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Best bet around Park and Tremont w/out reservations and with a crowd?

Gosh, this is such an odd question, and I am not sure if I could have answered it if someone asked it in my home board, but lets try...

I will be heading off to Boston soon for a work related function. I will dine out by myself one night or two based on the information I gathered at this board here (Looks like Via Matta and Union Oyster House for now, but we'll see). For lunches, I have a local friend from Cambridge and he will show me around. So all is set, or it seems; I have a dinner dilemma: We need to go out to eat one night with the colleagues. And here is the catch: we won't know how many people will tag along, and this is a major problem since I cannot make reservations for unknown number of people between 4 and 15.

The conference hotel is around Park and Tremont. So unless it is absolutely necessary no-one will take a cab, to, lets say, Cambridge. We are not talking about chowhounders here. They would be OK with most mid-range restaurants and cuisines, but they won't travel for food. I, on the other hand, don't want to waste a meal in this city and would like to get the best possible food I can get for this dinner.

Let me emphasize the seriousness of the situation by giving examples of where we previously ended up at similar meetings: A Chinese restaurant that also served sushi in Orlando, a faux Italian joint in San Antonio riverwalk, and (cry) McDonalds in Goteborg. The last one was the most painful. I got my revenge by bingeing out on meatballs and really stinky herring the next day; but I think I still have some scars left from this instance. So I guess I'll be OK for anything better than McDonalds, but if I channel all my good energy, what is the best place that I can go with my unspecified number of colleagues, by calling an hour before, or just showing up? No specific cuisine restrictions. Anything is doable, well unless it involves balut or live octopus.

So here is the summary of my constraints: The place needs to be close to Park and Tremont, price needs to be mid range (or less), and most importantly it should easily accommodate drop ins of potentially large parties. So given the parameters, where should I head my peeps to to have the least "wasted" dinner?

Merci!

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  1. My first inkling would be Mooo which is right up the street:

    http://www.mooorestaurant.com/

    Not sure of the reservation situation however....

    1. While not the most houndish, but I think would fit all or most of your criteria is Ivy. An Italian influenced place that does entrees and small plates and can most likely accommodate your group on a whim. I find this place to be a safe haven with non-hounds. approachable food, kinda hip surroundings and reasonable pricing.
      http://www.ivyrestaurantgroup.com/ ,

      There are better options in the area, but the possible randomness of your group size may rule some out.

      Also China Town isn't a far walk and the larger places can handle a large party without any problems.

      Union Oyster House-Make sure you sit at the oyster bar and only order off the raw bar menu.

      1. In addition to the others, there's Vinalia on Summer/Arch St. across from Macy's. It's not the most thrilling place in the world, but they have some interesting menu items and could handle a random group.

        http://www.vinaliaboston.com/

        KO Prime might be kind of slow too depending on what day it is but fairly pricey as is Mooo.

        1. A little expensive for what it is, and not particularly extraordinary food-wise, but close and usually pretty quiet/empty: Scollay Square. Most entrees in the low to mid 20s.

          Kingston Station has surprisingly good food considering the youthful crowd that favors it. French brasserie type fare, an excellent prime skirt steak frites, decent with a crowd. Its Faneuil Hall singles-bar scene is kind of scary late on weekend nights, the air thick with the scent of Acqua di Gio and desperation.

          You might be able to walk into the dining room at The Good Life if there's no DJ-type event going on. The food is quite respectable and a pretty good value for the neighborhood, kind of comfort New American.

          If you're willing to early-bird, walk over to Chacarero for their awesome namesake Chilean sandwiches; they close at 7pm. More of a Chowish lunch option, one of the best in the neighborhood.

          If American pub food, excellent beers, and cool old 19th-century tavern atmosphere fit the bill, try Jacob Wirth's. Just avoid the German food on the menu.

          If it's more of a wino crowd, consider Les Zygomates. 40+ wines by the glass and good, very traditional French bistro fare. Live jazz on one side, quiet on the other.

          Via Matta (the enoteca side) would actually be a decent option for a potentially large group. The full menu is a bit pricey, but the cafe menu has more reasonable options like fancy pizzas.

          You might get away with walking into Taranta with a large crowd; just call ahead before you try. One of the better mid-range North Enders, Central/Southern Italian with Peruvian touches on some dishes and a lot of very fine seafood.

          Mooo.... and KO Prime are not mid-range: they are luxury steakhouses, most entrees in the mid-30s or higher.

          Avoid the Union Oyster House: its food (with the exception of raw oysters *only* at the downstairs oyster bar) is wretched.

          7 Replies
          1. re: MC Slim JB

            Sorry! I somehow missed the "mid price range" part of your post! As others have stated Mooo is pricier than that.

            1. re: MC Slim JB

              Thank you everyone for the suggestions. I am curious about the Union Oyster Bar comment. I will be there for the raw bar and a couple of pints. I am not thinking about anything fussy, but must have good oysters and maybe some chowda. So do I have a better chance of getting good oysters (and mind you it is getting warmer in the ocean) at another place? It doesn't have to be fancy. I am a female dining alone; but gritty, I can do. Worst case I'll swing some kung fu.

              1. re: emerilcantcook

                I've always liked the raw clams there too & usually get half & half, but never anything else except something to drink.

                1. re: emerilcantcook

                  I'd encourage you to go to Neptune Oyster in the North End for oysters instead. It's an easy walk, and they have a lot going on besides oysters.

                  If you sit at the first-floor raw bar at the Union Oyster House (right near the main entrance), at least you will get your oysters freshly shucked. Tables elsewhere get pre-shucked clams, ick. In general, it's an awful tourist trap.

                  1. re: MC Slim JB

                    Agreed - please save yourself the trouble and just head to Neptune on Salem Street (less than 5 min walk from Union Oyster, a good selection of fresh shellfish, and a fun winelist too)

                2. re: MC Slim JB

                  Second Scollay Square for relative price and convenience - as MC said, not great food, but not bad. It is the most convenient pick only.

                  Another place that would be perfect in terms of variability of size is Johnnie's on the Side (in the old Anthem space), which is about a 10-15 minute walk toward the Boston Garden. The room is huge and it is never packed. It's a little out of the way, but pretty much guarantee there will be space.

                  What about Silvertone? I know it is not really built for the high end of that size group, but they have that extra room, that often is not in use it seems. It's also a stone's throw from Park/Tremont, so it may be worth a fly-by.

                  In addition to Taranta, you could just stroll the North End for a reasonable place. Check the board for recs in general - it is only a 10-15 walk through the Faneuil Hall / Quincy Market area to get there. A place like Pagliuca's, which I don't feel is ever very busy and serves less expensive, decent, but not flashy Southern Italian might work nicely.

                  1. re: MC Slim JB

                    Taranta Taranta you are on my radar already! If they don't take us with a crowd, I'll 86 some members of the team, just to get in. I am definitely going to try it first, because Italian-Peruvian food is not something we don't get in Montreal, at least to my knowledge.

                  2. For this situation I'd suggest the Kinsale pub. It's right on Tremont, across from the Gov't Center train station. A 2 minute walk from the Omni Parker. An Irish (faux but who cares) atmosphere, fun for a group and they are very accomodating when more people join the party. Plenty of outdoor seating too which is a nice option. The apps are standard buffalo-wing stuff; the steaks are surprisingly good.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Niblet

                      I agree that Kinsale is a nice option. It's actually an Irish pub that was disassembled, shipped, and rebuilt in Boston. The food is decent, mid-range, and the atmosphere is casual and fun. http://www.classicirish.com/kinsale_a...

                    2. How soon? Marliave was supposed to be open by Spring '08. Stopped by last week and they still don't look close. Perhaps it will be open by the time you arrive. Location and food wise it would be a near perfect match.
                      http://www.marliave.com/

                      5 Replies
                      1. re: Seamus7

                        I am loving that Marliave menu - Rarebits and Yorkshire pudding are you kidding me! And it gladdens my heart that they're preserving so much of the history. Thanks for the heads-up.

                        1. re: Seamus7

                          Pretty soon unfortunately. But I foresee many other trips in the future.

                          1. re: emerilcantcook

                            Don't go to Union Oyster House if you can help it. Neptune Oyster is about a quarter mile away, maybe less, in the North End. Another suggestion is to order the original Boston Cream Pie from the Omni Parker House a day in advance.

                            1. re: Guinness02122

                              We try very hard on this board to divert visitors from the Union Oyster House to Neptune Oyster. I like Neptune Oyster very much buts let's be clear, we're not talking apples and apples here.

                              Neptune is very small and can be difficult to manage at peak times. For some oysters and a non-fancy beer it is easily twice the price of the Union Oyster House.

                              Neptune does have very good food, and one can choose one's oysters from many locations (and be told what your tasting on the ridiculous oyster ordering cards - my current favorite 'buttered popcorn').

                              But it has no *Boston* charm. No Kennedy booth.

                              I wonder if sometimes we divert visitors too quickly.

                              1. re: Carty

                                I don't know. It calls itself an oyster house, and if you sit in that Kennedy booth, you get pre-shucked oysters. That's just gross.

                                I think saying, "Sit at the downstairs oyster bar, have a few oysters, feel the ghostly presence of that old glutton Daniel Webster, and flee" is the Chowish thing to do. The atmosphere of the oldest continuously operating restaurant in America is indeed cool, but I still think you should mostly duck the food there.

                        2. For your group outing, you may want to consider Kennedy's - not far at all from the Park/Tremont St area. I like the atmosphere there, and the foods pretty good.
                          http://www.kennedysmidtown.com/menu/i...

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: chowciao

                            Yeah, Kennedy's is a neat spot. Did I hear somewhere that it might be for sale? Any news on that? I've liked the place for both its food and atmosphere the couple of times that we have been there.

                          2. Dare I say it? What about the Legal Sea Foods at the Park Plaza? It's a little north of mid-range, has a large dining room, and serves a menu which is safe for non-hounds. And if you order carefully, you can probably have a reasonable, if somewhat insipid, meal. I mean, we're comparing to McDonald's here.

                            1. OK! You are going to be pissed, and I am so sorry that I put everyone in trouble and then ended up forgetting my list in my hotel room (to which I had no opportunity to go back until now). Well, I had a big 8AM presentation to make and then somewhat "out of it" all day, but why am I such an absent minded doofus? I just hope this fine list you guys/gals helped with will be useful for someone else; or at least next time I visit your fine town. But we ended up having a nice meal, just due to sheer luck. Please read:

                              Good thing that we were four (avoided the crowds) and they didn't mind walking; the weather was nice. I remembered Taranta and Neptune (but stoopid me, not Via Matta, that could have been perfect). I suggested both, but there were some resistance and I wasn't in the position of power (not ready to risk career for chow, yet). They wanted something "traditional Italian" but there were so many Italian restaurants around, and I knew that at least half of them would be "not that good". We were under serious risk. Not McDonalds risk, but still chow-risk

                              So you know what I did? While walking them towards the North End, we stopped the first non-tourist looking person (briefcase, tired look on her face, fast walking and not looking around in awe). I told her that we are tourists, but didn't want something touristy. She sent us to Pomodoro, saying that it is very small, cosy, family owned and had very fresh seafood and pasta. The gang decided to take the risk.

                              It wasn't bad, in fact it was perhaps the best impromptu work trip meal I ever had (well my standards were pretty low for this context, but this was sincerely decent). My linguine with clams was pretty good, clean flavors, perfectly cooked pasta, decent portion. A colleague had the cod and she raved about it for the next 24 hours. Another colleague had the carbonara with chicken and wild mushrooms; and while it didn't look like a traditional carbonara (it looked and smeled like a cream based sauce) he said it tasted damn good, perhaps a little heavy. But the biggest treat was our server. OK, this has nothing to do with chow perhaps, but we fell in love with this woman. She had such a pure -stuttering pure, goosebump pure- angelic beauty, such an genuine and generous smile, such amazing presence that I literally wanted to hug her the minute I saw her. I couldn't really believe that someone would survive the service industry with so much niceness and pureness. Doesn't she ever come across rude customers? I almost cried by just looking at her. I almost wanted to believe in G-d.

                              And then another serendipitous thing happened. Since Pomodoro doesn't have a bathroom I was sent to Vittoria across the street to do youknowwhat. On my way to the little girls room, I spotted all these coffees, drinks, gelatos and other Italian pastry goodnesses and mmm grappa! So I took the gang there. It was a huge hit. I was afraid to order the grappa in case they'd think I am a lush, but I had the damn best cannoli in my life with some fiiine cappuccino (how very un-Italian to drink a cap after dinner). The cannoli filling was creamy, blithely fragranced with some lemon rind. Just a hint, not too lemony. I get goosebumps thinking about it. Perhaps you guys are spoiled with many other similar cannoli vending institutions, perhaps the standards of Montreal cannoli scene is low that I have no real comparative basis, or perhaps (I'd like to think) that we accidentally hit a gem. I also liked the old world atmosphere. I was transported back home.

                              Anyhoo, just wanted to give a report. I always like advice seeking visitors to report back in our home board and see if our suggestions hit the spot; and I didn't want to be one of those people that ask a question and disappear. I would like to thank again for your effort (even though I wasted them due to my incompetency).

                              Not tasted any oysters, yet, didn't have time. My lunch was a couple of Kashi bars (not bad actually). Damn when did I became a careerist yuppie?

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: emerilcantcook

                                Even if you couldn't use the tips you got here, I appreciate your detailed follow-up report!

                                I think you could have done a lot worse than Pomodoro (whose food I generally like, but whose cramped space and no-reservations policy make it less appealing to me) and Caffe Vittoria (a somewhat touristy place with borderline-hostile service that nonetheless has fine atmosphere, good espresso drinks, decent treats, a jukebox, and Fernet Branca). I too would like to get an angel for a server once in a while. I can't remember the last time that I ran into one like yours.

                                In general, I think your Chowish instincts will serve you well. As someone who has eaten a lot of bad business meals on business trips, I find that a little research like you did here is always better than relying on concierges (generally corrupt or too afraid to send people anywhere interesting), the instincts of your dining companions, or the kindness of strangers (you got lucky). With diligence, you might even build a reputation at work as the person who always finds great places to eat in strange cities, and come to be a trusted resource.

                                But you'll always have to fight that lowest-common-denominator factor, the person who'd rather eat at Chili's than try something new. If there's any way to do it, I find excuses to ditch these people or go off on my own. Finding Chowish allies at work is also useful: strength in numbers. Life's too short to eat at casual-dining chain outlets.