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Taranta, Davio's, Grill 23 or Mistral

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LaPetiteMaligne May 21, 2007 11:53 AM

Hey hounds,

Im trying to decide between the above. I like funky flavors but nothing swimming in heavy sauces and usually go for tuna or steak. Any recs?

  1. MC Slim JB May 21, 2007 12:07 PM

    I like all of these places. I'd break them down like this:

    Taranta -- most interesting chef of the bunch, doing a unique (to Boston) hybrid of cucina meridionale (the lower half of Italy, including the two big islands) and Peruvian accents. It does the most interesting seafood dishes, has decent prices and lovely atmosphere. It's in a nice but not luxurious-feeling multi-story North End location.

    Davio's -- a combination of a luxury chophouse and a slightly creative pan-Italian place. I think of it as an expense-account place with very high prices, a good choice for business entertaining and private dining. The bar and wine list are decent but expensive. It has a lively, loud dining room fronting a big open kitchen. You'll see a lot of suits here.

    Grill 23 -- another expense-account place, a punishingly loud luxury steakhouse with tons of business entertaining going on, big parties of guys in suits. I don't much like Boston's fancy steakhouses, but I like this one better than most. The steaks are dry-aged, I haven't experienced a lot of kitchen consistency problems, and they do a decent job of non-beef items. Another decent but overpriced bar and wine list.

    Mistral -- lovely atmosphere, a very pretty dining room, with solid, heavily French influenced New American. I think it priced itself out of the "expensive but worth it" category a long time ago, but it is very consistent, with strong service. The bar scene is quite lively. It's still considered a kind of chic hotspot; people seem to like to dress up here. I happen to prefer its new Italian sibling, Sorellina, whose food I find a little more interesting, though similarly overpriced.

    Of the bunch, I like Taranta the best. I think it's the most innovative, and offers the best bang for the buck.

    13 Replies
    1. re: MC Slim JB
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      LaPetiteMaligne May 21, 2007 12:23 PM

      Someone also suggested Union Bar and Grill. Thoughts?

      1. re: LaPetiteMaligne
        MC Slim JB May 21, 2007 12:35 PM

        Union is another place I like a lot. Great atmosphere, a very handsome dining room (I love those black-leather-upholstered booths), exceptional service. A solid, unfussy New American menu that got a bit simpler and more value-priced over the last year; most entrees are now under $30. Good desserts, cheese plate. Very good bartending. Wine list has gotten more USA-centric of late, not an asset in my book. A place I often recommend, as it is a very, very consistent crowd-pleaser, if not amazingly innovative on the plate.

        1. re: LaPetiteMaligne
          limster May 21, 2007 07:31 PM

          I think of the food at Union as being pretty average; certainly not in the same league as Taranta.

          1. re: limster
            MC Slim JB May 21, 2007 08:57 PM

            I quite concur that the food at Taranta is significantly more innovative and interesting than Union's, as I hope my posts here indicated

            1. re: MC Slim JB
              limster May 21, 2007 11:18 PM

              I wasn't making the comparison based on the creativity of dishes, but rather on execution and technique, which I consider to be a weakness at Union.

              1. re: limster
                MC Slim JB May 22, 2007 05:50 AM

                I think I may have had better luck with (or just a higher opinion of) Union's ktichen, not much I could fault on technique, not that they're doing anything especially complicated. A very admirable roast chicken, perfectly grilled steaks/chops, good roasted fish, solid deep-frying (excellent frites), a fine burger.

                I don't think much of the "10K tuna", but that's more an issue with the recipe itself than how it's prepared. The risotti are nothing to write home about, but they're not terrible, either (I can think of maybe two places in the city that do them properly); I think it could be argued that most restaurants shouldn't even attempt them.

                Consistency of execution on its sort-of-middlebrow menu and excellent service are its chief virtues, in my book.

                1. re: MC Slim JB
                  limster May 22, 2007 09:04 AM

                  I found the risotto on the watery side, and the rice grains too soft. Hanger steak was tenderized till the fibres were starting to fray. The flavour combinations were pleasant and sensible, but I didn't think the technique was there.

                  1. re: MC Slim JB
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                    bachslunch May 24, 2007 02:54 PM

                    MC Slim JB, just curious to know which places you like best for risotto. Thanks!

                    1. re: bachslunch
                      MC Slim JB May 24, 2007 05:12 PM

                      The best ones I've had in recent memory in Boston were at MarcO and Pigalle (both done with lots of Parmesan, many mushrooms and a bit of truffle oil), not coincidentally the same chef/owner. I tasted a very nice one quite recently at the new Sage, done with a tomato/basil fondutta.

                      It's a labor-intensive dish, generally hard to do properly in a busy restaurant setting.

                      1. re: MC Slim JB
                        heathermb May 24, 2007 07:09 PM

                        I had the above-mentioned risotto at Sage a few weeks ago and it was delicious. The rice was cooked to the perfect texture - creamy with a tiny bite left.

                        Grotto also does a delicious mushroom risotto.

          2. re: MC Slim JB
            tatamagouche May 21, 2007 12:35 PM

            I'm with Slim. Taranta fits all your recs right down to a terrific tuna dish in a spicy pepper sauce. While I also agree that there are things I rather like about both Grill 23 and Davio's, esp. the former, I don't see the point in going to a steakhouse if NOT to dine on heavy foods--you can usually get the lighter, cleaner stuff they offer (e.g. raw bar items) better and cheaper elsewhere.
            Mistral has never done anything for me. I locate everything except the decor somewhere between boring and annoying. I know I'm a minority in this, however.

            1. re: MC Slim JB
              g
              Gabatta May 24, 2007 02:26 PM

              Are the majority of the steaks at Grill 23 dry aged now? The last time I was there they had two dry aged cuts on the menu; a NY Strip (they also had a non dry aged version for less$$), and a ribeye for two? The rest of the beef was not dry aged. I am headed there tonight on the company's dime, so I will let you know.

              1. re: Gabatta
                MC Slim JB May 24, 2007 02:40 PM

                I never paid that close attention, but I thought all their steaks were dry-aged. I guess it would make sense that some of them wouldn't be (like a tenderloin), as not everyone goes in for that gamier flavor, though I certainly do.

            2. n
              Northender May 21, 2007 12:32 PM

              As Slim noted, Taranta is much different than the other three. Just to add, the last time I was there they did have both tuna and steak on the menu.

              2 Replies
              1. re: Northender
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                LaPetiteMaligne May 21, 2007 01:23 PM

                Thanks guys. I've canceled my reservations at Aujourd'hui and made one at Taranta instead. My family (who are flying all the way from Malaysia for my graduation) may prefer the latter i think. Will let you know how things turn out.

                1. re: LaPetiteMaligne
                  Joanie May 22, 2007 05:55 AM

                  I'm not sure how large a party you are, but if you can get a table by the window, it's a pretty nice view.

              2. n
                nevercooksathome May 21, 2007 07:36 PM

                Mistral. There is no other option from your list. Mistral, since the day it opened, is the best restaurant in Boston and I have never been dissappointed in my experiences there nor have I heard of anyone else being dissappointed with the expection of the posting below. I had friends from Korea here recently and they loved it. I really enjoy Taranta as well but stick with a classic when you have people visiting. You can rest easy that way.

                6 Replies
                1. re: nevercooksathome
                  tatamagouche May 22, 2007 06:05 AM

                  Believe me, I'm not the only one underwhelmed w/ Mistral, esp. given the prices. Regardless, I wouldn't call it "funky," as the OP requested.

                  1. re: tatamagouche
                    MC Slim JB May 22, 2007 06:10 AM

                    I hope my praise for Mistral came across as suitably underwhelming: "liked, but not well-liked". I too do not understand the passion this place inspires, and I've often said that its prices have become ridiculous (though I note that KO Prime is charging $48 for Dover sole, a la carte, so Mistral's $42 one, which comes with actual side dishes, seems slightly less absurd.)

                    1. re: MC Slim JB
                      tatamagouche May 22, 2007 06:15 AM

                      I know you've said Radius had reached that price-point-of-no-return as well, and I must agree. I was there last night, and holy crap: except for a $12 green salad, the apps began at $17. Since when?

                      1. re: MC Slim JB
                        MC Slim JB May 23, 2007 08:13 PM

                        Um, correction. Mistral's Dover sole is now $48. Prices have gotten even nuttier there.

                        1. re: MC Slim JB
                          Joanie May 24, 2007 05:09 AM

                          Wow, that's insane.

                    2. re: nevercooksathome
                      d
                      DoubleMan May 22, 2007 06:05 AM

                      I've heard plenty of disappointment about Mistral, especially given prices that average close to $40 for entrees and $15-20 for apps.

                    3. saridt May 22, 2007 12:21 PM

                      While I have had very enjoyable experiences at both Union & Mistral, I would far and away recommend Taranta. I have never had a less than fantastic meal there & the tuna is one of my favorite dishes. It is definitely my "go-to" restaurant...

                      I found Grill 23 to be very disappointing and don't understand the allure. Can't comment on Davio's...

                      1. b
                        benji5 Jul 14, 2007 08:01 AM

                        grill 23 has the best chocolate dessert I have ever eaten. I was disappointed in the seafood dishes, though.

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