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Towne Stove & Spirits soft open preview (opens July)

shamelessly reposted here from my yelp review. nooo i am certainly not a pro.

White Tablecloth Service for a Party of 380 x 4, I'll Take All Seating Times Please!

Leighann graciously extended an invite to attend Towne Stove & Spirit's soft opening, a fundraiser for Mass Eye And Ear Infirmary. I do not know how this new venue escaped me, let's just say the rate of openings in Q2 to Q3 2010 is pretty astonishing as of right now.

Lydia Shire of Locke-Ober and Scampo fame has paired with a surprising choice in Jasper White, the man behind Summer Shack and many books on New England style fare. The backing power comes from the Lyons Brothers and they definitely brought it. Big time.

The real estate is mind-bogglingly prime, basically a T-bone sized chunk of the Northeast corner of the Hynes Convention Center. I would of named it "The N.E. Corner of Hynes C.C.". It occupies both levels, and the view from the more enclosed banquet style room has a stunning view of Boylston due to windows arrangement above and all sides of the room, nearly 180 and above your head. It also peers into the Hynes main hallway adjacent, an extended view of easily 150 meters across the entire length of the Hynes. The main room is also gorgeous, with a modern open kitchen, yet charming whimsical touches throughout that is very Lydia. The downstairs has yet another room, looking into the expansive not-so-gorgeous cement courtyard of the Prudential Mall. The bar as you enter rivals anything on Boylston, and in fact, being the corner part of the Hynes affords the luxury of massive and tall plate glass windows in every room. Quite frankly it is second to none in terms of curbside and inside appeal compared to anything inside the Mandarin, and that is quite the architectural boast.

The menu and food is decidedly safely chosen, an amalgam of Jasper's and Lydia's greatest hits, with some crowd pleasers thrown in. The menu is actually a bit longer than expected for such a nice looking venue, no doubt an effort to quickly appeal to the many conventioneers who will be peering into the banquet room and saying "What is THAT?".

Lobster Popovers, from Scampo are being ported over, along with some of Jasper's previous dishes. Also seen were flatbreads, skirt steaks, even a burger. Frites are typically served with the meat dishes. The fish on the other hand, various rice sides or veggies can be ordered, separately. Aside from various duck and lamb entrees, that is pretty much it, very simple and not confusing, again I suspect a nod to traffic they anticipate from within the Hynes.

From my judgement (Very little fish was served on this soft-opening, (In fact none of the kitchen equipment was hooked up, all the cooking was done patio-side in a temporary tent.) but Jasper did come out with skin-on pan-seared Salmon dressed in cucumber and accoutrements. Undoubtably wild from the taste of the oil coming off the salmon. I was frankly distraught to see Bluefin Tuna on the menu, unless it is of the farmed Kindai variety, I will encourage it's removal from the menu.

The stellar menu item is Lydia's Colorado Lamb Ribs. When I used to eat meat, I sourced my lamb from New Hampshire, from Halal butchers and it was night and day from New Zealand. No gameyness, or strings, just smooth as silk meat. Lydia goes further, to Colorado using more fully grown sheep. The result is an enormous eye in the rib, larger than a diver scallop unbelievably, absolutely succulent, pleasing non-gamey aroma, a texture between tenderloin of beef and sirloin. It was so appealing I cheated and tried one, it simply surpassed any Lamb Rib I've tried, which was formerly my favorite cut of meat, any type of BBQ or skirt steak be damned. So I would order that for you, while I resumed on Jasper's side of the menu because I'm supposed to be a vegetarian.

Perhaps the menu does not have the savoir faire of Scampo, or say Clink next door to Scampo in the Liberty Hotel. None-the-less this is destined to be hallmark establishment, known outside of Boston, that Back Bay really needs, something you might see editorialized in in-flight magazines as a hot spot in the future, but also a very swank rendezvous for the citizens of Boston herself with solid food from Team Shire/White and their underlings.

Quite frankly, as an event planner, I would have my convention inside Towne and skip the Hynes all-together. The service was ridiculously well-prepared, an army of staff picking up glasses at all times in nylon picnic baskets shows serious party planning skills. You can fit 1000 conventioneers in a 380 seat restaurant in one evening. And thus the title of my review.

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Towne Stove and Spirits
900 Boylston Street, Boston, MA 02115

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  1. Thanks for a very detailed preview! I'm envious, would like to have attended that one.

    Actually, Shire and White share some history, have been pals for a long time, dating to their days in the kitchen at the bygone Seasons in the Bostonian Hotel, which launched many great local chef/owners. Mario Capone, Shire's longtime lieutenant at Scampo (and Locke-Ober and Biba), is the exec at Towne, so I would expect it to feel more like a Lydia place; I read there was going to be a more Jasper-ish all-lobster menu section, too.

    The scale of the place is impressive: 300 seats in the dining room and an 80-seat patio. Prices look a little scary, plenty of entrees breaking the $40 mark. Would be nice if it turned out, among other things, to be that can't-miss upscale New England seafood restaurant the city has been lacking.

    http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

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    Locke-Ober
    3 Winter Place, Boston, MA 02108

    Scampo
    215 Charles Street, Boston, MA 02114

    1. Thanks MC, that is good to know about Jasper and Lydia. I'm surprised at prices, although the buildout must of been enormously expensive, I was thinking with the size and location, volume would be the driver and prices would be a tick lower than Scampo, maybe along Summer Shack's lines.

      We have pics! Food and interior shots and my friends who you don't know, ha ha. My fav part! Your choice of Flickr or Facebook. My fb photos have captions, I just don't caption Flickr, sorry.

      FLICKR: http://bit.ly/bX1Wdm
      FACEBOOK: http://bit.ly/asWn7M

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      Summer Shack
      310 Northern Ave, Boston, MA 02210

      Scampo
      215 Charles Street, Boston, MA 02114

      12 Replies
      1. re: tatsu

        Thanks for the review and pictures.

        Lydia, Jasper and Gordon Hammersley all used to pal around together before Boston even had a food scene. Legend has it they would cook massive lunches for Julia Child at her house in Cambridge. Can you imagine being a fly on that wall?

        1. re: yumyum

          jasper (who hired her and gordon, among so many others) and lydia basically invented the boston food scene.

          1. re: hotoynoodle

            Everyone who was anyone cooked with one of them at some point. I wonder if you put together the Boston chefs "family tree" they would all branch out from the two of them.

            1. re: yumyum

              schlow and oringer come from elsewhere, but many others are biblical in all the begats... jasper hired jody, who was then hired by gordon, she later hired todd who hired barbara who hired jason... and that's just one branch.

                1. re: yumyum

                  I wonder if there's a link at the beginning to Madeleine Kamman. I remember waiting 3 months to get a reservation at Modern Gourmet back in the mid 1970s. There was nothing like it at the time.

                2. re: hotoynoodle

                  To be fair, English spread his seed around pretty well too. (Or is that the branch? Suppose so.)

                  Edit: Wow, forgot about Kamman. Good call.

                  1. re: tatamagouche

                    Lydia Shire, Chris Schlesinger, Barbara Lynch, Frank McClelland, Sara Moulton, Bob Kinkead, Scott Bryan all worked at Harvest at one point or another. I think that's pretty impressive too.

                    1. re: T.Clark

                      there was an article and culinary family tree in the globe sunday mag a few yrs ago. I've been here since 1971;for founding mothers and fathers, don't forget gerry pierce at peasant stock(now dali ) and odette berry at turtle Cafe (now east coast grill); both doing their thing 1971 or earlier. (btw, anyone know where they are?) moncef maddeb started l'espalier in '76?(his sister at Baraka in Camb. says he's back in Tunisia now.)

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                      Baraka Cafe
                      80 Pearl St, Cambridge, MA 02139

                      1. re: opinionatedchef

                        Odette and I were good friends and neighbors when she owned Another Season (Lala Rokh space). In a quirk of Boston architecture and Fire Codes, my bro and I had entry/exit access to her apt in case of fire in the building..Back Bay. We were kids and ate very well..:) This was late 70's

                        She never got caught up in the wave that lifted Lydia Shire and the others.

                        I bumped into her at Savenor's on Charles a few years ago and she was doing some teaching at 1 of the local universities.

                        Very nice woman.

                        1. re: 9lives

                          Another Season was my favorite restaurant in the early 80s

                          1. re: Small Plates

                            This brings back a memory of a long gone boss who took me there when I was a budding executive. Thanks for the smile. I also loved it.

                            Penny
                            http://www.bostonzest.com/

        2. Towne's PR people sent me a note, saying that the menu will be more affordable than I noted here (not sure where I got the price range I cited), with only a couple of entrees, both meant for two diners to share, exceeding the $40 mark. Another source I saw suggests that entrees will top out in the high 20s. I'll pass along more details when I get them.

          http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

          12 Replies
          1. re: MC Slim JB

            No surprise: Towne isn't quite the bargain its PR people suggested. Entrees generally run $25-35, some starters over $20. If it's actually a la carte like it looks, you can add even more with sides at $5 to $11 a pop. Not so sure they should have given me grief for my initial price estimates.

            Details here: http://boston.grubstreet.com/2010/07/...

            http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

            1. re: MC Slim JB

              considering the size of the restaurant, prices are very off putting and i will probably wait for a consensus of good service and food before visiting. places this size typically cater to tourist or are of the chain variety. neither or which screams good service and food.

              1. re: mgcmonkey

                Agreed on the pricing. $16 for six east coast oysters is unconscionable.

                1. re: DoubleMan

                  Maybe unconscionable if you were sitting at a picnic table next to a parking lot in Lawrence fending off pigeons and sea gulls - actually $16 ($2.66 each) is not out of line with other Boston restaurants - check a few menus (What is a put-off is $4.00 for more bread - that is over the top). Haven't eaten here yet but am looking forward to try it out. Keep in mind that you tend to get what you pay for and pay for what you get (By the way, I've had some very tasty food while fending off sea gulls but sometimes I don't mind paying extra for quality service, comfortable seating and great ambiance)- when someone drops $9 million fixing up a place, hires top chefs and uses top quality food, you're going to pay a premium. You are not paying $11 for a salad alone. You're paying for the whole experience.

                  1. re: bobbert

                    Well what I was implying in my wordy review was that it serves conventioneers on expense accounts but it's also a high-end destination for Bostonians. Certainly there's enough room for everyone. If MCSlim is accurate on pricing, I feel it could be a tick lower, in deference to those of us who supported Lydia and Jasper all this time.

                    But any place that makes Boston appear less insular and, ironically, "townie" is much needed thing, IMO. As well as filling in the high-end seafood category as MC pointed out.

                    1. re: bobbert

                      back in the biba days, a second bread basket incurred a charge on your check as well, but the bread all was to die for. and $2.66 an oyster seems about going market rate, just about what you'd pay at neptune or even legal's.

                      the pricing scheme seems similar to scampo. at first glance nothing seems unreasonable, but with a bit of this and that and few drinks, the check totes up quickly.

                      i'm thrilled for lydia and jasper. they have wanted to do a place together for many years and i will surely check it out after the dust settles.

                      1. re: hotoynoodle

                        This is exactly what's going on with the prices here. It's the old steakhouse a la carte scam. There are $30 entrees on this menu with no side dishes, and while the sides are big enough to share, you'll probably want at least a couple, which in many cases will put your total average entree price near $40. Don't be surprised if you get an app/entree/side/dessert bill here that comes to $60-$80 before drinks, tax and tip. Figure more if you get something with lobster.

                        http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

                      2. re: bobbert

                        Being in line with other restaurants does not make it any better. I think we're getting screwed across the board at most places around town.

                        I'll go with the experience of eating island creeks for $1 per oyster at the Rialto bar on Mondays. I could even go to Sam's and get them for $1.50 each from their normal menu.

                        I buy island creeks for $1 retail, which means that restaurants (especially high volume places) are getting them for likely $.50 or less per oyster. I understand paying a premium for the whole experience, but I still think I'm getting fleeced when paying nearly $3 for a raw local oyster. I understand markups and the need for profit, markups of 500% or more, however, are kind of bullshit.

                        1. re: DoubleMan

                          i will consider making an exception for rialto but...

                          1. re: DoubleMan

                            Good points and that's the reason why I only eat lobsters at home (I live in Maine -$3.50lb from a friend/lobsterman). But... once in a while (and I can only afford once in a while) I like to go out for something special.

                            I'd plan on dropping about $100 per person in this place. What I'd expect is impeccable service and terrific food in a fantastic setting (and in deference to Mats77 - a menu printed on some nice parchment would be nice). Anything less and I don't return - it's really that simple.

                            Bottom line for me: food is my entertainment - it's probably an outrageous amount of money for a meal no matter how good but... it still costs a lot more to take two kids to a Sox game or a day of skiing. I like community theatre as much as the next guy but once a year I take the wife to Broadway and drop too much cash on a couple of shows. If this place turns out as good as I hope, then I think it will be worth it ...to me. If not , I'll probably have that same unpleasant feeling in my rear end that I got this weekend when the $28 tab came for two cocktails (in Maine no less). As for mark ups - if you really want that "they're screwing me" feeling, order a cocktail pretty much anywhere. 500% is probably about average for booze but it is what it is.

                            Bottom line: you're going to pay a lot to eat here. If they don't give you "value" (great service, food, etc.) for your dollar, they will not last. By the way, $1 per oyster - if I lived nearby, I'd be there every Monday night

                            1. re: DoubleMan

                              Island Creeks are $.75 wholesale; other local oysters (chatham, wallfleet, eastham, dennisport) are a bit more.

                    2. The original comment has been removed
                      1. Is it too much to ask that if I am paying close to $40 for an entree that the menu not be a laminated piece of paper? Minor point but something that I found annoying.

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: mats77

                          Agree that this is a cheesy touch. It's the same sort of busy, confusing layout as Scampo's menu, too.

                          http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

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                          Scampo
                          215 Charles Street, Boston, MA 02114

                          1. re: MC Slim JB

                            The only thing that bugs me about the menu is the flags denoting nationality. Is that on the hard copies too?

                            1. re: tatamagouche

                              Yep. It's very Disney-esque for an upscale place.