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Planning ahead- special dinner, Oleana fell through

Hi, Hounds-
I need some help brainstorming. We need a venue for a graduation dinner for May. We are going to have a total of 8 people, and since it's grad weekend all over we know we need to reserve early. With this in mind, we called Oleana and were informed that they don't take reservations for more than parties of 6 on Fridays or Saturdays. What's up with that? Since I can't un-invite the in-laws (kidding!), looks like we'll have to change the venue.

Anyways, we have a diverse group- my husband and I are the foodies. His parents are from the Midwest, but will eat most things. My parents are from NY and think that the world revolves around NY restaurants so we need to show them the best Boston/Cambridge have to offer. My mom eats fish but not meat. My brother in law is a pretty good eater and loves seafood, and his girlfriend whom we haven't met yet apparently doesn't like anything.

The ideal venue will be upscale, but not quite at the price level of Le Espalier. We can take the T or drive if there's parking and we're coming from Davis Square. I was thinking Gargoyles, but we eat there a lot and were looking forward to trying something different. We've also loved Craigie but have been there 3 times recently and it's a little offal-heavy for our crowd. Basically, we want Oleana but with the ability to take reservations... what's close?
Thanks for your ideas!

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  1. Rocca in the SE has a great private room that seats 8-10. You can order off off the regular menu. Scout them out on line.

      1. re: capeanne

        Ooh- this looks promising- I will definitely consider it. Keep 'em coming...

        1. re: Parsnipity

          Salts (although small )has options in every entree category including veggie but they are always booked to the limit during Harvard MIT etc graduation week so plan accordingly ( as you are) Beer and wine only if that is a consideration

          1. re: Parsnipity

            We recently had a fabulous meal at Salts, next time I will order the duck for two (they say to order when you make reservations so that they don't run out - it's a big seller) - looked excellent but we all (5 of us) loved are meals. My son and gf love this place, they love Craigie too if that puts it into perspective.

            1. re: lexpatti

              How about across the street - Cuchi-cuchi is a great place for a celebration - fun, great cocktails and food, and very festive.

        2. Maybe Prezza, Bina, Benatti or EVOO.

          1. Honestly? I love La Morra and would absolutely consider giving them a shot, if you're willing to drive. We've never had a problem finding a parking spot within walking distance.

            1. Not sure if this fits for you but last May we had a similar group for my daughter's graduation from BU. We went to a family favorite, Eastern Standard, They took the reservations far in advance- can't exactly remember but I feel like it was a couple of months at least- and we were treated beautifully despite the crowds. We had my parents, in their late 70's and traditional eaters, two vegans, and two steak/meat lovers. They have a raw bar, which my dad really enjoyed. The cocktails are famous, the atmosphere vibrant, and it's right on the Green Line in Kenmore Square. I think my parents found it a tiny bit loud but I hope they understood it WAS graduation weekend and the Red Sox were in town, too. You are wise to start thinking about this now. Have fun!

              1. How about Dante? They are a much bigger restaurant than Oleana and will probably have no problem accommodating your party of 8. Price range is about the same and the food is really good, that boy's got talent! On a recent visit, the linguini with 'frutti di mare' was ridiculously delicious! I would go back once a week just for that!!! And by the time May comes around, the patio might even be open for some of the best Charles River views around!

                1. Make reservations for 2 parties of 4- ask for the garden.

                  1. You might try Flora on Mass Ave in Arlington, Chez Henri near Harvard Square. We've had dinners with similar guests, all with great results. You also might appeal to Oleana. it's crazy in this economy to give up a guaranteed party of 8.

                    1. Not for nothing, but what about making reservations for two parties of 4 and ask that they be sat together? ;0

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: Bob Dobalina

                        What ginnyhw and mmw said - also, don't they have that big outdoor table under the awning for large parties?

                      2. The new Ten Tables at 5 Craigie St., Cambridge.

                        1. I'm a little surprised that nobody's mentioned the original Harvard Sq. "occasion" restaurant, Harvest. Since Mary Dumont took over as Executive Chef the place has definitely been re-vitalized and with a varied enough menu to please most. Oleana, Cragie, Salts and Dante are also, obviously, on my short-list.


                          1 Reply
                          1. re: Harp00n

                            I was thinking the same thing. All of the above are good thoughts and I agree with Prezza if you want to venture into the North End. Or Troquet by the Boylston stop.

                          2. Another suggestion is Rendezvous in Central Square. It is within walking distance from the T or parking is easily available at night.

                            1. Well, we put in a call to Oleana last night and even spoke with a manager- no deal. They were completely unwilling to even give us 2 four-tops next to each other. I find it a little off-putting in this economic climate especially that they were so unwilling to work with us in order that we might give them our business. I guess good for them that they're that secure in their customer base? We'll pick from among your other excellent recommendations and let you all know how it turns out.

                              5 Replies
                              1. re: Parsnipity

                                That's SOOOO annoying!!!! Arrrgh! Seems like a purely arbitrary rule - this is akin to not seating your entire party until they arrive, when a restaurant is empty. Did they offer any sort of rationale? I could see if you wanted to make a reservation for 20 or something...(I am also particularly bothered that my suggested "hack" of their system did not work. Curses!) I tell ya - don't mean to be mercurial about this stuff, but that would send me through the friggin' roof and I would never go back. It's just so....obtuse! (Ok, off to solitary for a month to cool down...)

                                1. re: Bob Dobalina

                                  Ha- I love your response. This was my initial reaction as well, being a born and bred East Coaster. My more calm, measured Minnesotan husband suggested the part about "good for them to be that secure in their business that they don't need us." But I must say, it does seem less likely that we'll give them business in the future, even when we don't have a pesky group of graduation celebrants looking to eat and spend money.

                                  1. re: Bob Dobalina

                                    I've always found the reservations people/person at Oleana to be curt, arbitrary, and supremely unhelpful. It's enough to keep me away, oftentimes, despite it being one of my favorite restaurants in the entire Boston area.

                                    I have occasionally seen Ana in the restaurant later in the evening, and have seriously considered complaining to her directly.

                                  2. re: Parsnipity

                                    I am normally a big Rendezvous fan, but if it's an MIT graduation you may already be out of luck. The folks at EVOO are always super-accommodating and I like the atmosphere alot. I'd second Chez Henri as well (if it's May, I presume it's not Harvard graduation).

                                    1. re: LauraBear

                                      Since you are coming from Davis Square, how about either of these fine places in Harvard Square: Harvest, or Upstairs on the Square. Both very special. I have reserved a large table at Upstairs, but don't remember now if it was a weekend night. Anyhow, I love both these restaurants. Upstairs is a little more unusual, and Harvest is a little bit more meat and potatoes and more subdued looking.

                                  3. what about Scampo? If Friday, get the baby pig, if Saturday, get the baby lamb (start with the short rib terrine w/ horseradish panna cotta, or roti w/ curry chicken, or beef carpaccio etc)

                                    1. Just reporting back- thanks for all the recommendations! We ended up at Dante and had a great meal. I think we suceeded on all fronts. Our party of 8 easily found parking in the Cambridgeside mall parking lot-- my father "$3.99 for garage parking? It costs that much for 10 minutes at a meter in Manhattan...and you can never find one anyways!"

                                      We were promptly seated at a table with a view of the river, which we'd requested. Our servers were extremely accomodating of our diverse group, some members of which can be difficult. Morgan was our main server and she handled everyone's questions with aplomb and impressive knowledge.

                                      They are still doing a $35 prix fixe menu at Dante, extended from the winter, which is part of the reason we picked it over other good suggestions. It made it a bit easier for everyone in the group to focus on socializing and not worry about who was ordering which course or spending how much.

                                      Appetizers were universally good, especially a stuffed squid. I had a spaghetti carbonara which was deliciously eggy with salty chunks of pancetta.

                                      Having mentioned the prix fixe, I must admit that I did order the seafood special frito misto, which required a price supplement of $16. It included a beautifully fried soft shell crab and a more than generous serving of fish, calamari, mussels and octopus. (I would actually have preferred a slightly lower added charge along with a smaller seafood portion and the addition of a side of some sort, ideally a vegetable to offset the fried deliciousness.) Several at the table got the hanger steak- all cooked as ordered, very flavorful meat. My veggie mom was happy with her deconstructed lasagna with a truffle fonduta- very aromatic, not at all skimpy on the truffles. I did not try the chicken entree, but it got high marks as well. Desserts were all good and very indulgent-- there was a lack of any "light" option such as a fruit plate, but they were happy to give a single scoop of gelato to anyone too full for the desserts on the actual menu.

                                      Thanks again to all for the recommendations- I would wholeheartedly recommend Dante for any similar groups.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: Parsnipity

                                        Thanks for the report back. Sounds like a great time. You SCORED!