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Aug 15, 2008 12:01 AM

fine dining in Boston?

Is there really a desire for dining at it's highest level in Boston?
I am referring to places that we all have our "one dining experience" wishes that may be in some other thread. places such as french laundry in napa, tetsuya's in sydney, alinea, trotter's or schwa in chicago, st john, umu, or fat duck in london and surrounding, taillevent, arpege or robuchon in paris and not to mention a few in new york.
Will Boston ever see such places?

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  1. The short answer is no. Restaurants considered the tops for Boston are slow as a pig these days. The slightly longer answer is that many of the places you mention are creations of publicity. Trotter's, for example, is ranked merely 11th in Chicago alone, if one trusts Zagat, while Carlos' remains number 1 after so many years. And who's heard of Carlos'? In my opinion it's difficult not to be let down at the "one dining experience." I, for one, have never had that, and it seems a more elusive goal every time I dine at that level.

    I think you're more likely to have an amazing meal if you arrange for a chef's table at one of our better restaurants. I think the chefs may have what it takes, and the desire to perform at that level, but their audience isn't demanding it from them.

    1 Reply
    1. re: almansa

      i agree that its not difficult to be let down but a chefs table here better than dining at trotters??? what chef table?? i would love to go

      pointing out some of the common names in high level restaurants world over was to make it clear what level i was talking about. if i mention chez denis in paris in that list, unless you have "no reservations" on dvr or actually been to the truely great places there, you have no idea what i am talking about.

      most post on chowhound talk about places at the high end being too pricey, to which i often agree. however that does not keep me from wanting to see a few more restaurants at the highest level (which can also come with the highest $$$) in boston. but do others "hounds" or "foodies" really want that???

    2. No, and I am uninterested in those places when I travel. The whole concept is boring beyond words - it becomes about the place rather than the customer. Maybe it's residual Yankee values speaking up here, but the idea of any place where the customer should feel privileged to be admitted in order to receive hospitality puts the cart well before the horse.

      2 Replies
      1. re: Karl S

        Not all places that are really high-end are condescending or haughty; it really varies from place to place. In France, I remember some being very formal, but the service and attitude were top notch, where every effort was made to make me feel comfortable and at home and where I could count on the expertise of the staff to help me select the best dishes on the menu or to leave it to the kitchen. I remember a friendly and reassuring sommelier at Auberge de I'ill and a captain that was very enthusiastic about the food at Lucas Carton. Plus I got reservations by calling a few days ahead of time, no fuss at all.

        1. re: limster

          I agree. I've had some of the best service at higher end restaurants. A lot of servers at higher end restaurants are very socially adept, and can kind of read their customers' minds to determine how to interact with them. If they're faced with a customer who wants his ass wiped, they'll do it. But if they realize the customer is a more relaxed diner, they'll adjust their service accordingly.

          Besides, just because a restaurant is difficult to get into doesn't necessarily mean the food is that great or it's a great restaurant. There are a lot of places out there that are pretty exclusive because of the celebrity factor (diners, not chefs). I find the haughtiest places tend to be the trendiest ones. And I wouldn't really put the restaurants that the OP named as being trendy.

      2. As a traveler and a person who enjoys fine food and is not afraid to pay for it, I think the answer is.... maybe. The 3 best meals I have ever had were at Daniel in NY, Jamn in Paris and Kinkinoi in Kyoto. All very good, but for completly different reasons. But the common thread in all of them was not only the level of refinment, but also the willingness of the guests to let go and put their evening in the hands of the establishment.

        I think the closest to being there are L'Espalier, Clio, and Craige St.

        In Boston and New England in general I feel that people aren't willing to do this. They want it their way and not the way the restaurant want to present it. As a native of MA it took me a long time and a lot of insulting of foreign cultures to realize what we do.

        These are just my thoughts. let me know what you think.

        5 Replies
        1. re: bostonrich1234

          I guess I am quite thrilled to put myself into the hands of an establishment for an evening - I've had that many times in Boston and elsewhere (I am the kind of person who gleefully responds in places worthy of being trusted so, "however the chef recommends" to the question "how would you like it prepared?"). What I don't care for is the category of destination dining where the establishment condescends to host the diner, as it were, especially if it takes a lot of effort to "get in". Glamour and buzz majorly get in the way of the dining experience for me, and I am happy Boston remains something of a respite from the relentless march of glamourization.

          1. re: Karl S

            The trick is to find those great places before they become big names, so that it takes less effort to eat there. That's where some chowhounding can come in handy.

            1. re: limster

              Well, that's now how restaurant financing works in the good old US of A (especially in places like Boston where viable commercial space costs a fortune) - it costs a fortune to finance even a moderately elegant restaurant, so marketing plans cannot include it being one of the Phantom Gourmet's Hidden Gems.

              People consistently underestimate the role of real estate as increasingly limiting options in the Boston area for this industry. It's one big reason all we seem to get are new Italian restaurants - financing requires sure bets.

              Also, Boston appears to have a severe lack of professional servers.

              I could go on, but when you look at what goes on here, look at nuts and bolts.

              1. re: Karl S

                I agree -- most places will have a major PR budget etc... But wasn't there was a time when one could get into the French Laundry without a 3 month wait, back when it first opened? IIRC, Thomas Keller's first restaurant failed (it might have been in NYC); anyone know more about it and how was his cooking there?

                OTOH, there are places that are exceptions, those without the requisite PR expense but still produce amazing food at the top level. They're much harder to suss out, but here's one example (thanks to very keen chowhounds):

                This is a chef who's cooked at the Beijing Grand Hotel, represented China in the Bocuse d'Or etc... (think of this as Rice Garden/New Taste of Asia on steroids), a rather impressive CV.

                His food was exceptional when I ate there back in the day. I hear that he's now in Fresno and apparently doing just as well.

                Ruth Lafler says it best here (last paragraph):

                Afterall, the goal of chowhounding is to go for the exceptional, and in that category, one can't always expect the restaurant to be like most restaurants.

                1. re: limster

                  Keller had to raise 1.2M in the early 1990s (during a real estate downturn, I might add) to open the FL in the middle of Napa.

                  Downtown Boston bears no resemblance.

                  Instead, think Arrows in Ogunquit....(French Laundry is about 1.25 hours in decent traffic from San Francisco).

        2. I've found the best restaurant in Boston to be L'Espalier. Wonderful cheese cart. But aside from that -- no, I don't think there's really a destination dining experience in Boston.

          Even though St. John has the reputation to be one of the best restaurants in the world, I probably wouldn't put it in the category of fine dining. The room is pretty austere, reminiscent of a meat store serving stick-to-your-ribs hearty food. Service is also a lot more relaxed compared to the other restaurants that you mentioned, but is very good. Everything is really well prepared, but in a different category than French Laundry or Trotter's or l'Arpege.

          2 Replies
          1. re: Miss Needle

            again the idea was that boston just doesnt have anything extraordinary.... and the question being could it support it.
            please don't focus on the chef or the names mentioned. but boston has nothing extraordinary. we have a few very good restaurants. nothing that people would travel here for.

            1. re: bowmore36

              Well, people are traveling from elsewhere to the Boston area (especially from NYC) to try O-Ya.

              But overall, I don't see Boston ever being a restaurant destination town. There are good and very good restaurants here. But we don't have the population to support a lot of fine dining/high-end restaurants. It's not NYC or Paris, and I don't think it aims to be. The clientele is different here, IMO. The Yankee influence is one thing; the student/professor population is yet another. We're not Hollywood/L.A. looking for the be-all and end-all of dining experiences or to go out to be seen by the paparazzi and have pics in the paper as we come out of The Ivy or the Chateau Marmont. That's why Becks and Posh went to L.A., not Boston. :-)

          2. I think tourism may play a very big part. I don't know the answer, but how many tourists come into Boston vs London or Sydney or New York? What fraction of the people that eat at the Fat Duck or Arpege or French Laundry etc. are tourists vs locals?