HOME > Chowhound > Greater Boston Area >


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.

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  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.

                    1. pigalle's chef-owner has seemingly spread himself too thin and the place has been on the worse side of inconsistent for a few years. i won't go back.

                      bin enoteca is a fun place for wine, cheese and salumi. it's a winebar, not a restaurant, and alot of people don't get or care for the concept. i really like it. i also loved their bina osteria downtown, but haven't been since the opening chef left.

                      although rachel klein has talent, aura is a hotel restaurant, and not in the positive modern sense.

                      i don't think no. 9 is worth the money. the wine mark-ups are stratospheric and the food is not thoroughly wonderful. i prefer to get 3 apps and one was always a miss. i've stopped going.

                      o ya is off the charts good, but not what you might consider "traditional" for sushi.

                      clio is still wonderful. i think ken is one of the most talented chefs in the city.

                      erbaluce in bay village is new, inventive and terrific.

                      have you been to neptune oyster? fantastic.

                      as for daniel bruce, i don't think it's fair to judge a place by thanksgiving dinner. with you being a former chef, i'm kind of surprised you went to dinner in a hotel that day anyway, lol.

                      another old stand-by is hammersley's. no fireworks on the plate, but consistently excellent. jodi adams is also still kicking it at rialto.

                      1. O Ya is not at all traditional sushi.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: StriperGuy

                          worth noting also that O Ya has cooked dishes (try the shiso tempura w/ lobster) and many of their sushi/sashimi items are cooked or seared (e.g. fried oyster w/ squid ink bubbles) but those tend to run your bill up (especially the Wagyu beef)

                        2. Go to Sorrelina or Troquet....
                          Pigalle has definately gone down hill and not worth it. Number 9 Park will fail you on your portion size factor...very small portions. Good, but small. I have been to Sorrellina and Troquet a zillion times and every single time, both of those places are consistently great.

                          1. I think you got a bum steer on Mistral. While it does not fit the bill of fusion influenced or creative ingredient combinations and is quite pricey; the food is consistently outstanding and the portions are sometimes too big for my appetite. The ingredients are top notch and we have found the preparation to be extremely consistent. The sauces and accompaniments are seasonal and well suited to the dishes. I have yet to try any of the small plates available in their bar area (along with the full menu), however that would be a somewhat more casual dining experience. I would highly recommend either Mistral or its sister restaurant Sorrelina for a special occasion meal served in a beautiful atmosphere.

                            We also continue to be extremely pleased with my meals at Hamersley's each and every time we dine there.

                            If you found Oishii too expensive, certainly steer clear of O Ya, highly recommended as it may be.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: Gabatta

                              has mistral ever changed their menu? except for higher prices, it looks just li9ke it did the day it opened. i'll concede the service is top-notch, but i prefer sorrelina of that group.

                              1. re: hotoynoodle

                                I go back and forth, I tend to prefer whichever one I have not been to in the longest between the two. Mistral's bar area and overall atmosphere are a bit warmer to me. You are correct that Mistral's menu does not change much, and the same is true for Sorrelina.

                                About 75% of the dishes remain on their menus throughout the year, with some varying the accompaniments and preparations seasonally. Many staple items (e.g. tuna tartar, tenderloin pizza and dover sole at Mistral; veal chop and kobe meatballs at Sorrelina) never change or come off the menu. Some vary according to what ingredients are available in season. I don't eat at either of them enough to grow tired of either menu.

                                The somewhat fixed menus certainly don't impact the quality of food or preparations The prices have gone up, but so have those at all top tier restaurants in Boston in the decade+ since Mistral first opened.

                            2. I had an amazing dining experience at Harvest this past weekend. While I enjoyed the appetizer (smoked and seared fois gras duo served with bing cherries) and my entree (veal also done two ways - roasted loin served on a bed of spinach and carrots and a veal croquet served on a bed of potato salad), the highlight of the meal was surprisingly the dessert - a coconut layer cake with a curry sauce, cocoa nibs and candied fennels. It was a really strange combination on paper but a surprisingly delicious combination in your mouth!

                              The prices were pricey but not O-Ya/L'Espalier prices but the portions were rather generous. I'd give it a try!

                              1. We tried Rendezvous this weekend and thoroughly enjoyed it. We had the three course prix fixe. The solo diner sitting at the next table remarked to us that it was the best chicken dish he'd ever eaten. I found myself still thinking about it the following day.

                                1. Most of our " go to's" have been mentioned except 2 of our very favorites...for the special occasion wow we really love Salts in Cambridge . Just lovely in every aspect and if serving a " tasting" menu please do it ,as it is a random event and always extraordinary The soups alone which are often served as an amuse are always a revelation of flavors in a bowl. . We just came from a wow dinner at Erbaluce which is in the bistro price range and what that chef does with herbs should be bottled. The zucchini and heirloom tomato salad app was outdone only by the blueberry tart in a coconut pastry shell with lavendar whipped cream and a sprig of basil. Oh my. ( edit sorry missed the Hotoy reference to Erbaluce but would have waxed elaborately anyway)

                                  1. why not toss Toro on to the list? I know it's not one of the ultra expensive/ special occasion kind of places that have been listed here, but the food is great, consistent, its a Ken Oringer restaurant (he appears to be a favorite chef on this board), and I think it has enough of a spin on it food to satisfy your tastes.

                                    1. Also, you said you enjoyed fusions with latin flavors? Go to Taranta and you must order the double cut pork chop with sugar cane. That one dish alone is worth the trip... I hope you and your wife go for it.

                                      1. How about Salts? I think this is a far underrated restaurant on this board. It's not necessarily as inventive as Oringer's places but also not as expensive. But I think the food is well executed (try the ballontine of chicken, wow) and the service what the OP is looking for. Looking at the OP's favorite bistros, I think Salts fits right in there.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: alsaman

                                          We're in Cambridge from out of town and ate at Salts last night, while it was a little pricey (about $60 pp for app, entree and shared desert and a glass of wine) it was wonderful. We had 4 of the 6 entrees on the menu and all were very good. The white gazpacho appetizer was amazingly good, the slow roasted halibut was outstanding (possibly the best halibut preparation i've ever had) and the lemon souffle tart was the desert winner. My party also had the heirloom tomato salad and the green salad both very good, and the chicken already mentioned as well as the spicy tuna and beef tenderloin all were outstanding and service was impeccable.

                                        2. BTW, you might find this older thread slightly useful:

                                          1. Unless they've really fallen since their expansion to Cambridge (no reason to think so), I'd strongly suggest you try Ten Tables. The space can be a bit awkward, and the portions certainly aren't huge (a plus in my book), but consistently excellent, thoughtful, chef-driven food at very fair prices.

                                            1. I was wowed with Scampo on th etwo occasions I've been--a lunch and a dinner. Yes it's pricey, but I thought worth it.

                                              Neptune is totally worth it.

                                              Have fun!

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: SeaSide Tomato

                                                While reading the original post, Scampo immediately came to mind - we don't do a lot of upscale dining here, either, for most of the same reasons, and I have been wow'd by Scampo - innovative dishes, nice room, great service.

                                              2. We've enjoyed both Benatti and Salts in Cambridge.

                                                2 Replies
                                                  1. re: Snoop37

                                                    Oh no! I tried the number... it's out of service. :(

                                                1. I've not posted about this previously 'cause it's the one and only time I've been to Sorellina and I felt it premature to blast them, but I have never returnred.

                                                  My husband booked a reservation for us and our two Chowish kids (9 and 17) for my 50th. Knowing full well that it was a celebratory occasion they seated us beside a service station, ignored us as much as possible and took 20 minutes to retrieve the car at the end of the meal. Sorellina's disappointment that youngsters were part of our party was clear from the outset. My disappointment ruined everyone's night. They could have charged us $20 for dinner for the four of us, and I still wouldn't have deemed the restaurant worth it. The food was stellar. My son loved the vitello tonnato, the Maccheroncelli was just was I wanted, but the staff were snobs. No special birthday dinner accoutrements, just attitude.

                                                  I sent an e-mail to Sorellina, thinking that someone would care, and I very much wanted to try them again and like it. No one ever responded.


                                                  7 Replies
                                                  1. re: rosiebcook

                                                    ooooh, along with bad food, there's nothing worse than attitudey service when you are out for a very special emotionally meaningful celebration. I am soo sorry. It would not surprise me if the owner never received your email. I really do feel that the majority of chef/owners WANT you to have a good time. Perhaps it was long ago, but I would suggest printing out the letter and snail mailing it to the owner/confidential. Then quick make another reservation at a place you know will be fun, relaxed and good food, so you can wash that bad experience right out of your memory.

                                                    1. re: opinionatedchef

                                                      Sorellenia is not a chef-owned place, but part of the Columbus Restaurant Group that also owns Mistral, Teatro, Mooo...., and L'Andana. I've had better luck there, but I can't say I would blame you for never going back after a snotty service experience. Few things stupider in the business, in my opinion.

                                                      I find that even at places that take hospitality seriously, the email is often an ineffective way to reach out to them. In similar situations in the future, I'd encourage you to call the following day and ask to speak to the GM. There's no guarantee you'll get any satisfaction, but at least your complaint won't waft into the ether.


                                                      1. re: MC Slim JB

                                                        I have never had anything but extraordinary meals at Troquet, and actually liked Sorellina. Mistral is a different story. Our waiter was so snooty and obnoxious that I asked to speak to the manager, who never came. When the bill came, I refused to pay unless the manager came over. He was apologetic, stated that he was never told there was a problem, offered to comp the whole meal, which I refused. I paid for the whole meal, but my only demand was to be able to tell the waiter, in front of the manager, how he ruined our night. This was done. I left no tip, and we have been there many times since, and each time the food and service has been good to outstanding.

                                                        What I have learned through thousands of meals out-dining out is obviously one of my passions, is that most restaurants want you to have a great time, and as do all of us that run small businesses, all it takes is for one person to bring the whole enterprise down. The expectation of the client is excellence, or if not excellence immediate remedy. I no longer accept that a restaurant "had a bad day" or take pictures of the food with my camera to get above satisfactory service. I have yet to meet a chef or a GM who will not do most anything to correct an error or to make an experience enjoyable. They simply have to know, and the best time is during dinner, and not the next day.

                                                        1. re: aadesmd

                                                          I agree with everything you have said except one : " all it takes is for one person to bring the whole enterprise down." In our less admirable moments, how many of us with a terrible restnt experience wish that were true!

                                                          I admire your attitude and your confrontational skills. I truly believe that only when diners assume responsibility for feedback - will problems with servers or food-have a chance of being resolved for future diners.

                                                          1. re: opinionatedchef

                                                            I agree with what he said too except , "take pictures of the food with my camera to get above satisfactory service."

                                                            I take a lot of pics, in restaurants and elsewhere; and I never did it to get better service; nor do I think it would accomplish that. I generally get excellent service because of my charming personality and I tip generously..:)

                                                            The pics are fun to share with personal friends and Chowhounds if I think they'll enjoy them.

                                                            To respond to the original question, I'd suggest Troquet..always great and I've had a few very good meals at Erbaluce; also TW Food was very good.

                                                            Uni and Oya are great if you love raw fish; "worth the $" is a more personal question.

                                                          2. re: aadesmd

                                                            FYI to aadesmd: Troquet is not of that group (Sorrellina, Mistral, etc)---Teatro is (see MC's post above).

                                                            1. re: bella_sarda

                                                              Sorry for my unclear post. Do know that. I clarified it in a post that was redacted by the board monitors that mentioned food critics in Boston and was critical of L'Espalier. I think I am on the enemies list.

                                                    2. I've not seen BLUE GINGER anywhere in the original post, nor in the replies. I think it meets your preferences to a T: fusion, incredibly interesting combinations of ingredients, good portion sizes. It's in Wellesley, which requires a car, but otherwise is perfect!

                                                      2 Replies
                                                      1. re: lobstaman

                                                        I will respectfully dissent. I'd not describe Blue Ginger as a particularly good value. It has an innovative menu for the suburbs - but not by city standards, and is expensive. If one was in/near Wellesley and did not want to drive to the city I could see it being an option, but I'd not recommend it if the city is an option.

                                                        Can be fun to see the famous Ming though I suppose.

                                                        1. re: Carty

                                                          "Expensive" is relative. I certainly agree that Blue Ginger is not cheap, but I don't know if I would call it "expensive" when we are mentioning it alongside O Ya, L'Espalier, and Clio. In fact, it's significantly less expensive and has rather substantial portion sizes (unlike the mouthful or 2 that you get at these other places), so I'd argue that it does have relative value.

                                                          Does it offer the best of the best as far as Wagyu beef, caviar, truffles, etc? No. Does it offer a rich gastronomic experience with "unusual combinations or ingredients put together brilliantly" made by "talented chefs" with "sauces, aiolis, vinaigrettes"? I say yes. Wholeheartedly.

                                                      2. Try Bistro 5 in Medford. My feeling is it is Boston's best suburban restaurant.

                                                        5 Replies
                                                        1. re: professor shorthair

                                                          couldn't disagree with you more about bistro 5, but the owner is such a nic e well meaning fellow; i'm v happy for all the people that enjoy it there.. We live 5 min away but never go after our 3 'fine but uninspiring' times there. Feel the same about Hamersley's, Sibling Rivalry.,.Blue Ginger(menu reads great but food there alw disappoints me.).

                                                          1. re: opinionatedchef

                                                            Glad to hear someone else in the same Hamersley's camp. Have never gotten it. Such a bore. Not bad, but show me the flava.

                                                            1. re: StriperGuy

                                                              i'm drifting from my own OP here, but i think we two may be the only ones on our bus.

                                                              1. re: opinionatedchef

                                                                TW Food in Cambridge, my favorite restaurant in the area, particularly the tasting menus. More on the local/seasonal side though, so might not excite you.

                                                                1. re: sarcasticfolly

                                                                  I just went to TW Food this weekend and had a really wonderful dining experience, even though we were limited to the Restaurant Week menu!

                                                        2. I have to recommend Oleana in Cambridge. I just went there to kick off my honeymoon and couldn't have been more pleased with the food, service, and atmosphere. It's not inexpensive, but I do think it is all about value - for me, it meets both of your criteria! We went on a Tuesday and enjoyed the live music while eating outside. Their menu is all fresh and seasonal, and the desserts are absolutely fabulous (baked alaska and mint/dark choc. souffle were our choices). Highly recommend the burrata and grilled peach appetizer if they still have it (was a special) and the sultan's delight is supposed to be fabulous. Would go back in a heartbeat.

                                                          1. I'm finally going to weigh in. I'd say that these restaurants are the only ones in the area that make an attempt at what you seek:

                                                            Radius (a bit tired)
                                                            No 9 Park
                                                            O Ya

                                                            That's pretty much it. That's not to say there aren't good fine dining restaurants, but it strikes me that you want to see that a lot of thought and effort and technique have gone into your dishes, and frankly, that's just not Boston. My experiences at the above restaurants have been 1 hit to 4 misses (have not yet tried O Ya, tried Clio twice, Radius twice and No 9 once, and my one decent meal was at Radius, incidentally). My expectations aren't too high imo, but they're probably similar to yours. I, too, choose the bistro/ethnic route, and if I were going to drop some good money on dining out, I'd go to Oleana or Troquet, but I wouldn't expect to be blown away; I'd just expect to really enjoy myself and look forward to returning.