessarily solicited bumping, eikther.

                      2. hotoynoodle Apr 5, 2007 07:52 AM

                        could also do a south end crawl between masa, 28 degrees, 33 and mistral. i always liked progression type nights back in the day, ahem. if you're having a great time someplace, just stay!

                        i agree with alice about central square. you could eat at central kitchen, touch any of the places she mentioned, and i'll add phoenix landing to the list.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: hotoynoodle
                          kittychow Apr 5, 2007 08:54 AM

                          Phoenix Landing... now you're talking serious "romantic roulette"!

                          1. re: kittychow
                            Bob Dobalina Apr 6, 2007 06:06 AM

                            Russian, more like it. ;)

                        2. e
                          Elyssa Apr 5, 2007 07:58 AM

                          I went to Excelsior awhile ago and really loved it. But my parents went recently for a birthday celebration and said it was pretty noisy...something about the floors...who knows. Others might have more opinions on this though.

                          1. l
                            LeoLioness Apr 5, 2007 09:16 AM

                            I agree with the B-Side Lounge. Good food, great drinks, and because it's more a bar with food as opposed to a restaurant with a bar, there are generally more people there to meet others. I do tend to split appetizers with a friend there though--I find them better than most of the entrees at any given time.

                            1. m
                              mbasnack Apr 5, 2007 02:45 PM

                              Agreed- Eastern Standard is a great pick. Now if I hadn't just gone there last weekend! Think we'll try for Les Zyg (haven't been there for years)...and if these old birds can muster up the energy, maybe we'll head over to Cambridge for some after-dinner activities. Thanks for all the great suggestions!

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: mbasnack
                                Bob Dobalina Apr 11, 2007 01:08 PM

                                So where did you end up and how did it go? Hope you didn't spin the roulette wheel too many times...

                              2. p
                                peelmeagrape Apr 5, 2007 05:10 PM

                                A couple more ideas to throw into the (great) mix: First, the bar area at Prezza. The prices are probably a little higher than what you mention, but it's a fun, bustling scene and the food and drinks are terrific. Otherwise, how about Tremont 647? I wasn't blown away by the food, but the bar area was way busier and more social than I'd expected and I think the price range might be closer to what you want.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: peelmeagrape
                                  Rubee Apr 6, 2007 09:50 AM

                                  Second the bar at Prezza - always a nice crowd there, and you can definitely make a meal of appetizers (all the pastas are available as half-orders too). In fact, we were just there Wednesday night and one of our bar mates was a friendly guy from San Francisco who said Prezza is the one place he goes to everytime he travels to Boston for work.

                                2. c
                                  chowfamily Apr 11, 2007 11:30 AM

                                  Quincy has a wonderful "restaurant row" which is well worth a dining detour. Another chowhound suggested drinks and apps at Fuji, followed by dinner at Little Q (across the street, but save room for the scallion pancakes and the excellent broths) and dancing near by... It is easy to park and hard to go wrong.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: chowfamily
                                    hiddenboston Apr 11, 2007 11:36 AM

                                    Sadly, the Burgin Parkway will soon be extended into Quincy Center, forcing many of the restaurants to close or move, so you might want to get there before it happens. Not sure exactly when it will be (hopefully it will be scrapped at the last minute!).

                                  2. m
                                    mbasnack Apr 13, 2007 07:27 AM

                                    Sorry, Hounds...a very belated follow up given all the great suggestions.

                                    So, my friend and I decided to try Les Zygomates. Despite getting a little lost on the way there (hadn't been there in about 8 years), we sat in the bar area...which, save for a few folks at the bar and some couples at the small tables...was fairly quiet. I'm sure this was due to the holiday weekend...

                                    Jason, our server, was terrific and helped us narrow down some choices. Note to self: if you're planning on making it a late night of bar hopping- DO NOT STUFF YOUR FACE. The only other thing Jason could have done to make our meal perfect was to bring me a pair of sweatpants with the check. We had the mussels, escargot, steak frites and the swordfish. He made great wine pairings for us...That said, not a lot of 'mingling' opportunites afterwards...Great pick for a quiet dinner or a date. Not so much for a girls night out.

                                    Sidenote: Which is why I'm really starting to think that Boston is really lacking in the restaurant & great bar department. I don't want to wait in line to get in a place (Hey, I lived in NYC...and half those places weren't worth it...). I don't want to be surrounded by kids doing test tube shots. But it'd be great to have a range of choices for post-dinner drinks where you didn't feel as if you were interrupting date night for dozens of couples, either.

                                    6 Replies
                                    1. re: mbasnack
                                      Bob Dobalina Apr 13, 2007 08:23 AM

                                      Thanks for the follow-up.
                                      As for your side note, allow me to paraphrase Joe Pernice -

                                      "I’m gonna take a lover
                                      Gonna take him back to Somerville
                                      Don’t care if he’s pretty
                                      As we leave Suck City [Boston]

                                      Come over to the north side of the river and I am willing to bet you'll have better luck.

                                      1. re: Bob Dobalina
                                        Joanie Apr 13, 2007 08:34 AM

                                        I don't think that's true at all. The OP had already gone to a bunch of places with a lively bar and food scene in town (Washington Sq., Franklin, etc). The $20 entree mark makes things a little tougher but you could split apps at Sibling Rivalry and Via Matta. Bouchee might work. Eastern Standard (for the 900th recommendation). Alchemist in JP. Sure there are some in Camb. but I never understand this fear/distaste of crossing the river from one side to the other.

                                        1. re: Joanie
                                          Bob Dobalina Apr 13, 2007 08:46 AM

                                          I feel like Boston tends to fill with the "Bridge and Tunnel" crowd on the weekend - Cambridge/Somerville/JP do not nearly as much.

                                          1. re: Bob Dobalina
                                            Dax Apr 13, 2007 10:06 AM

                                            The Backbay/Ladder District areas fill up the most with the B&T crowds. The restaurant bars not so much.

                                            1. re: Dax
                                              gini Apr 13, 2007 12:21 PM

                                              Are they really all storming Ivy & Felt? Shudder.

                                              1. re: gini
                                                yumyum Apr 13, 2007 01:23 PM

                                                From what I've seen, they are also at the bar at Good Life and also across the street at Peking Tom's. Yeeps.

                                                I agree with Bob Dob -- Camb/Som/JP seems less sceney on the weekends.

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