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Superb restaurants beyond the Boston area

liba123 Jun 30, 2008 08:02 AM

Hello everyone,

I'm looking for a superb restaurant (i.e. akin to L'Espalier or No. 9 Park) *outside* of the Boston area - anywhere from a 20-30 minute drive. I'd like to take a friend out to a great restaurant that is a little outside of the city since he knows those restaurants well. Requirements include quiet atmosphere and great food. Price point: similar to L'Espalier. Thanks so much!

  1. tiaotse Nov 24, 2008 07:29 PM

    La Campania, 504 Main St., Waltham MA

    If you have dined in Italy, you know that Italians enjoy dining in a leisurely setting, savoring fresh and seasonal ingredients. In fact, Catherine De Medici brought fine cuisine to France when she married Henri IV. Much of Italian cuisine focuses on uncomplicated dishes: roasted vegetables, an artisanal cheese, simply prepared fresh seafood; hand-made pastas tossed with herbs and extra-virgin olive oil.

    Liz and I returned to La Campania for a third visit to celebrate our thirty-sixth anniversary hoping to taste the flavors of Italy. We first discovered Campania many years ago when we could not get a table at 'Il Capriccio', a very popular Italian restaurant in Waltham and were referred to La Campania.

    Our earliest impressions were favorable; a small rustic place where diners sat elbow-to-elbow, the noise level high; the food freshly prepared, and the owner even came out and served tiny pizzas to the overflow crowd on the sidewalk. Our second visit was memorable, the restaurant had under-gone extensive renovations, with increased seating capacity. We remember some lovingly prepared dishes, quail and gnoochi, and tasty Italian wines not found in local stores. The maitre d'hotel came to our table and asked if we enjoyed our meal.

    On Saturday evening, we were seated promptly at 5:30 in a quiet corner next to a tiny artificially lit fireplace. Interior lighting was flattering, the walls were brick, the rooms furnished with selected weathered farm tables; vases of tulips were scattered throughout the dining rooms. Our waiter brought us a basket of fresh bread; soft and tasty slices redolent of olives and sage; we were each given a saucer with two olives, and olive oil for dipping. A superb beginning! For my Primi, I chose 'foie-gras'. My foi-gras sat on top a sauteed pear, and mushrooms, sauced with a delicate balsamic reduction. Liz chose a saute of oyster mushrooms and arugula with a warm balsamic dressing nestled in a parmesan cheese basket'. Both were delightful.

    For our Secondi, I selected a veal loin; Liz chose the duck. My veal came rosy-medium rare, on the bone, and accompanied by 'skin-on' roasted potatoes in a rich jus, on top of seared spinach. The duck came beautifully cooked, tender and medium rare, with roasted parsnips, and oyster mushrooms. Both dishes were tastefully presented on stylish white rectangular plates. Our wine, a 2006 Primitivo, 'Mano a Mano,' was succulent and luscious, complementing our dinner. For dessert we shared a chocolate soufflé with ice cream.

    All in all, we had an enjoyable dining experience. The fresh breads make this restaurant special. I do think that La Campania has changed its image as a rustic 'Italian restaurant' to something that resembles 'the high-end' restaurants found in Boston's Back Bay. The careful attention paid to presentations on stylish plates; the upgraded and increased kitchen staff transform La Campania into a trendy bistro. The menu, at least on this visit did not offer gnocchi, home-made pastas, or the traditional 'osso buco.' In closing we missed the old La Campania, and certainly that 'corny' but welcome visit from a proprietor? asking us how our dinner was. 'Jiaogee' Nov 22, 2008.

    1. applehome Aug 1, 2008 08:17 PM

      Catch in Winchester:

      1. c
        chowfamily Jul 24, 2008 10:11 PM

        I really like Lumiere in Newton and Chiara Bistro in Westwood. Both are in unlikely locations, and well worth the drive.

        Price points are lower in both places than OPs target (but, sadly, not Angela-like). Lumiere is lower and Chiara Bistro lower still. Both places have on-line menus with prices.

        Lumiere is a great jumping-off point for someone who wants to find fine dining outside city limits. I don't get there often enough.

        Chiara Bistro soups are memorable and well priced. I recently enjoyed their corn soup and their asparagus soup. Family love the onion soup, and the oysters have been excellent as well. The bread basket is great.

        The kitchens hum in both places, and the steak tartare and steak frites are family favorites. The ubiquitous diver scallops are also delicious in both places.

        Depending on traffic, both are within a 20 - 30 minute driving range. Atmosphere and service have been consistently excellent in my limited experience.

        Lumiere Restaurant
        1293 Washington St., West Newton, MA 02465

        Chiara Bistro
        Westwood, MA, Westwood, MA

        1. wamcadoo Jul 2, 2008 06:30 AM

          I am going to suggest a hidden gem just outside the city, with parking, superb food and about the same price range (NOT inexpensive) and that is Il Faro in Medford, Italian cuisine. It is all fresh made on the premises pasta and uses great sources for meats and seafood. The reviews are consistently excellent.

          4 Replies
          1. re: wamcadoo
            almansa Jul 2, 2008 10:03 AM

            I checked their website and wasn't able to learn anything about how they source their meats and seafood. Do you or anyone else know?

            1. re: wamcadoo
              Wursthof Jul 2, 2008 11:13 AM

              I'm gonna have to call no believesies on the Il Faro rec just from looking at the menu. Looks like a bunch of outdated stuff they served at Bice about 20 years ago. That's not saying I wouldn't enjoy eating some of it but I certainly don't think it should be mentioned as similar cuisine to L'Espalier or 9 Park. Same goes for Bistro 5 and Sweet Basil.

              1. re: Wursthof
                finlero Jul 2, 2008 01:09 PM

                I'll see your no believesies and raise you a went-there-and-it-was-only-ok-sies.

                It's not trying to be L'Espalier or No 9; it's just an honest, old school Italian restaurant. Perfectly acceptable for what it is, but I'm not going out of my way for it, especially for the criteria outlined by the OP.

              2. re: wamcadoo
                pemma Jul 25, 2008 05:27 AM

                I would agree that Il Faro is in no way anything like L'Espalier. But, Bistro 5 is in a whole different class than Il Faro. While certainly not on the level of L'Espalier (and what is?) it does offer an excellent "downtown-type" dining experience. Unforunately, I think the OP is looking for something that really doesn't exist in a 20-30 minute radius. Arrows and White Barn are 1.5 hours+ away.

              3. cassis Jul 1, 2008 05:18 AM

                Isn't Il Capriccio in Waltham supposed to offer pretty upscale Italian cuisine, with a seriously deep wine list? I've never been there myself, and I noticed it isn't often mentioned here, but I had always heard it was very good.

                2 Replies
                1. re: cassis
                  kate used to be 50 Jul 1, 2008 06:32 AM

                  I love Il Capriccio's and think it is one of the best suburban restaurants. Agree about Blue Ginger, over rated.

                  1. re: cassis
                    Northender Jul 2, 2008 02:55 PM

                    One of my al time favorite places. The food is Italian upscale but not quite as upscale as L'Espalier or No. 9. But it is still one of my all time favorite destinations. The wine list is unbelieveable - "seriously deep" would almost be an understatement. It is more like the "Marianas Pit" of winelists.

                  2. MC Slim JB Jul 1, 2008 04:58 AM

                    Bah! Blue Ginger doesn't belong in the same breath as L'Espalier. It's an average mid-high place with a boatload of PR and a location in benighted Wellesley working for it.

                    I think to support a place at that level, you have to be in a wealthy resort destination. Arrows in Ogunquit, The White Barn Inn in Kennebunkport, maybe Chillingsworth in Brewster, maybe Blackfish in Truro, maybe The Pearl or Topper's at the Wauwinet on Nantucket. But none of them are really at the level of the downtown Boston restaurants you mention, just good enough among the limited nearby alternatives for fancy fine dining.

                    In the near suburbs, about the only fine-dining places I think are worth the drive are La Campania in Waltham (caveat: I haven't been back since their exec chef left to open his own downtown place), and Lumiere, 51 Lincoln, and Oishii Chestnut Hill in Newton. I've enjoyed Summer Winter (from the Arrows folks) in Burlington, but have only been for lunch. L'Andana in Burlington does a fair approximation of Sorellina / Mistral in a suburban-feeling room with bigger portions.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: MC Slim JB
                      tdaaa Jul 1, 2008 08:27 AM

                      I was not impressed by L'Andana. Lamb with fava/white beans was way oversalted and grilled octopus appetizer was chewy rather than crisp and flavors were muted. Opinion based on one visit, but I expected better given the prices in a (presumably cheaper) suburban location. Also, no beer on tap, and a huge wine markup. Did get a nice snifter of Calvados instead of dessert, though.

                    2. l
                      liba123 Jun 30, 2008 06:22 PM

                      Wow! thanks so much everyone!

                      1. s
                        Spike Jun 30, 2008 05:54 PM

                        Not L'Espalier's price point (only thing I can think of is the tasting menu at that farm in Maine that I can't remember the name of).
                        Coriander in Sharon is worth a visit though more like a 45min drive...better than most South End spots...

                        4 Replies
                        1. re: Spike
                          bgut1 Jun 30, 2008 10:02 PM

                          IMHO, Coriander is not worth the drive from Boston. My meal there several months back was nothing special.

                          1. re: bgut1
                            bachslunch Jul 23, 2008 03:32 PM

                            My dinner experience at Coriander about a year ago or so was terrific. In fact, it was among the best Boston suburban meals I've had.

                          2. re: Spike
                            duxdubai Jul 2, 2008 04:39 AM

                            Are you thinking of Arrow's in Ogunquit, Maine? I have heard good things but never been... White Barn Inn is surprisingly very comparable to some of the better restaurants in the city, and the best part is that during the winter months they offer "weekend escapes" which include the tasting menu as well as the room in the price...I would say the meal alone, price-wise is almost comparable to L'Espalier etc. too

                            1. re: duxdubai
                              bachslunch Jul 23, 2008 03:37 PM

                              Have been to Arrow's for dinner. Food was wonderfully good. Staff attitudes ranged from caring and professional to irritating and snooty, but at its best (specifically the woman bartender), service was first rate. Be prepared for very high price points.

                          3. n
                            nasilemak Jun 30, 2008 05:39 PM

                            I don't believe there is a restaurant out in the burbs that is comparable to L' espalier or No. 9 Park thought Hugo's in Portland, Maine comes quite close in terms of culinary inventiveness or excitement. There might be something similar down in the Cape or Providence but probably not on the north shore or the south shore.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: nasilemak
                              Ladycale Jul 1, 2008 04:04 AM

                              In terms of Maine are you referring to the White Barn Inn? I've heard fabulous things about their restaurant, though it is a little far away to talk about on this board...

                              1. re: Ladycale
                                nasilemak Jul 2, 2008 05:45 AM

                                The White Barn Inn is certainly posh with exceptional service but the food there is not too exciting. I was thinking more of Hugo's in Portland. The chef there works with interesting flavor profiles and takes chances...and more often than not, it pays of handsomely for the diner.

                            2. t
                              three of us Jun 30, 2008 04:02 PM

                              The Stonehendge Inn in Tyngsborough, MA hosts some lovely wine dinners. One is coming up on July 21.


                              5 Replies
                              1. re: three of us
                                bachslunch Jul 23, 2008 03:30 PM

                                I actually had a very poor experience the time I went to the Stonehenge Inn's restaurant (it was called Silks back then). Some of the worst service I've ever experienced and not so hot food for the price. Hopefully things have changed since then.

                                1. re: bachslunch
                                  almansa Jul 24, 2008 12:53 PM

                                  When did you go? They've been through a bevy of chefs.

                                  1. re: almansa
                                    bachslunch Jul 24, 2008 04:41 PM

                                    It was a few months before the name change from Silks.

                                    1. re: bachslunch
                                      almansa Jul 24, 2008 06:20 PM

                                      Ah yes. That was Keith Pooler, formerly of Harvest, at the time.

                                  2. re: bachslunch
                                    three of us Jul 25, 2008 09:07 AM

                                    I would attend a wine dinner. Dinner at Left Bank, on its own, I'm iffy about. I can't say LB has captured Silks at its height, which was a very special evening out.

                                2. e
                                  emilief Jun 30, 2008 01:52 PM

                                  I don;t think there is anything close to those places outside of Boston. Blue Giner is excellent - they recently remodeled so it should be nice inside. Lumiere is very good. Sweet basil is about as far aay from Lespalier and 9 Park as you could get- loud, more than casual, not so good service and IMHO lousy food but of course it has its fans. Summer Winter and also L'Andana ( same people as Mistral and Sorellina) would be a good choice.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: emilief
                                    Bill Smith Jul 31, 2008 09:08 AM

                                    In the western burbs Fava in Needham is your best bet. It has great: food, wine list, service and charm. No matter how long it’s been since my last visit, I always feel special. The room gets tight on a Saturday nights but the rest of the week it’s down right cozy. I went in the other night and they had a pre fix menu for $35.00. It was great and inexpensive the Salmon was one the best I have ever had.
                                    I agree about Sweet Basil is OK but it’s loud, no alcohol, no dessert, no coffee and they don’t take plastic. I don’t get out that much these days, with price of everything, but when I go out I want to be pampered a bit, and I don’t want to go to three different places to get one dinner out. First the liquor store before dinner. Then the restaurant. Then get in line at the ice cream place for after dinner. If I don’t have the cash I have to go to the bank as well. Way to much work for one dinner. Some think it's inexpensive when I added it all up it came to close to $85.00 for dinner for two.

                                  2. finlero Jun 30, 2008 01:25 PM

                                    As far as my personal tastes are concerned, there's nothing 20-30 minutes outside the city with food anywhere near as well-executed as L'Espalier or No 9 Park.

                                    If you could push it to more like an hour, I'd suggest checking out some options in Providence. Al Forno and Gracie's are quite different from one another, but they're both upscale and delicious. I also quite like La Laiterie, but it's a bit more casual.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: finlero
                                      fullbelly Jul 2, 2008 04:22 PM

                                      In Providence, add Chez Pascal which is terrific too, though not on L'Espalier level.

                                    2. yumyum Jun 30, 2008 01:15 PM

                                      How about Summer Winter in the Burlington Marriott? I've not been, but I love Arrows in Maine by the same guys.


                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: yumyum
                                        Gordough Jun 30, 2008 02:05 PM

                                        I am a big fan of the food at Summer Winter (service has been uneven). Even though I really enjoy the food there, I would not put it in the same ball park as L'Espalier or No. 9 Park. But you may want to take into consideration that a meal at summer winter will likely cost 40% less than a meal at L'Espalier or No. 9 Park.

                                      2. Chris VR Jun 30, 2008 01:11 PM

                                        It's been a while since I've been to Bistro 5 in Medford but that's a similar price point/food style.

                                        Bistro 5
                                        5 Playstead Road, Medford, MA 02155

                                        1. Spends Rent on Food Jun 30, 2008 11:44 AM

                                          Blue Ginger in Wellesley is better than most places in Boston - although I don't think there is anything akin to L'Espalier on the east coast of the US, let alone outside Boston.

                                          I also highly recommend Sweet Basil in Needham - it's not upscale, in fact it's a very relaxed BYO, but the food will blow you away (assuming you like italian).

                                          3 Replies
                                          1. re: Spends Rent on Food
                                            almansa Jul 1, 2008 07:49 AM

                                            Though it's in Lenox, I'd say that the experience at Blantyre is quite similar to that at l'Espalier. It is a quiet, precious room with antique unmatching crystal and Limoges china, and the food, I think, is superior to l'Espalier or No. 9.

                                            1. re: Spends Rent on Food
                                              DarwinMBA Jul 5, 2008 07:40 PM

                                              Not trying to pick a fight, but just had an awful meal at Blue Ginger and wanted to share a different opinion. Don't believe the hype. Fine dining is about outstanding service, and sophisticated and contrasting flavors with interesting textures; there should be a "Wow!" moment during the meal.

                                              The food at Blue Ginger was absolutely disgusting - especially for a restaurant at this price point. Most of the flavors did not meld and the dishes were poorly composed. The Asian Lacquered Poussin was so dry, it was gritty, like particle board and we had to send it back. Ming Tsai should be ashamed that this even left his kitchen. The "signature" Garlic-Black Pepper Lobster was so overly salted, you could almost feel your lips pucker; if the lobster was sweet, it was overwhelmed by salt. Our only recommendation is to avoid Blue Ginger!

                                              1. re: DarwinMBA
                                                Spends Rent on Food Jul 23, 2008 07:43 AM

                                                I agree with your asssessment of what constitutes fine dining. We all have different experiences that lead us to different conclusions, but wow, your meal sounds very bad. Did you send it back & notify the captain of the poor execution?

                                                Even the best places can have an off-night (that's why the best reviewers will visit a place several times before issuing a review). I've found that the caliber of a restaurant can be judged by how they respond when a dish is sent back. Any dish receiving a complaint should be replaced with sincere apologies and errors corrected (and often even removed from the bill).

                                            2. l
                                              Ladycale Jun 30, 2008 08:50 AM

                                              I'm always fond of Pellana for high end steak.


                                              3 Replies
                                              1. re: Ladycale
                                                Lucymax Jun 30, 2008 11:37 AM

                                                Lumiere in West Newton
                                                The French place on Main Street in Waltham -- shoot, what's it called?

                                                1. re: Lucymax
                                                  Science Chick Jul 1, 2008 07:57 AM

                                                  I second Lumiere!

                                                  There is a French place in Waltham?? The only higher end restaurants I know of on Main St. are Il Capriccio and La Campania, both Italian. I'd be very interested in the French place, though........

                                                  1. re: Science Chick
                                                    y2000k Jul 24, 2008 12:41 PM

                                                    Perhaps Lucymax was referring to Elephant Walk in Waltham. That's the only restaurant that is remotely French in the city of Waltham.

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