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Jan 6, 2010 07:16 PM

Return to Boston 15 years later, need recs !

I will be in Boston later this month for a conference and have the
fun task of planning our culinary adventures. Having attended school there in
the early 90s, I recall our local faves being La Famiglia and Gyuhama where we
enjoyed big eats at cheap prices late into the night. Happily, I return to see what Boston has to offer in 2010. Since we will be in town for 3 nights and 4 days, I am looking for 3 decent restaurants for dinner and a few other must try places for breakfast and lunch. I would like to definitely include Italian, Sushi and Seafood restaurants to start. So far, I am looking at O ya for sushi, and either Via Mata, L' Espalier, or Sorellina for Italian, and Neptune Oyster for seafood to start. TIA !

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  1. You could do a lot worse in the Back Bay, Downtown, and the North End than your lineup. Just don't expect Italian food at L'Espalier: it's New American/French, and along with O Ya one of the priciest places in town. Also be aware that O Ya is not a traditional sushi place: it's a bit more eclectic / fusion-y, and includes more cooked dishes than a straight-up Japanese sushi place. I like Via Matta and Sorellina, too. They're not my first nods for interesting Italian food in Boston, but they're both solid, notably scenier than most. Neptune is a great choice, my favorite Western-style seafood restaurant in Boston.

    9 Replies
    1. re: MC Slim JB

      Thanks for the reinforcement. I could probably get all the info I need from your blog, quite impressive. My bad on L'Espalier and I did get that impression from the O Ya website. If we do end up craving for sushi and prefer traditional sushi omakase style and a decent sake list, which place would you recommend ? Since we are staying in the Back Bay, I thought Via Matta would be convenient for us for our first dinner after a long flight to Boston. Which Italian place would be your first choice ? And lastly, a dinner with colleagues might lead to a steak you prefer Abe & Louie's or Grill 23 and Bar ?
      Thanks !

      1. re: vonger44

        I would keep O-Ya on your short list if you can afford it. If you look at their menu and really can't find anything you like, you can always request traditional omakase ( with no searing or torching, no creative toppings, sauces, marinades, garnishes, combinations, foams, or other accoutrements) and just get a range of high quality fish. Oga in Natick has perhaps the best sake list around if you are willing to go that far; in the Back Bay, there's Douzo, or the high-end sashimi bar Uni in the Eliot hotel. For Italian, although there are many board favorites, I would add Scampo to your short list.

        1. re: vonger44

          If you want more traditional sushi omakase style with the option of still including some more creative "fusion-y" selections you should consider Oishii Boston in the South End:

          Oishii Boston
          1166 Washington Street, Boston, MA 02118

          1. re: vonger44

            Far less about the vibe and service, but with more interesting Italian food to me at the moment, are Erbaluce (near Park Square) and Coppa (South End), with two chefs who are originals. Via Matta and Sorellina are very good, just a little closer to the mainstream.

            O Ya is pretty special, and the atmosphere is pretty cool. My favorite more-traditional sushi places are in the suburbs: Oishii Chestnut Hill (much more down-the-middle than the its South End sibling) and Toraya in Arlington. I think you'd be very happy with some of the other suggestions here; I'd add Uni, a high-end, rather creative sashimi bar in the Eliot Hotel.

            I'm a rare dissenter on Abe & Louie's: it's hugely popular, but has always found ways to disappoint me. At any rate, I prefer Grill 23 for its aged prime steaks from a boutique producer. Be warned that it's rather loud.

            And thanks for the kind words about my blog, but I think you'll get better results soliciting a range of opinions here!


            1. re: MC Slim JB

              I would definitely second Erbaluce. Erbaluce was probably my favorite restaurant to dine at this past year.

              1. re: MC Slim JB

                Also, I should mention that Erbaluce's definitely takes the local sustainable food movement seriously and their menu is daily-changing. If it is on the menu, I'd say to try out the seared red drum fillet served with white fava beans, sauteed greens, wild eggplants and a heirloom tomato citrus mint sauce. No joke that this was the best fish I've had in any restaurant!

              2. re: vonger44

                PS since you seem to be a fan of sea urchin recipes, you might enjoy the sea urchin carbonara at Coppa (while you're there, do the calves brain ravioli)

                1. re: barleywino

                  I would absolutely second (third?) the recommendation for Coppa- it shot very high on my list of places to dine- they are doing a great job over there.

                  Douzo is a good recommendation if you're intent on staying in the Back Bay area for sushi and are looking for more traditional sushi.

                  Parish is an ok spot for lunch-I enjoy it, but Im not sure if its a must for a short stay. A short walk over to Beacon Hill can provide you with a few options for lunch as well- Paramount which I prefer for lunch or dinner rather than weekend breakfast that they are known for, or Panificio (both on Charles) hare solid options. Also- Pazzo or Bouchee on Newbury can provide tasty lunch options

                  1. re: fmcoxe6188

                    That Coppa carbonara with pancetta and sea urchin is stunning. Pretty much every pasta I've had there has been amazing. I'd say the same thing for Erbaluce.


            2. Via Matta is a great choice if you want to stay in the Back Bay area. I always seem to get one of their fresh pasta dishes. I 2nd the recommendation below on Erbaluce...great authentic food without the "vibe" that comes with Via Matta....depends on what you're looking for. Though Erbaluce will only have beer/wine/cordials where Via Matta has a full bar. Ofcourse if you decide to travel to the North End neighborhood, Prezza is fantastic.

              Try to get to the Parish Cafe (Boylston Street location) for one of your lunches. Their menu focuses on "gourmet sandwiches" that local chefs have dreamed up, and it also has a full bar. It's a must.

              6 Replies
              1. re: dvive

                Thank you Boston chowhounds for all your wonderful suggestions !
                Being in the LA/OC area now where we have a decent number of sushi and steak restaurants, I thought Italian and Seafood places would be a good start to show Boston off to my colleagues.
                So far, I have reservations for Erbaluce which sounds absolutely amazing in every way, and O Ya which sounds special as well. We will be definitely be hitting Neptune Oyster for lunch since we will be near the Boson Convention Center (but staying in the BB). It seems I can't go wrong with either Abe & Louie's or Grill 23, any more comments on a these places or any other steak place I should look into ? Also, I am looking for a chinese restaurant preferably in Chinatown for our last brunch in Boston before we depart. I recall many lunches at Hong Kong Eateries and many late meals at Chau Chow City though though harder to recall. Either a great dimsum place or a dumplilng place worth their weight in gold would be lovely. Lastly, I need a rec for a possible late night meal, poss a nice wine/tapas bar ? Thanks again !

                1. re: vonger44

                  Been waiting for a thread to mention my recent first visit to Erbaluce - last time I had a meal from this chef was at Marcucchio's in the North End circa 2000, so a ten year gap. Much more straightforward style than the prior incarnation, although just as good. Simple apps: A bitter green salad with the addition of some crunchy farro - well done - very bitter! :) Razor clams in a simple broth - as mentioned here and other threads, the focus seems to be on the purity of flavors from the various ingredients, so this was very clammy, oniony, herby. Entree of boar chops were perfectly medium rare - entree of fresh pasta (linguini-like shape) with rabbit ragu was sublime - it was done in a style of a white bolognese, but the rabbit made it much lighter than beef/veal or boar or other typical bolognese-type meats. Just about perfect. Dessert was some sort of a chocolatey thing with strawberries teased with Fernet (which of course piqued my interest). Then Chef Draghi dropped off a couple of complementary truffles (the one with dried fruits and rolled in sesame seeds was my favorite - also a fine chocolate one) and a quick chat - seems like a really nice guy. Our server quite serious, almost even a little abrupt - at least moreso than what we typically encounter - but she clearly knew her stuff about wines in particular and once we realized that she took her job VERY seriously, we all got along swimmingly. I would go back in an instant.

                  1. re: Bob Dobalina

                    Thank you for the detailed description of your fine Erbaluce experience. If all your dishes are still on the menu, I will probably order what you had just based on your comments. I will need to hold back my high expectations just to be fair. Any comments on their Italian heavy wine list ?

                    1. re: vonger44

                      Mostly Northern Italian wines, many of them rarely seen at other restaurants around town. The GM is an excellent sommelier, very helpful on this front, whatever your budget.


                      1. re: vonger44

                        Our server picked the wines to accompany and was spot on each time - a little sour-ish white for the clams - an appropriate Nebbiolo for the boar.

                        By the way, re-read my review and have to generally apologize to everyone for the overly jaunty style - I was wearing my saffron-colored ascot when I wrote and clearly it went to my head.

                        1. re: Bob Dobalina

                          Yeah, the unrelenting jauntiness was really getting to me... it's amazing what an ascot can do to you. Actually, now I've definitely moved Erbaluce up on my list.

                2. A few more recommendations needed if you please.

                  It seems I can't go wrong with either Abe & Louie's or Grill 23, any more comments on a these places or any other steak place I should look into ? Also, I am looking for a chinese restaurant preferably in Chinatown for our last brunch in Boston before we depart. I recall many lunches at Hong Kong Eateries and many late meals at Chau Chow City though though harder to recall. Either a great dimsum place or a dumplilng place worth their weight in gold would be lovely. Lastly, I need a rec for a possible late night meal, poss a nice wine/tapas bar ?
                  Thanks again !

                  7 Replies
                  1. re: vonger44

                    Not necessarily dim sum or dumplings, but I've been recommending New Shanghai a lot since its new owners installed a combo of a good Beijing and good Sichuan chef in their kitchen. I've also been enjoying Gourmet Dumpling House, with Taiwanese chefs, a broad coastal South China menu, and pretty good dumplings (Taiwanese pan-fried being my fave).

                    Late night is a challenge here: how late do you intend to start your late meal?


                    1. re: MC Slim JB

                      Thanks MC ! Both New Shanghai and GD House seem like solid choices.
                      I should have been more clear about late night. I am looking for a place
                      more late evening snacks in case the cold and all the walking stir up our appetites...
                      thinking between 11pm and 1am. Brasserie Jo that rlove recently recommended
                      sounds like my kind of place and fairly close to our hotel. Any tapas style / wine bar
                      place you can recommend ?

                      1. re: vonger44

                        11p-1a gives you some options in the nearby South End: Estragon for tapas, open till 1am Thu-Sat; Toro for tapas, 11:45p Fri-Sat; Franklin Cafe (South End) 1:45a every night (not small plates, but nice apps to choose from, upscale American comfort food kind of menu, cool bar atmosphere); Coppa 12:45a every night (Italian small plates, fantastic).

                        If you wanted something a bit more casual, Anchovies is a tavern-like bar/restaurant that serves Italian-American red-sauce food at nice prices till 2a nightly. The new Parish Cafe (South End) does big, gourmet sandwiches and has a great beer selection; their kitchen closes every night at 12a.


                    2. re: vonger44

                      Boston isn't great, as far as cities go, for late night dining, but last night I enjoyed Brasserie JO for a scrumptious post-BSO meal.

                      They serve the full dinner menu until 11pm (or later, but seating is until 11pm) and a limited "late night" menu until 1:30am. Very good, particularly the chicken liver mousse and crispy sweatbread appetizers.

                      They beauty of "late night" French cuisine is that just the sort of things I'd want for a late night snack--a pâté, say--are made ahead of time, so it doesn't matter if the chef is already home for the night.

                      Other recommendations would include Toro and Craigie on Main, both serving food late, but for real late night dinning, all that comes to mind is South Street Diner, which is open 24 hours. You can also get food at most bars until sometime between 12 and 2am; I've eaten plenty of double hamburgers at Charlie's Kitchen at one in the morning.

                      1. re: rlove

                        Brasserie Jo sounds perfect and will be nearby. SS diner and
                        hamburgers also sound like good choices for those late night cravings.
                        Thanks !

                        1. re: vonger44

                          Finally departing for Boston soon and will be in Beantown in about 24 hours. Thank you Boston chowhounders for all your wonderful recommendations! I feel pretty good about our culinary schedule. We will be dining at Grill 23 , O Ya, and then Erbaluce with stops at Neptune Oyster and Chinatown in between. I don't even remember what my conference is about =)

                          1. re: vonger44

                            Please report back on all of your eating adventures! Hope all of the recommendations work out.

                    3. I am still recovering from my trip to Boston but here is a summary of our culinary adventures. Thanks again for all your wonderful recommendations ! We had a blast !

                      Our first stop in Boston was for dinner at Grill 23 and Bar. We started with some bubbly and oysters and were off. We sampled the dry-aged Rib Eye and New York and the bone-in Delmonico paired with a powerful yet smooth Shiraz. The steaks were perfectly cooked and enjoyed by all. We shared mashed potatoes and asparagus which were adequate. Service was excellent in a nice old school atmosphere. I consider Mastros, a small West coast chain of steakhouses, as my standard for offering consistently amazing steaks along with over the top service and a gaudy wine list. Grill 23 was up to par, nothing more nothing less.

                      After a chilly stroll around the Back Bay, we stopped at Atlantic Seafood for some more oysters. We had a crisp bottle of Sancerre perfectly paired with their 3 types of oysters and some kind crab legs. Food was decent, service was great, and it was quite crowded. After a quick cocktail at the Top of the Hub for sentimental reasons, we made our way to Brasserie Jo.
                      There we sampled the mussels with pomme frites, the chicken liver mousse, the escargo, and the charcuterie plate paired with a classic Burgundy. Service was friendly and attentive. It was my kind of comfort food in a very relaxing atmosphere. We ended the first day with a nightcap at the Oak Bar. It was fairly empty by then so we had almost the whole place to ourselves. We had some decent beer, scotch, and port with the service courteous and professional. I barely made it to my room.

                      For lunch the next day we decided to take the T for old times sake to dine at Neptune Oyster. We ended up getting lost even with directions and walked around the North End for a good 45 minutes before finding this gem right next to the T shop ! We walked in half frozen and took the last empty seats at the bar. We had the clam chowder first along with a handful of oysters, the fresh uni and the stone crab legs. The chowder was a bit runny compared to the chowder I am usually accustomed to but delicious and I could start feeling my ears again. The raw seafood was decent but I found the uni a bit dry esp compared to the fresh uni I've had at a few authentic sushi places I frequent but still very tasty. We then get got the hot lobster hand roll which I paired with a refreshing glass of Albino. Now this dish made our trek there worthwhile, the roll was simply delicious.

                      We had planned to have dinner that night at O Ya and took a cab there. However, our driver thought he heard " E " street instead of East street. As we were driving through the industrial part of town, I was thinking that this place just must be just located in an edgy part of town. We eventually found our way and took our places on the counter where we ordered the 16 course tasting paired with a nice bottle of sake. I typically prefer a more traditional style sushi restaurant and kind of expected a Nobu type of place. How wrong I was. A dazzling explosion of taste and texture, each bite sized course was like a work of art. I especially liked the wagyu, fois gras, kumamoto oyster, and the potato/black truffle chip courses. I did notice the lack of interaction between the sushi chefs and the diners but it really did seem that each course was labor intensive. Service was personal and informative in a dark and cozy setting. This was a truly unique and special experience and glad we risked our lives to get there =)

                      Our last dinner was at Erbaluce which was a short jaunt from our hotel. What a last meal in Boston to remember. The food, service, and atmosphere were truly second to none as far as I'm concerned. Our charming server also added to an amazing meal. We started off with a glass of pleasant Prosecco while we selected a juicy Brunello from the eclectic wine list and listened to the day's specials. We started with the baby octopus, razor clams, tuna pate, the braised veal ribs as well as the veal tangine compliments of the chef. Each dish was unique and delicious. We next had the parppardelle with beets which we added the black truffles to along with wild boar chop cooked to perfection. Both were superb. I should mentioned that we had finished our bottle of wine so our server recommended a tasty glass of Italian red to go with my boar as well as a dessert wine that would pair with our desserts. We concluded our meal with the panna cotta, the chocolate/orange tart, and the complimentary scrumptious truffles. This was the kind of meal that you hope would never end and leaves you wanting to come back for more.

                      Our last meal in Boston was for dim sum at China Pearl. We needed a comfortable and larger place since we were hosting a lunch for a large group. It was decent.
                      I must say it was great to see Boston again after so many years. I will def be back.
                      Thanks again !

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: vonger44

                        Thanks for reporting back! I just went to O Ya very recently and had a wonderful time, especially like the smoked wagyu, fried kumamoto oyster and the seared foie gras. And SO glad you explored Erbaluce. It is seriously one of the most underrated yet incredibly thoughtful and delicious restaurants in the city.

                        1. re: CreativeFoodie42

                          Yes - thanks for the very detailed review!