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Which Boston Restaurants are 1) 'Wow!" wonderful and 2) Worth the Money??

We're in our late 50's; have eaten in Boston the last 35 years. It has come to be our experience that the more expensive meals we have had in Boston- have not been special enough to feel worth the expense or worthy of return visits. So, we have settled into more Bistro and Ethnic food dining. However, we are not taking a far- away vacation this year, and we decided we'd like to try the higher end restaurants that we've not visited in Boston (ever or for a long time).

I'm calling out for CH advice here. As a professional chef of 27 years, I personally lean towards fusion influenced food; asian and latin flavors being of particular appeal to me.I am not into plain unadorned food; organic and locally sourced are not important to me.
I love to see unusual combinations or ingredients put together brilliantly. and I love to see what talented chefs do with their sauces, aiolis, vinaigrettes. I do not like to feel ripped off with small portions and non-exceptional food. I like friendly professional efficient service, but not attitudey or fawning. I appreciate an attractive comfortable room.

Biba was our temple of worship a long time ago. EVOO , Gargoyle's, Aquitaine and Union Bar and Grill are our go-to bistros.We used to go to Olive's alot, 10 yrs ago, but weren't so happy there more recently.We tried Radius last week and won't return (see my recent post). We went to Clio many years ago but, upon being billed $9 for a side of sauteed spinach, I was so angry i never returned, though I think Ken Oringer's palate was probably the most appealing to me of any chef whose menu I've perused in Boston. How is Clio now?

Number 9 Park was enjoyable the 2 times we went 10? yrs ago. Prezza did not impress last yr. ; same with L'Espalier and Lumiere. Oishi in the South End was tooo expensive and I am more traditional in my sushi taste. Craigie St., when on Craigie St., was very good but sparse food for me. I didn't care for their whiffs of sauces and starches.Sel de la Terre was very good a few yrs ago.A poster on my Radius thread warned me away from Mistral. Daniel Bruce's place was so abominable for Thanksgiving 2 yrs ago I swore I'd never return. What about Teatro, Sorellina,Pigalle, Oya, Number 9 Park, Clio,Aura, Enoteca?on Charles St., Beacon Hill Hotel place ?

Thanks for sticking with me through all this explanation. I really appreciate your suggestions.

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  1. HEre is a recent CLio tasting menu (they also offer a longer tasting for a bit more):  Chef’s Tasting Menu 
    Monday, July 27, 2009

    Tomato Water Martini (nonalcoholic)
    with basil oil, caper berry and tomato “popsicle”

    Kinmedai (Pink Sea Bream)
    with sesame, garlic, chive vinaigrette and cucumber

    Hamachi Tartar
    with dashi gelée, white icesicle radish and green yuzu kosho

    “Liquid nitrogen” Gazpacho
    with olive oil, oxalis, anago and goose berries

    Summer Garden Vegetables, fruits and sprouts
    with whipped white balsamic, green goddess dressing and green pea panis

    Frozen Mille-Feuille of Foie gras and Foie de Volaille
    with native rhubarb, tomatillos and penny royal tea jelly

    Steamed Atlantic Cod
    with vadouvan spice, fava leaves, fennel pollen and sea urchin emulsion

    Crispy Soft Shell Crab “Sandwich”
    with red apple, Korean spices, pickled vegetables and steam bun

    Slow Cooked Egg and Braised Rabit
    with escargots, and garlic aioli

    Slow-cooked Painted Hills Farm Beef
    Hanger Steak and Oxtail “cannelloni”
    with celeriac fondant, hickory, pearl red onion and star anise jus

    Strawberry Fields
    with coconut sorbet, cocoa soil and rose dew

    We requested no halibut, octopus, or striped bass and also requested something with sea urchin. Although I enjoyed every dish, the pacing of the meal was a bit slow towards the end. I would probably do O-Ya instead next time although that is of course more raw-seafood oriented, and can be more expensive (the 9 course at Clio was $115, O-Ya can run higher). The food at Clio is however more interesting than 9 Park imo. BTW you should also consider the tasting at Troquet for a more classical French meal. PS you can still see traces of the old Biba at Scampo if you look past the pizzas and pastas (which are also great btw).

    6 Replies
    1. re: barleywino

      Or Uni.....I prefer that experience to Clio, sitting at the bar and watching (sometimes Ken himself) put together those wonderful little bites. Again, more sashimi oriented, but I always say wow even after having been there many times. For the quality of the fish and experience it compares directly to O Ya for me, and often exceeds it, I think the prices are more a bit lower.

      1. re: barleywino

        Barleywino - did you neg the halibut, octopus and striped bass for taste or environmental reasons? Just curious.

        1. re: Bob Dobalina

          taste ;) ...if environmental, i probably would've declined the foie too

        2. re: barleywino

          a little off-topic, but I'm surprised the Clio tasting menu has changed so little since 2006 (I went for the Katrina benefit, so remember the date). The tomato-water martini, hamachi tartar, and LN2 gazpacho (tableside) were all on the menu then. I suppose it's all in season now, too, but I thought of Clio as more of a non-classic dishes place. Also, the tomato items were my least favorite of the menu (though both were impressive in the I-can't-do-that-at-home way).

          Oringer's so damn good with sea urchin, the way Craigie is good with soft-boiled eggs and mushrooms. Makes my tongue swoon.

          1. re: enhF94

            i miss some of their earlier dishes, like Santa Barbara uni in the shell with wasabi apple foam in a nori croquant, the zucchini blossom tempura fish taco, and the heirloom salad w/ green goddess

            1. re: enhF94

              We did the tasting in January 2008 and also had the tomato-water martini, though the other dishes seem different. Still, one of the best meals I've ever eaten, and worth every penny. Incredibly creative as well as delicous. Definitely felt special enough to warrant the price.

              I felt the same about our omakase experience at O Ya. Very different than Clio in terms of atmosphere, but the same spirit of adventure and care for the preparation.

          2. I would put T.W. Food in Cambridge on your list for consideration. Also the Ten Tables joints in JP and Cambridge.

            1. I really think you'd be wowed by O Ya. As long as you go in knowing it's pricey, I can't see anyone with a sophisticated palate looking for the experience you describe not coming out impressed.

              5 Replies
              1. re: Parsnipity

                I'm reading the OP wants hefty portions and this is not what will happen at O Ya. I love it, but it's better for a pre-dinner snack. So ... maybe that's the best route. Head over to Peach Farm afterwards for heaping plates of salt and pepper pork and squid.

                1. re: yumyum

                  the live scallop with ginger & scallions is swoony delicious there, but the atmosphere, is, uh, lacking ambiance, shall we say? lol.

                  1. re: hotoynoodle

                    Depends on how much you've had to drink. ;-)

                    The maykee (sp?) /dry-fried eel is one of the best dishes in town. And last time I tried a garlicky vermicelli dish with clam that is super.

                  2. re: yumyum

                    I guess I was reading it a little differently- I was reading that if the food was "wow" then, the value would be there. No one wants to get small portions of only okay food, but I feel that the (admittedly) tiny portions at O Ya are still a good value given the quality of the food. I'm not sure anymore re-reading the OP-maybe the OP can weigh back in.

                    1. re: Parsnipity

                      pars, you are correct, if there are alot of "wow!" experiences, i can accept small portions though I'm not fond of them. Thanks to all for the suggestions so far; i've started a list of menus to google..
                      Hoping to hear from more of you too! MC?

                2. Taste wise, I agree that Oya should be up your alley, but I think it will fail on your value sale of things. You think $9 for a side of spinach was bad...? And I'm not a naysayer on Oya at all - I loved our meal there, but it is for the special of all special occasions only IMO.

                  1. Give Teatro a try. Not over the top, but kind of a go to place when you want to satisfy the palate. They do a lot of menu items in half orders, which is good if you want something light before the theatre. Fairly creative with the menu, and always have interesting specials.
                    Enjoy,
                    CocoDan