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The best of the best?

  • m

Hi all - I've been in Boston for a couple of months and my parents are coming in to visit next weekend. I've heard a lot about the great food in this city but haven't been able to try much since I'm on a really tight budget. But not next weekend! I'm looking for some recommendations for some fantastic food and wine now that money isn't (too) much of an issue.
My dad is a wonderful cook and a huge wine snob so we're looking for places that fit the bill - amazing food, extensive wine list, but not too pretentious or stuffy. We're not into anything that is very touristy, more along the lines of smaller places that feel welcoming and like they could be real neighbourhood favourites. We love European food - French and Italian - and anything with a bit of an experiemental edge. I've heard the buzz about places like L'Espalier, Clio, No.9 Park, but I'm worried they sound a bit too...much?
I haven't spent much time in the North End so I'd be happy to check that out, and I love the feel of the South End - but we're happy to go pretty much anywhere.
I know this is very open-ended but I'd love your help! I don't want to waste this great opportunity for some wonderful meals after a few too many bowls of Annie's Mac-n-Cheese. Thank you!

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  1. I think that Grotto on Bowdoin Street (Beacon Hill) would be a good option. Italian and Mediterranean food that is outstanding, plus they have some unusual dishes (gnocchi with short ribs, for instance), and excellent wines. It's also not all that well known, and it is fairly casual and reasonably priced.

    1 Reply
    1. re: hiddenboston

      Grotto is immediately what came to my mind.

      You might also take your dad to Les Zygomates, a wine bar in the Leather district with a ton of wines by the glass. I bet he'd love that.

    2. Eastern Standard! (Just kidding)

      A sure-fire winner is Salts in Cambridge (Central Square) - not exactly neighborhoody but should hit on all the other criteria esp. wine list and $$$$.

      You should also check out the Rendezvous in Central Square as a place that has been getting some excellent reviews of late.

      On the more neighborhood-y side of things, there is Ten Tables in JP and Gargoyle's in Davis.

      1. Any idea on total budget per person?

        1. Of the three restaurants above, both L'Espalier and Clio are on the formal side. I just don't think of #9 as all that fancy. Other good choices which have great food and wine are:
          Pigalle (great food and a well chosen wine list)
          Troquet (great food and one of the best wine lists in the city)
          Meritage (Good food, good wine list, Great View)
          Prezza (Good food, Good wine list, In the North End)

          1. You asked for amazing food, extensive wine list, but not too pretentious or stuffy. My recommendations would be;

            #1- Clio
            #2- #9 Park

            If you go to #9, take Dad around the corner (very short walk) to the Fed @ 15 Beacon for some wine before dinner. The Wine list wins the top award in Wine Spectator every year.

            Avoid L'espalier, too formal.

            1. Sage restaurant sounds perfect for you. The food is fantastic, it's hardly pretentious or stuffy, and they do have an extensive wine list. It's not cheap by any means, but I don't think it's out of your range, given what you asked for. They are either in the process of, or have recently moved to the South End, but you can find out by calling them. The website is http://www.sageboston.com

              Since you are happy to go anywhere, and want something off the tourist path, another one of my favorite "hidden jewels", which might fit the bill, is Jasmine Bistro, in Brighton Center. It's Hungarian with some French and Middle Eastern influences. The food is outstanding, and it's a family-run place, with the owner's sons as cooks and waiters. They really take care of you and make you feel at home. They also have a lovely wine selection that should meet your dad's approval. I HIGHLY recommend it. Here's a link to the reviews on Citysearch, with the address/phone: http://boston.citysearch.com/review/4...

              1 Reply
              1. re: mwk

                Unless it opened this week, Sage isn't open yet

              2. Your list sounds to me a lot like a toss up between No. 9 and Troquet. No. 9 is a bit more "homey", especially at the bar but your dad will be happy with the wine at Troquet, I also think the food is a little more consistent there.

                If my rich uncle Pennybags was coming into town I'd do dinner with wine at Troquet and drinks for dessert at No. 9. They're right across the common from each other, so that's a bonus.

                1. This is my favorite topic so far! It was only a couple of years ago that I was making reservations at restaurants completely out of my budget when my parent came to visit me at college. Rendezvous is excellent, and two of my all-time favorites are Hamersley's Bistro and Rialto, both of which it sounds like your dad would really love (first is French, second is Italian). For the North End, go to Marco! It's a small place upstairs from Cafe Paradiso (I think that's what the cafe's called). It's laid back but upscale and absolutely delicious. Have fun!

                  1. All great choices and I've never had a bad feeding at No. 9 or the Fed (though the Fed is so expensive I only recommend it for those using corporate account money). I would recommend you go to the Franklin Cafe as it stands out as one of the best dining experience I've had in Boston. It's in the S. End (278 Shawmut Ave), doesn't take reservations, but is the restaurant where the Boston chef's go when they want great food. Also, if you're in and around Back Bay and just want to pop into a place that offers excellent food and a huge imported beer menu that's very moderately priced, I'd go to Parish Cafe on the corner of Arlington and Boylston (right next to the Public Garden).
                    Have a feast!

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: crobma

                      I love The Franklin as a great little restaurant/bar. I ate there twice this week, but you're telling me that for a special occassion, considering all factors, you think The Franklin is the best fit for "mjn"?

                      MJN- Be aware that if you decide to go to The Franklin, it's small and dark and you will probably wait a long time for a table. I personally don't think it's your best option with your folks. If I were you, and you have the time, narrow it down to a few places and walk around during an afternoon and check them out. Most restaurants are open during the day taking reservations and deliveries and you can get the lay of the land for yourself. Between that and researching all previous posts on each restaurant and the web sites, menus and wine lists, you'll get a pretty good idea of what will work best for you and your parents. If you're concerned about formality at #9, request a table in the Cafe'.

                      1. re: BostonBarGuy

                        I think that's very good advice bbg.

                        I'd never gouge my parents at, say, the Fed -- would save that for business entertainment/gouging. Given the OP wants something splurgy, go with Troquet. I've heard very good reports about the food/wine pairings.

                        1. re: yumyum

                          You mentioned French. How about Sandrine's?

                      1. re: BostonBarGuy


                        I would also suggest Mistral on Columbus Ave. Very hip, great bar scene, very good wine list and overal excellent food but certainly in the price category of the other top-end restaurants mentioned on this baord.

                        1. re: RoyRon

                          Thank you all so much for your suggestions! They were all very helpful in narrowing down the choices - in the end, I gave a list to my dad and let him do the work, and he chose Hamersley's and Clio.

                          Both meals were amazing, although in different ways - Hamersley's felt warm and welcoming right away, service was fantastic and friendly. There was a lot of wine at both of these meals, so I'm not going to be able to give exact descriptions of food, but I had a really interesting skatefish and lobster terrine to start, followed by scallops with asparagus that included some sort of custard-like centerpiece: all phenomenal, and very interesting flavour combinations. Portions were perfectly sized, although I'll admit to eating far too much of the yummy foccacia bread before hand. My boyfriend (taking full advantage of the visiting parents as well) raved about his duck appetizer. We shared a molten chocolate cake for dessert that was tasty although not quite molten - might have been slightly overcooked. All in all, a really wonderful meal. The only complaint might be that they were out of quite a few menu items, but they informed us of all that right away and I'd rather they not try to fudge things with less than perfect ingredients.

                          Clio was also delicious, although I wasn't as fond of the atmosphere. Service was attentive, again, but slightly excessive and somewhat aloof. We had a great Meritage for wine but it was too warm to drink and we had to get some ice to put it on - might have just been a result of the high temperatures that day. The whole restaurant was quite warm! But the food! I tried the sea urchin and lobster cassoulet, which was totally surprising, and followed that with the crispy halibut. Portions were small, yes, but I was stuffed - the flavours were all so rich and exciting and amazing that I just had to savour everything. There was a lot of sharing bites and marvelling and trying to identify certain unknown flavours. My mom was on cloud 9 with her duck.

                          I experienced some sticker shock at both places (especially Clio, and especially their wine list!) but I chose to avert my eyes and enjoy being a kid for a few days. Both were completely worth it. I know some people have said Hamersley's has gone downhill or become stale, but everything at our meal was wonderful and if I were going to eat somewhere again, it would be there - the atmosphere was just more relaxed. Then again, if I was trying to wow some real gourmets, I'd probably take them to Clio. Or let them take me.

                          The only other destinations for food were Charlie's for breakfast - it's a guilty pleasure, a fun Boston experience, and their Cape Cod French Toast with cranberries makes me as happy as any gourmet meal - and the cafe at the Kennedy Library and Museum since we were stuck out there at lunch time. That said, can you beat $1.50 for a decent salad at a museum cafe with a beautiful view of the harbour and city? I'm certainly not complaining.

                          Now it's back to 3 bowls of cereal a day...

                          1. re: mjn

                            Oh cool. Thanks for the report back. We never hear from 80% of folks about where they actually ended up.

                            1. re: yumyum

                              I'd have to look at the posting rules again, but they should ask people to follow-up, especially with the effort a lot of people put in. It's like watching a movie and losing power 10 minutes before the ending. It would be nice to know how many of these stories turn out.

                            2. re: mjn

                              Excellent report.

                              It is indeed wonderful to hear back about delicious family nights out.

                              Keep us informed about what you find as chow-worthy alternatives to cereal!